<
>

Twenty potential problems with the Dodgers

3/14/2013

Dodgers fans: Quit reading now. This article is going to be painful.

Here's the deal: The Dodgers could be awesome. Of course they could. They have the best pitcher in the National League in Clayton Kershaw, and the guy who probably should have won the MVP Award in 2011 in Matt Kemp, and they have Zack Greinke and Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez and Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier and too many starting pitchers to know what to do with. That's a lot of star power.

So, yes, they could be World Series champions. But the Titanic was supposedly unsinkable. This team could also be a bust on the scale of the 2012 Red Sox. Every regular player has a legitimate issue or concern heading into the season. Sure, you could do this with every team ("Mike Trout could turn into Luis Polonia!"), but in the Dodgers' case, the potential questions are more than fair to raise.

So, in the order they have Dodgers fans waking up in the middle of the night in cold sweats, here are 20 questions:

1. Zack Greinke: What's going on the with the elbow? He has inflammation and missed his start this week. Hopefully it's just a little spring training tendinitis.

2. Carl Crawford: Were the past two seasons just an aberration or can he return to the All-Star level he was with Tampa Bay? He'll miss the start of the season rehabbing from Tommy John surgery, he didn't do much with Boston, his defensive metrics fell off the table and his strikeout/walk ratio deteriorated. Otherwise ...

3. Hanley Ramirez: How many runs he will he give away defensively at shortstop? Can he return to being a .300 hitter?

4. Chad Billingsley: Will the elbow hold up? There were concerns he would need Tommy John surgery after missing the end of last season with a partially torn ulnar collateral ligament. So far, so good, but it's a wait-and-see issue.

5. Adrian Gonzalez: Is he good or Adrian Gonzalez Good? He was a star first baseman from 2008 to 2011, but dropped off last year. After walking 119 times in 2009, he drew just 42 last year, leading to a big decline in his on-base percentage.

6. Matt Kemp: How's the shoulder? Kemp had surgery in October to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff damage in his left shoulder (Gonzalez had similar surgery two years ago).

7. Luis Cruz: Big league regular or 4-A player? The 29-year-old minor league vet surprised last year, hitting .297/.322/.431 in 78 games, but there are doubts he can repeat those as the starting third baseman.

8. Clayton Kershaw: How's the hip? It bothered him at the end of last season, and while it's not an issue now, the Dodgers can't afford to have it pop back up.

9. A.J. Ellis: Is he for real? At the age of 31, the catcher became a starter for the first time and posted an impressive .373 OBP. But he also hit a less impressive .252/.336/.401 in the second half.

10. Josh Beckett: What does he have left? He turns 33 in May and has battled back problems in recent years, averaging 26 starts over the past three seasons. In those three years, he had a terrible one, a great one and a mediocre one. Which Beckett will show up in 2013?

11. Brandon League: Is he a legit closer? He was an All-Star with Seattle in 2011, but lost his job last year as his walk rate jumped from 1.5 per nine innings to 4.1. His strikeout rates have always been subpar for a closer, although he did allow just one home run in 2012. The Dodgers traded for him and then signed him to a three-year deal with a vesting option, an investment most analysts questioned.

12. Hyun-Jin Ryu: Is he any good? The Dodgers gave the Korean lefty $36 million with the belief he's ready to jump into their rotation, but he hasn't impressed this spring, and some have questioned his routine of not throwing between starts.

13. Mark Ellis: Can he stay healthy? He's had 500 plate appearances just once in the past four seasons.

14. Chris Capuano: Can he repeat his 2012 numbers? Capuano went 12-12 with a career-low 3.72 ERA, but was 3-8 with a 4.76 ERA in the second half.

15. Kenley Jansen: How's his health? He's held hitters to a .148 average in his three major league seasons, but missed three weeks last year with an irregular heartbeat and underwent surgery in the offseason. He's under no restrictions and the Dodgers' gentle giant should be fine, but they can't afford to lose their best reliever for any lengthy period of time.

16. Andre Ethier: Will Don Mattingly finally platoon him against left-handers? Because Ethier can't hit them, .222/.276/.330 last year, .220/.258/.305 in 2011. And with Ethier, Gonzalez and Crawford, the Dodgers are likely to see a lot of southpaws.

17. Ronald Belisario: Can he do that again? Belisario was quietly dominating in 2012, going 8-1 with a 2.54 ERA and holding opponents to a .187 average.

18. Dee Gordon: What if he has to play shortstop? Once a rising star, Gordon's terrible 2012 (-1.3 WAR) means he'll start back in Triple-A. But if Ramirez can't handle short, is Gordon ready to step back in?

19. J.P. Howell: Can he handle the lefty bullpen role? Unless one of the starters (Ryu, Capuano, Ted Lilly) ends up down here, Howell might be the only lefty in the pen. After missing all of 2010 and pitching poorly in 2011, he was OK with the Rays last year (3.04 ERA in 50 innings). But how will he pitch away from his comfort zone of Tampa?

20. Don Mattingly: What if things turn sour? Mattingly is certainly more of the quiet leader from that top step, and he has two years of experience now, but expectations are high. If the Dodgers get off to a slow start, the pressure will mount in a hurry. And he has a core group of guys who -- fair or not -- couldn't handle that kind of pressure last year in Boston and were happily run out of town.