Thursday, May 7, 2009 Updated: May 8, 11:11 AM ET
Dodgers will improve without Manny
By Steve Phillips ESPN
In the aftermath of Manny Ramirez's suspension, there will be meetings within the Dodgers organization. First the front office and the coaching staff will assemble, and then they can all meet with the players. The message will be simple: The Dodgers have a very, very good team with Manny Ramirez and still have a good team even without him.
A big message will be directed at the Dodgers' young stars, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier. The team will remind them that they were good players before Manny ever showed up last season, and they are better now, with or without him.
Ramirez clearly makes the Dodgers a deeper and stronger lineup. But his replacement, Juan Pierre, is a proven major leaguer who, although he is different from Manny, can still be a major force offensively. Remember, Pierre is hungry for playing time and has waited patiently for an opportunity to play. Now that it has arrived, look for him to explode.
Juan Pierre wanted more playing time. With Manny Ramirez suspended, Pierre's about to get it.
There's no doubt the Dodgers' offense will be different, but it should still be highly productive. I don't have any doubt that on July 3, when Manny returns, the team will still be in first place and their young players will be even more confident in their own abilities.
Without Ramirez batting third in the order, expect manager Joe Torre to experiment a little bit before settling on a regular lineup. With the way second baseman (and 2-hitter) Orlando Hudson is swinging the bat, he certainly could hit in the third spot. Leadoff man Rafael Furcal could drop to second, behind Pierre in the top spot. Torre would also have the option of moving Ethier to the No. 3 spot, with Kemp hitting fourth.
Look for the Dodgers to run a lot more to try to manufacture runs without Manny's power bat in the lineup. All of this could make watching Dodgers baseball an awful lot of fun and help make them stronger upon the return of their slugger.
As disappointing as this all is, there is a significant silver lining. They know that Ramirez will be back and that he'll be fresh and motivated. Those are good things for a team destined to play in October. Plus, the Dodgers will save between $7 million and $8 million in salary while Manny is out, and that may just be what is necessary to add a big front-line pitcher to their payroll at the trade deadline.
Steve Phillips is an analyst on "Baseball Tonight" and a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.