Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Los Angeles Dodgers 2014 season preview

2013 Review

92-70, 1st place, NL West

Remember last season when the chatter evolved about the potential ouster of manager Don Mattingly? At the All-Star break, the team was at .500. One rumor even suggested that now former Reds skipper Dusty Baker would take over in LA. Never happened. Pretty sure Dodgers fans are glad that it didn’t.

Part of that was tied into the pair of Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig. Once Ramirez returned to the lineup as an everyday player, as they say, business picked up. Toss Puig into the dynamic and the Dodgers went on a massive roll during the season’s second half (45-23, .662 WP).

Mattingly was rewarded – if you want to put it that way – with a three-year extension which begins this season.

Transactions

Additions: P Dan Haren, P Chris Perez, P Paul Maholm, 2B/SS Alexander Guerrero, OF Justin Turner

Departures: 2B Mark Ellis, IF/OF Skip Schumaker, IF Nick Punto, P Chris Capuano, P Ricky Nolasco

Haren is the big add here. With the unknown of Josh Beckett (see below) and Chad Billingsley (a return in May or June?), Haren’s presence will be needed. Last season didn’t start off well for the tall righty, but his second half ( 14 G, 13 GS, 6-4, 3.52 ERA, 1.017 WHIP) was far better than the first half (17 G, 17 GS, 4-10, 5.52 ERA, 1.419 WHIP).

Signing Guerrero was considered a plus, but he’s in a battle for the starting second base gig with Dee Gordon, along with non-roster invitees Chone Figgins and Justin Turner. All four are still in big league camp, but you have a feeling that right now, Gordon has a slight edge. Guerrero may need time to adapt as did fellow Cuban Puig did last season.

We saw how that worked out for the Dodgers.

The Dodgers will miss Ellis for his defense.

Payroll

Cot’s Contracts shows the Dodgers with $224.9MM currently committed, a raise from last year’s Opening Day figure $216.8MM. That’s hardly the increase we saw from 2012 to 2013 though. New ownership more than doubled the payroll for last season compared to the season previous ($105.4MM for OD 2012).

Non-Dodgers fans can gripe, moan, and label the Dodgers as the “Yankees of the West” all we want. When you got the resources, use them. They are certainly doing that.

Player to watch

Josh Beckett…and it has nothing to do with his performance or projections.

At this point, I’m not overly concerned about Beckett’s numbers even if “it’s only spring training” (8 IP, 5.63 ERA, 1.375 WHIP, 4.5 SO/9, 3.4 BB/9). As expected, Beckett has been facing mostly MLB level hitting during this spring.

No, what I’m wondering is how he bounces back from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery. If you’re unfamiliar with thoracic outlet syndrome, it is “a group of disorders that occur when there is compression, injury, or irritation of the nerves and/or blood vessels (arteries and veins) in the lower neck and upper chest area” as defined by the Cleveland Clinic. With this surgery, a rib can be removed in order to provide more room for nerves and blood vessels. Such was the case with Beckett.

This was also the same procedure that pretty much ended Chris Carpenter‘s career, so there should be concern on that level. Or that Beckett had to leave his last spring outing due to thumb soreness. Someone apparently can’t tell which door leads in or out.

If there’s a setback over the next week or so, the signing of Maholm, followed with an early summer return of Billingsley should greatly aid the rotation. Billingsley is due to face hitters soon.

Player the must improve

Matt Kemp

A little on the same wavelength as with Beckett. Kemp comes into the season after a pair of off-season surgeries (shoulder and ankle). In fact, he might not be ready for Opening Day. The Dodgers seemingly have a plethora of outfielders at their disposal, so they possess the time for Kemp to “get right”.

And an “unright” Kemp is not a good Kemp. Sure, the Dodgers won their division and even made the NLCS without him, but imagine what 2013 could have been had Kemp maintained his health for the entire season. If he can avoid the nagging n=injuries for this season, this lineup is pretty scary.

But anymore when I hear of Matt Kemp, this will always come to mind…

And then this…

Regression candidate

Carl Crawford

Crawford isn’t the player we saw from his days in Tampa. I don’t believe anyone would think that. He did bounce back some last season, but will that run over into this season? Personally, I’m not seeing it.

Crawford is due $20.2MM for this season and his recent history suggests he will not live up to that value (per Fangraphs). In fact, Crawford hasn’t posted a season where did create positive value since his final year with the Rays. He did perform better than the two seasons he spent in Boston, one of which was abbreviated due to surgery and nagging injuries. Those years in Boston were a nightmare.

While the Oliver projections show Crawford will have a slightly higher WAR for 2014 (3.2), it isn’t much higher than that of 2013 (fWAR 2.9). The bonus from 2013 was that Crawford increased his walk rate (2.4% to 6.0%) and decreased his strikeout rate (17.6% to 14.1%).

He won’t be heading to Australia with the team for the season’s Opening Series. Crawford is staying behind for the birth of his child.

That one question for 2014…

How deep of a playoff run will the Dodgers make?

The easy answer is to win it all. Bovada has LA as the favorites at 7/1, but the St. Louis Cardinals are right behind them at 15/2. Why so close? Could be those recovering from injuries/surgeries that I previously mentioned. Those, and potentially another issue, create questions.

I’ll ask those questions in a bit. The Dodgers appear to have the answers regarding the bullpen and bench. Now to those questions.

Can Matt Kemp fully recover and be the player he was in 2012? Will Josh Beckett be able to avoid the same fate as Carpenter? Add this question: Will second base, a position of strength last season be a position of weakness this year? If the answers are: yes, yes and no, the Dodgers will be fine and should be more than just a slim favorite to hoist the Commissioner’s Trophy come November.

Imagine having Beckett as your fifth starter and performing near a level he did prior to the surgery. I already touched upon what 2013 could have been had Kemp been, well, Kemp.

There’s not much that should deter this team in 2014…other than itself.

Tags: 2014 Season Preview Los Angeles Dodgers

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