- Mark Saxon, ESPN Staff Writer
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Back around Halloween, newly signed relief pitcher Brandon League called his Dodgers the "team to beat."
Those brash statements seem like good starting points for two things: to whip up excitement for the season and to establish the key theme for the Dodgers. It all begins tomorrow, when pitchers and catchers report, but the question will linger over this team for the next 7 1/2 months.
What's it going to be? Have the Dodgers' frantic upgrades brought in so much talent, experience and confidence, the rest of the league will be scarcely able to keep up? Or, will it all be a failed experiment in baseball hyper-capitalism, fueling inflation but hardly guaranteeing success?
This feels like an all-or-nothing season for the Dodgers, whose owners have invested nearly three quarters of a billion dollars on player salaries and stadium upgrades since taking over less than a year ago.
So, let's break things down as the players begin pulling into the Camelback Ranch parking lot to report for physical exams.
First workout: Wednesday for pitchers and catchers, Saturday for the full squad.
First exhibition game: Feb. 23 vs. White Sox
New faces: RHP Zack Greinke (free agent); LHP Hyun-Jin Ryu (free agent); Carl Crawford (injury recovery); LHP J.P. Howell (free agent); a host of non-roster invites, including some with major-league experience, such as relievers Mark Lowe and Kevin Gregg.
Gone but not entirely forgotten: INF Adam Kennedy (free agent); OF Bobby Abreu (free agent); OF Shane Victorino (Red Sox); LHP Randy Choate (Cardinals); RHP Todd Coffey (free agent); RHP Josh Lindblom (Rangers); RHP Jamey Wright (Rays); OF Juan Rivera (Yankees); INF James Loney (Rays).
Projected starting lineup
Mark Ellis 2B
Carl Crawford LF
Matt Kemp CF
Andre Ethier RF
Luis Cruz 3B
Projected starting rotation
Clayton Kershaw LHP
Zack Greinke RHP
Chad Billingsley RHP
Hyun-Jin Ryu LHP
Josh Beckett RHP
Brandon League RHP
Kenley Jansen RHP
Ronald Belisario RHP
J.P. Howell LHP
Matt Guerrier RHP
Ted Lilly LHP
Nick Punto INF
Juan Uribe INF
Jerry Hairston Jr. UT
Potential trade bait: The scouts' dining area should be crowded all spring, with plenty of teams looking for starting pitching and the Dodgers having plenty to go around. Once the Dodgers get a good idea of whether Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly will be healthy for opening day, they can begin in earnest to see what they can get for Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang. Since the rest of the team appears set, the Dodgers' best move would be to restock a thin farm system by acquiring prospects.
Rehab report: The trainers and physical therapists will be the busiest team employees, particularly early in camp. Matt Kemp (left shoulder) and Carl Crawford (left elbow) are coming off surgery, Chad Billingsley is hoping a frayed right elbow ligament will heal on its own. Several other players go into camp with a degree of physical uncertainty. The progress of these injuries will dominate headlines all spring, but the Dodgers are hopeful their key players will be ready by April 1.
Spots of competition: The Dodgers have signed so many guaranteed contracts, they've virtually eliminated competition. But there are some marginal places on the roster which will have some action. Paco Rodriguez was the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the big leagues when he joined the Dodgers' bullpen last August and the lefty could force his way into their plans with a sharp spring. Unfortunately for him, he won't have much time to open eyes because he'll be pitching for Spain in the World Baseball Classic. Juan Uribe might need to show up fit and play well this spring to avoid being released. The Dodgers brought in some veteran catchers, including Jesus Flores and Ramon Castro, so Tim Federowicz shouldn't feel too comfortable as the backup.
Contract talks: The Dodgers would like to sign Clayton Kershaw to a long-term contract extension. Kershaw wants to remain with the team. It seems like it would be a relatively simple transaction, but the magnitude of the deal (some have speculated it could be worth over $200 million) and the timing (Kershaw isn't eligible free agency until fall of 2014) could slow things down. Still, the sides have touched base, so you can expect aspects of the talks to leak out periodically all spring.
Dodgers in the WBC: Camp will be fragmented once again by baseball's efforts to market itself as a global sport. Gonzalez and Cruz (Team Mexico); Ramirez (Dominican Republic); Rodriguez (Spain); Belisario (Venezuela) and Punto (Italy) will all be away from camp for a time training and competing for the World Baseball Classic.
14hZach Mariner and Marty Callinan, ESPN Stats & Info