Every season, I look forward to Dodger baseball. Even the last couple years when the team wasn't that talented and you know who was still in charge.
This season, the team is, like previous seasons, not that talented, but the ownership change, it's given me optimism.
Now, this team isn't going to win 100 games or anything, but it could be closer to a playoff spot than many think.
Of the fellas at True Blue L.A., three of the seven are predicting the Dodgers will make the playoffs. And none of them have the Dodgers winning no fewer than 81 games. That's an improvement from the 77-85 (rounded up/down) record Baseball Prospectus is predicting.
I'm trying to look at this as objectively as possible. The Dodgers, outside of Matt Kemp (left) and Clayton Kershaw, aren't exactly the most talented team in the majors. There are a lot of question marks.
The Dodgers are going to have to rely on some bounce-back seasons, youth and some good luck if they hope to make the playoffs in 2012.
Can Gordon be the guy the Dodgers need him to be? I looked at him a little more in depth in February. It's a lot of pressure for a 23-year-old, but if any of the Dodgers' youngsters can handle it, it's Gordon. He hit .379 this spring and walked as much as he struck out (seven times). That's encouraging.
He seems to be a "key" guy every season for the Dodgers. This season, more than ever, Loney has to perform for the Dodgers to be legitimate. His 2008 and 2009 seasons aren't exactly going to get him any postseason hardware, but if he could average those numbers (.285/.348/.417, 13 home runs, 90 RBI, 30 2B), that would go a long way to helping the Dodgers' success. He isn't going to be a 20-25 home run guy, setting sights a little lower makes a lot of sense.
Billingsley is saying all the right things, but his spring has some folks worried. I try not to put too much stock in to Spring Training numbers, but Billingsley didn't finish 2011 on a strong note and this is a make-or-break year for him, despite signing a lucrative contract extension just a little more than a year ago. He needs to lock himself in as the Dodgers' No. 2 starter and get back to being the pitcher he was just two seasons ago.
Ethier's torrid spring gives a lot of folks hope for his 2012 season -- a walk year for him. I still don't think he wants to be in Los Angeles long-term, so a great 2012 season would help him going into free agency next winter. He needs to be Kemp's protection, because we know guys like Juan Rivera and Loney have no business batting right behind the 2011 NL MVP runner-up.
These four guys are the key to the Dodgers' season. If one of them doesn't perform, it's going to be tougher for the Dodgers to have success.
With the new ownership nearly in place, the Dodgers are going to be in an interesting position -- they're going to be able to take on payroll for the first time in years. This bodes well for them come the trade deadline -- if they're in contention.
If the team can hang around in the playoff hunt (remember, there's an extra wild card slot to be had), the Dodgers will make a significant midseason trade to upgrade the team. Who will they acquire? That's anyone's guess -- and something that will begin to take shape as the season goes on.
Joey Votto would have been nice, but he's never leaving Cincinnati. A couple of guys I could see being available are Paul Konerko and David Wright.
Konerko is in the second year of a 3-year deal and just continues to mash. He posted another .900-plus OPS season in 2011 and doesn't appear to be slowing down much. The White Sox have gotten themselves into quite a predicament by overpaying for players (not Konerko) and gutting their farm system. They're going to have to be really lucky to make any noise this season. Despite being a fan favorite, they could move him for the right package. He makes $12 million this season and $13.5 million in 2013.
Wright (right) is turning into an enigma. He's extremely talented, but hasn't performed well in two of the last three seasons. He had a resurgent 2010, but fell off again in 2011. The talent is obviously there, but a change of scenery could be the best thing for the former lifetime Met. That, coupled with his contract situation ($15 million this season, $16 million club option in 2013) and the Mets' ownership mess, they could be looking to trim payroll and future commitments by July. Maury Brown tweeted Wednesday the Mets' payroll dropped by 21.45 percent (nearly $25.5 million) from 2011, so it stands to reason they'd be looking to trim payroll.
Then again, the acquisition could be someone who isn't even "available" right now. We'll see, but I think the Dodgers make a significant trade before July 31... if they're in striking distance of a playoff spot.
Everything written above will be all for naught if the Dodgers are as injured as they were in 2011. The team has utility and backup-quality players starting, so the bench is bound to be even worse. The team's depth is a concern.
When guys like Adam Kennedy and Jerry Hairston are key reserves, well, that's saying something.
At least they have some young arms to slot into the rotation if things go awry there.
The Dodgers should have a solid group of minor-leaguers ready to contribute this season, if needed.
Jerry Sands should be the first bat called up from Triple-A. Alex Castellanos impressed this winter and spring and could be a guy who gets the call, if he can grasp second base. Scott Van Slyke has the pedigree and should see some time in L.A. this season. Nathan Eovaldi pitched well enough to earn a rotation spot, but there was just no room for him. Tim Federowicz, despite me not being high on him, could get the call if A.J. Ellis struggles.
Then there are guys like Chris Withrow, Gorman Erickson (right), Shawn Tolleson, Steve Ames and Josh Wall who could all get called up. I'd say the three relievers are most likely, followed by Erickson and Withrow.
The Dodgers will win 86 games, finish in second place behind the Diamondbacks, claim one of the two wild card spots in the NL (probably the second) and could make some noise like they did in 2008 when they won 84 games and made it to the National League Championship Series.
Kemp and Kershaw will again be great, but they won't take home any hardware. The four key players mentioned above will do just enough to keep the Dodgers in contention until July. Then the big acquisition will come in and help lead the Dodgers to the postseason.
Let me just stress that this is the absolute best-case scenario. It's easy to see this team being mediocre -- at best -- and planning for 2013 if things don't come together as planned.
There's a lot of "ifs" for this club, but there is a chance to make the playoffs. A lot of things have to go right, though.