For all the headline-grabbing moves the Los Angeles Dodgers made beginning in July, the team still has some measure of intrigue, as there are plenty of question marks dotting the lineup.
Matt Kemp, the team's brightest star, is coming back from shoulder surgery. And it wasn't just your run-of-the-mill scope. Kemp had a torn labrum and a debridement of the rotator cuff -- injuries that were found to be far more serious than initially thought during the surgery. And Kemp may be the least of the team's worries.
The Dodgers will also be keeping their fingers crossed and hoping for vintage performances from Carl Crawford, who played just 31 games last year thanks to wrist and elbow injuries; Hanley Ramirez, whose star has fallen greatly since a three-year All-Star run ended in 2010, and Adrian Gonzalez, whose 18 home runs and .806 OPS in 2012 were the lowest since he was a rookie with the Rangers. Propping this group up are supplemental pieces Mark Ellis, Andre Ethier, Luis Cruz and A.J. Ellis. So if things go south with the assortment of superstar bats, the Dodgers will have to rely on a group of players who can be somewhat erratic with their production.
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Of course, this is the pessimistic view of things. It's well within the realm of possibility for Kemp to flirt with 40/40, Crawford to have a career resurgence after missing essentially an entire season, Ramirez to return to form back in his comfort zone of playing shortstop and Gonzalez to revert to his power-hitting old self in a glorious return to the National League West. Crawford, Gonzalez and Ramirez have the added bonus of escaping from severely dysfunctional teams (the 2012 Red Sox and Marlins) and the change of clubhouse alone could propel them to the heights of old. If they do return to form, Ethier, Cruz and the Ellises could be in for big seasons, just by being in the general vicinity of these big bats.
It's not just the collection of bats that will have question marks floating over their heads this year. The rotation features one of the game's best young pitchers in Clayton Kershaw, who missed time in September with a hip issue (which he claims is behind him and no longer a problem). Zack Greinke is a former Cy Young Award winner, but has a higher-than-you-may-realize 3.83 ERA over the last three years, and has struck out a batter per inning in just one of those last three seasons. Josh Beckett is as enigmatic as they come, producing spectacular seasons and disasters on an every-other-year basis. Hyun-Jin Ryu put up spectacular numbers in Korea and is slated to pitch in the No. 4 spot, but Korea's competition level is not the same as Japan's and he could meet some challenges in the majors.
Then again, Kershaw and Greinke are legitimate aces, Beckett can pitch at an ace level if motivated and healthy and Ryu could be a revelation, able to fool batters with his battery of unseen and mostly un-scouted pitches. And while Brandon League is slated to close for the Dodgers, don't be surprised if Kenley Jansen finds himself in the mix, as well.
There will be a lot of "yeah, but..." type arguments leading up to the start of the season for the Dodgers. But they at least have the benefit of having plenty of these question marks -- meaning that if a couple go sour, and a couple take off, they'll even out to being in a pretty good place, especially considering their bench and rotation depth.
Bounceback ... Josh Beckett, starting pitcher
Beckett has been written off by most of the Fantasy world after putting up a 4.65 ERA and 1.33 WHIP in 2012. His biggest transgression may have been letting his strikeout rate drop to 7.0 K/9 -- the second-lowest of his career. But hidden in those numbers is Beckett's turnaround when he left the Red Sox. In seven starts with the Dodgers, Beckett had a 2.93 ERA, sending his K/9 up to 8.0. And let's not forget Beckett had a 2.98 ERA and 1.03 WHIP in 2011, which seems to have been washed from the memories of Beckett-haters who want to leave him undrafted in most formats. If Beckett can re-capture his late-season 2012 and 2011 (and 2009, 2007, 2005 ...) magic -- a possible scenario -- he could be that cheap, late-round pitcher on which Fantasy championships are built.
Bounceback, Part II ... Carl Crawford, outfielder
Carl Crawford is only 31 years old but is talked about like he's 36. He's coming off wrist and Tommy John elbow surgery. Yet he still managed to hit .282 and steal five bases in 2012 despite only getting 117 at-bats. Heading into last season, he was a nice candidate for a breakout -- he hit a career-low .255 in his first season with the Red Sox (he had a .296 average prior). His steals plummeted, from 47 in 2010 to 18 in 2011. The Crawford of previous seasons looked like he'd never be seen again. But he now gets a fresh start in Los Angeles with a stacked lineup and much less pressure than he had in his short Boston stint. Crawford will also benefit from playing in a larger home park without the quirks of Fenway, which should get him back up to the 30 double/10 triple range. Additionally, the Dodgers seem like they're not afraid to run. The problem with their 2012 team was that they didn't have many base-stealers. Dee Gordon stole 32 bases in 87 games, Shane Victorino had 15 in his 53-game stint with the Dodgers and Tony Gwynn stole 13 in a limited role. But with Hanley Ramirez, a healthy Matt Kemp and Crawford in the lineup for 2013, the Dodgers will likely be set loose on the basepaths. And the overall philosophy should help Crawford return to his pre-Boston form.
Bounceback, Part III ... Hanley Ramirez, shortstop
Heading into 2011, Ramirez had a .313 career batting average and -- discouting his 2005 debut, in which he had two at-bats for the Red Sox -- Ramirez had averaged 23 home runs, 40 doubles and 39 steals each year of his career. Sure, 2010 really started his decline (which coincided with elbow problems late in the year) but 2011 was when the bottom dropped out. Granted, Ramirez battled leg, foot and back problems early in the year, got hot right around the All-Star break and then tweaked his shoulder, which killed the rest of his season and eventually requierd surgery. In 2012, he dealt with learning a new position on the fly as he came back from the shoulder surgery. Once he got into a groove, he found himself traded to Los Angeles, where he hit .271 with 10 home runs in 251 at-bats. This season, he gets a full reset -- he's back at shortstop, he's a full year removed from the shoulder surgery and he's out of the dysfunction in Miami. Ramirez proved over five years that he could play at an All-Star level, and his injuries are mostly overlooked by the naysayers. With his stock at an all-time low heading into 2013, Ramirez should be a bargain bounceback candidate in most drafts.
The Dodgers sent a lot of young talent packing via big trades last year, but still managed to retain a decent amount of farm strength. The team gave $42 million to 22-year-old Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig, who had a .354 average and 1.076 OPS in 23 minor league games last year. While he probably won't see the majors until 2014, Puig makes for a solid keeper pick later in drafts, who may slip through some cracks without a "No. X draft pick" attached to him. ... Paco Rodriguez was the first 2012 draft pick to reach the majors last year, appearing in 11 late-season games and producing a 1.35 ERA and 1.05 WHIP. A reliever by trade, Rodriguez may be the future closer for Los Angeles, but doesn't have immediate keeper value as he looks to be a middle reliever, at best, if he sticks with the team out of spring training. ... Corey Seager was the team's top draft pick in 2012 and had a nice stint in the Pioneer League, hitting .309 with eight home runs and eight steals over 175 at-bats. He probably won't make an impact until 2015.
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