The Dodgers' offseason has been more notable for the team's ongoing bankruptcy and pending sale than for its personnel moves. Even when there has been actual baseball-related news, Dodger fans have been give little reason to improve their blue mood. Center fielder Matt Kemp narrowly lost out on the National League Most Valuable Player award to Ryan Braun. Rotation mainstay Hiroki Kuroda bolted for the Yankees, even after insisting that if he couldn't work out a deal with the Dodgers he would rather return to Japan than play for another major league team. The Dodgers also failed to retain a pair of injury-plagued relievers -- Jonathan Broxton and Hong-Chih Kuo -- who had nonetheless been integral parts of the team's bullpen in recent years.
In spite of the financial turmoil and uncertainty off the field and a paltry .375 team slugging percentage on the field, the Dodgers ended the year on a 25-10 run that put them three games over .500 for the season. The offense perked up slightly, but it was the pitching staff that kicked into high gear over the season's final weeks. NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw led the way, going 8-0 with a 0.96 ERA over his final nine starts.
Kershaw and Kemp will be back to lead the Dodgers in 2012, and for the most part, the supporting cast is set going into spring training. After two seasons in which he was hampered by injuries, right fielder Andre Ethier enters this season with a clean bill of health and a chance to recapture his momentum. James Loney and Juan Uribe will return and are charged with handling the infield corners, Dee Gordon will begin his first full year as the Dodgers' regular shortstop, free agent Mark Ellis will take over for power-deprived Jamey Carroll and Aaron Miles at second base, and journeyman A.J. Ellis will replace Rod Barajas behind the plate. That leaves left field as the only unsettled position heading into camp, and veteran Juan Rivera and young slugger Jerry Sands are the top candidates to win the job.
Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly will join Kershaw at the top of the rotation, and Aaron Harang was signed to replace Kuroda. Meanwhile, Chris Capuano will hold down the fifth starter's job, at least until prospect Nate Eovaldi is ready to take it over or Rubby De La Rosa (Tommy John surgery) is able to make a late-season return. Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen will battle it out this spring over who gets to close out games, while former National Todd Coffey will join a mostly familiar corps of relievers.
Despite their strong finish, the Dodgers were not much of a factor last season, and a lot has to break their way for 2012 to be any different. Ethier will need to stay healthy and find his power stroke again, Gordon has to find a way to get on base more often, and with Kuroda gone, Billingsley and Lilly will need to improve their production. Maybe some of this will happen, but more will have to go in the Dodgers' favor for them to keep up with the Diamondbacks, Giants and possibly even the Rockies in the NL West.
Injury-risk sleeper...Andre Ethier, OF
The last two seasons have not been kind to Ethier, as he was derailed by a broken pinkie in 2010 and by a right knee injury last year, on which he wound up having surgery last September. Entering 2012 with his health woes behind him, Ethier may be able to pick up where he left off three years ago when he hit 31 home runs and drove in 106 runs. Even through his injuries, Ethier has shown good gap power and strike zone judgment, but his home run production has suffered. As last season wore on and Ethier's knee injury worsened, he hit a progressively higher proportion of ground balls each month. With better health, there is little reason to think he can't hit at least 25 homers. While owners may still be reluctant to trust him, Ethier should still provide a good return on a mid-round pick in standard mixed leagues.
Bust...Chad Billingsley, SP
Billingsley had been a beacon of consistency for four years running, so when he posted his first non-winning record (11-11) and a career-high 4.21 ERA, Fantasy owners couldn't be blamed for thinking that 2011 was just a blip on the radar screen. However, Billingsley's strikeout rate has been in decline over the last three seasons, and even more concerning, his swinging strike rate plunged in both 2010 and 2011. Now that Billingsley isn't missing as many bats, his wildness is hurting him even more, and there are no signs suggesting he will improve on either his ERA or his WHIP (1.45) from a year ago. Rather than looking for Billingsley to return to being the top 20 pitcher he was just a few years ago, Fantasy owners should regard the 27-year-old as a late-round or waiver wire option.
Head-to-Head hero...James Loney, 1B
Fantasy owners who found Loney enigmatic a year ago must have found his 2011 season mind-blowing. Loney came out of the gates ice-cold, hitting .210 in April, and he didn't start hitting for power until the middle of August, whereupon he smashed four homers in an eight-game span. Loney's power binge was too short-lived to take seriously, but he showed real improvement in a different way over the latter three-fifths of the season. He cranked up his line drive rate, which enabled him to bat .322 with 24 doubles from June 10 forward. Loney has always been a decent gap hitter with strong contact skills, but his growing penchant for hitting doubles gives him some extra caché in Head-to-Head leagues. In those formats, Loney is worthy of a mid-to-late round pick, whereas it may be a stretch to target him as a late-round flier in standard mixed Rotisserie leagues.
|Projected Lineup||Pos.||Projected Rotation|
|1||Dee Gordon||SS||1||Clayton Kershaw||LH|
|2||Mark Ellis||2B||2||Chad Billingsley||RH|
|3||Andre Ethier||RF||3||Ted Lilly||LH|
|4||Matt Kemp||CF||4||Aaron Harang||RH|
|5||James Loney||1B||5||Chris Capuano||LH|
|6||Juan Rivera||LF||Alt||Nate Eovaldi||RH|
|7||Juan Uribe||3B|| |
|8||A.J. Ellis||C||CL||Javy Guerra||RH|
|Top bench options||SU||Kenley Jansen||RH|
|R||Jerry Hairston||3B/OF||RP||Matt Guerrier||RH|
|R||Tony Gwynn||OF||RP||Scott Elbert||LH|
|R||Adam Kennedy||IF||RP||Todd Coffey||RH|
|Hard-throwing Eovaldi has an outside shot at the rotation out of spring training. More likely he will have some work to do in Triple-A.|
|2||Zach Lee||20||SP||Class A||Class A|
|Lee will probably be on the fast track, but he still won't arrive until next year at the earliest. He projects to be a top-of-the-rotation starter.|
|Webster, a ground ball pitcher, stumbled in Double-A and will likely repeat the level. He could reach the big leagues this year, though.|
|Despite a Pacific Coast League power spike, it's not clear how well Federowicz's bat will play in the majors. He could split time with A.J. Ellis sometime this year.|
|If Jerry Sands flops in his next big league trial, perhaps Silverio will get a shot in left field this year. Good long-term keeper option either way.|
|Best of the rest: Chris Reed, SP; Garrett Gould, SP; Chris Withrow, SP; Joc Pederson, OF; Alex Castellanos, OF;l Angel Sanchez, SP; Gorman Erickson, C; Angelo Songco, OF; Blake Smith, OF; Shawn Tolleson, RP; Aaron Miller, SP; Scott Van Slyke, OF; Jonathan Garcia, OF; Steve Ames, RP; Jake Lemmerman, SS; Stephen Fife, SP.|
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