Commentary

Dodgers need vets to rebound in '12

Updated: February 17, 2012, 7:08 PM ET
By Jim Bowden | Special to ESPNLosAngeles.com

The Los Angeles Dodgers' offseason started with an eight-year, $160 million contract with one of the game's best players in Matt Kemp and ended with a two-year, $19 million deal with the league's best pitcher in Clayton Kershaw. In the middle was a spending spree that committed over $45 million to 14 players, most of whom are slated to be back-end of the rotation starters, middle relievers or role players.

Most of the veteran signings included players who have good makeup and know how to play, but many are in the declining years of their careers. The Dodgers wanted to re-sign the consistent Hiroki Kuroda but weren't able to sign him at the same amount the Yankees could. Other key departures from last year included catcher Rod Barajas, third baseman Casey Blake, infielders Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles and pitchers Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla.

The Dodgers' key additions included starting pitchers Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, second baseman Mark Ellis and the versatile Jerry Hairston Jr.

The Dodgers' acquisitions weren't sexy, but the team feels they are all solid players. The key for the Dodgers this year will be the performance of returning veterans like Chad Billingsley, Andre Ethier, James Loney and Juan Uribe, who need to have seasons more in keeping with their careers.

Before the players arrive for spring training, here's a look at how the 2012 Dodgers shape up, position by position:

Rotation

[+] EnlargeChad Billingsley
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesChad Billingsley has always had the potential to win 15 games a year but has only done it once, in 2008.

Kershaw, 23, was the best pitcher in the National League last year, winning the Cy Young Award after leading the league in wins (21), ERA (2.28), strikeouts (248) and WHIP (an impressive 0.977). The rest of the rotation includes veterans who have all pitched more than 200 innings in a season during their careers.

Billingsley, 27, pitched more than 180 innings last season for the fourth consecutive year. He finished 11-11 with a 4.21 ERA and an unimpressive WHIP of 1.452. Billingsley has always had the potential to win 15 games a year but has done it only once, in 2008. Ted Lilly, 36 pitching on the first year of a three-year, $33 million deal, went 12-14 last year with a 3.97 ERA in 33 starts.

Losing Kuroda forced general manager Ned Colletti to turn to two veterans to take his place in the back of the rotation, free agents Harang and left-hander Capuano. Harang, 33, had a solid comeback season with the Padres last season, thanks to mechanical changes and adjustments with his breaking ball that led to a 14-7 season with a 3.64 ERA. Capuano, 32, stayed healthy for a full season for the first time since 2006, allowing him to win 11 games despite an inflated 4.55 ERA and a WHIP of 1.349.

The Dodgers have depth in the rotation with two rookies including Nathan Eovaldi, 21, who many scouts think has a chance beat out Capuano by the All-Star break. Rubby De La Rosa, 22, has more upside despite his 5-foot-10, 198-pound frame. De La Rosa throws a fastball in the 94-100 mph range. He has loose, quick arm action and a simple delivery that he repeats, resulting in command of his pitches. His best offspeed pitch is his changeup, but his breaking ball was improving when he went down with a partially torn ligament in his right elbow that led to Tommy John surgery in August. There is a chance he could be back by September.

Bullpen

[+] EnlargeGuerra
Gary A. Vasquez/US PresswireJavy Guerra is expected to be the Dodgers closer after an impressive 21 saves last season.

The Dodgers' bullpen had the third-highest ERA in the NL last year, but that really doesn't tell the full story of this youthful group loaded with powerful, developing arms. Gone are former closer Broxton, who signed with the Kansas City Royals as a free agent, and Kuo, who signed with the Mariners as a free agent. The Dodgers' bullpen this year will feature several young arms all with under two years of service, led by Javy Guerra, 26, who is expected to be the closer after an impressive 21 saves last season and a 2.31 ERA in 47 games and a WHIP of 1.179.

Kenley Jansen, 24, had a breakout season in 2011, setting a major league record for strikeouts per nine innings at a rate of 16.1. He'll compete with Guerra for the closer's role, but will probably be the team's primary set-up reliever. Josh Lindblom, 25, was solid last season with a 2.73 ERA in 27 appearances and a WHIP of 1.04, and left-hander Scott Elbert, 26, was also impressive, finishing with a 2.43 ERA in 47 games.

Veteran Matt Guerrier, 33, was solid in the pen, finishing with a 4-3 record with a 4.07 ERA. The Dodgers signed several older, experienced arms, including: Todd Coffey, 31, who went 5-1 with a 3.62 ERA in 69 appearances for the Washington Nationals; and Mike MacDougal, 35, who went 3-1 for the Dodgers last season with a 2.05 ERA in 69 games.

The bullpen is built around youth in Guerra, Jansen, Elbert and Lindblom but the presence of veteran arms like Guerrier, MacDougal and Coffey give the Dodgers experienced depth.

Catching

A.J. Ellis
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireThe Dodgers could use more offense from A.J. Ellis than the .271 he hit last season.

A.J. Ellis and Matt Treanor are expected to share the catching duties, while Tim Federowicz is slated to start the year in Triple-A. All three are solid defensive catchers known for their catch-and-throw skills, but none are offensive catchers.

Ellis, 30, hit .271 last season with two home runs and 11 RBIs in 103 plate appearances for the Dodgers. Treanor, 35, hit .214 with three home runs and 22 RBIs with the Texas Rangers and Royals in 2011.

Federowicz, 24, was acquired in a three-way-deal from the Red Sox last year and hit just .154 in 16 plate appearances last September. Josh Bard, 34, was also signed to a minor league contract to provide additional depth. He hit .210 last year in 86 plate appearances with the Mariners.

If the Dodgers don't find a better bat to put into the mix, this could be baseball's weakest offensive catching staff.

Infield

[+] EnlargeJames Loney
Jeff Curry/US PresswireJames Loney remains a solid defender, but after five straight seasons of 10-15 home runs, we've probably seen his power potential.

The Dodgers have one of the worst offensive infields in the NL. Loney is solid at first base, hitting .288/.339/.416 last season with his normal 12 home runs and 65 RBIs. He's an above-average defender and, although baseball people have been waiting for his power to develop, club officials are beginning to realize after five straight seasons of 10-15 home runs that he's probably reached his power potential. He's still a solid player, reminiscent of first basemen like Hal Morris and Mark Grace, whose line-drive ability to all fields and above-average defense were good enough to win.

Mark Ellis, 34, takes over at second base after hitting .248/.288/.346 combined with the Oakland A's and Colorado Rockies last year. Ellis is a strong defensive player who can turn the double play, but he has no speed or power and is in his declining years. He should, however, help rookie shortstop Dee Gordon develop around the bag. Gordon, 23, hit .304/.325/.362 in his debut with the Dodgers last year with 24 stolen bases and 34 runs scored in 56 games. His lightning speed and athleticism at shortstop brought energy and enthusiasm to the Dodgers late last summer, and the team has hopes he can develop into a top-of-the-lineup table-setter.

Uribe, 32, will try to bounce back from a injury-plagued season in which he hit just .204 with four home runs and 28 RBIs. He's expected to remain at third base with the hopes he can return to his 2010 form, when he hit .248 with 24 home runs and 85 RBIs with the San Francisco Giants. Adam Kennedy and Hairston will provide veteran leadership off the bench.

Outfield

Kemp won the NL Hank Aaron Award last year for the best offensive player in the league. He lost out in the MVP voting to the Brewers' Ryan Braun, most likely because the Dodgers didn't make the postseason. Kemp, 27, arguably is the best all-around player in baseball, hit .324/.399/.586 last year, leading the league with 115 runs scored, 39 home runs and 126 RBIs, while winning the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards for center fielders.

[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/US PresswireMatt Kemp is arguably is the best all-around player in baseball, leading the league last season with 115 runs scored and 39 home runs.

In right field, Ethier is in his free-agent walk year. Ethier, 29, hit .293/.368/.421 with 30 doubles, 11 home runs and 62 RBIs last year. If he is not signed by the trade deadline, few will be surprised if he isn't traded rather than the team getting draft pick compensation if the leaves through free agency.

Rookie Jerry Sands could win the left field job, but there will be plenty of playing time for Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Trent Oeltjen. If Sands doesn't shorten his swing, the Dodgers could be looking for an upgrade via the trade market by the All-Star break.

Farm system

The Dodgers' farm system is loaded with pitching prospects, including Zach Lee, Allen Webster, Chris Reed, Eovaldi, Chris Withrow and Garret Gould. However, there are not a lot of position player prospects or bats outside of 24-year-old Alfredo Silverio, who played at Double-A Chattanooga last year. Hopefully, new ownership will provide Logan White, assistant GM of scouting, the resources to rebuild the farm system, starting with year's June free-agent draft. White, of course, is one of the game's best evaluators and was mostly responsible for the drafting of Kershaw and Kemp.

Prediction

The Dodgers could finish anywhere from second to fourth place this year in the winnable NL West, depending mostly on their ability to score runs. The Dodgers' starting pitching and bullpen should keep them in most games, and their defense should be solid and consistent. The biggest question is how much run production they'll get from the left field, infield and catching positions, and how much opposing pitchers will pitch around perennial MVP candidate Kemp. The team also has to hope Uribe, Loney and Ethier have rebound seasons and that the distraction of Ethier's looming free agency doesn't disrupt him at the plate.

I predict the Dodgers will finish in third place, behind the Diamondbacks and Giants, unless they're able to rebuild the lineup between now and season's end.

Read more from Bowden at The GM's Office blog on ESPN.com. http://espn.go.com/blog/the-gms-office/

Jim Bowden

Baseball, Insider

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