USA TODAY Sports Weekly
New Dodgers envision selves in manager’s gritty image,
Focus on contending for title every year, not just this season
The Los Angeles Dodgers have elicited so much fan and media grumbling over their offseason maneuvers, it’s easy to forget they have won the National League West in each of the last three years.
While the division rival San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks were fortifying their flanks with bold acquisitions — the latter luring ace right-hander Zack Greinke from Los Angeles with a $206.5 million deal — the Dodgers were hardly making a splash, their biggest expenditure coming in the form of a threeyear, $48 million contract with left-hander Scott Kazmir.
That’s not the kind of glitzy acquisition that moves the needle in star-obsessed Los Angeles, especially after the loss of Greinke. But the club’s brass is less concerned with the public’s perception than with a commitment to building a sustainable winner for this year and beyond.
“When you’re a big-market team, it’s just as important for us to be good in 2016 as it is for us to be good in 2018 or ’19,” general manager Farhan Zaidi said. “Our fans are going to have the same expectations. We’re going to have the same expectations.
“In L.A., there’s not a window to compete. That window’s always going to be open.”
So the Dodgers have held on to such promising youngsters as shortstop Corey Seager and pitchers Julio Urias and Jose De Leon while adding the likes of Kazmir and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda to complement a rotation headed by threetime Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw.
While Los Angeles’ starters ranked second in the league with a 3.24 ERA last season, the Dodgers went 43-22 in games started by Kershaw and Greinke but 49-48 with anybody else taking the mound.
This year’s rotation should be deeper and less top-heavy — starting candidates also include Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, Hyun-Jin Ryu coming off shoulder surgery and Brandon McCarthy coming off elbow surgery — but whether it will achieve similar results remains an open question.
Even more intriguing will be the status of enigmatic Yasiel Puig, who went from toast of the town to a virtual ghost last season, when he was overweight and often sidelined by hamstring injuries. An All-Star the previous year, Puig batted .255 and had a .758 on-base-plus-slugging percentage (OPS) in 79 games.
It will be up to rookie manager Dave Roberts to extract considerably more production than that out of one of baseball’s most talented players.
The Dodgers would like to see not just Puig but the whole club take on the gritty style of play that kept Roberts in the majors for 10 seasons after he broke in at 27.
“He got every ounce of ability out of himself that he could,” Zaidi said. “He was one of the most aware players and smart players in terms of his baseball IQ. The type of player Dave was, that’s really the type of identity we want our team to embrace. Who better to lead that team than the man himself?”
Where the Dodgers stand at every position (*-prospect):
uCatcher: Yasmani Grandal earned an All-Star nod in his first season in Los Angeles through his combination of power (16 homers), high on-base percentage (.353) and strong defensive metrics. He established himself as the team’s No. 1 catcher, but A.J. Ellis remains a valuable contributor as Kershaw’s personal catcher and as a backup. Ellis played 63 games and boosted his offense markedly, with his OPS jumping nearly 200 points to .758.
Depth chart: Grandal, Ellis, *Austin Barnes, Jack Murphy, Shawn Zarraga.
uFirst base: Backup first basemen know better than to seek employment with the Dodgers, who have gotten at least 156 games from Adrian Gonzalez in each of the last three years. And they’ve been productive seasons. While Gonzalez’s RBI output dwindled from an NL-high 116 in 2014 to 90 last year, he improved his OPS to .830 and banged out 28 homers, his highest output since 2010. The Dodgers will just keep winding him up and sending him out there.
Depth chart: Gonzalez, Scott Van Slyke, Justin Turner, *Cody Bellinger.
uSecond base: When the Dodgers re-signed veteran Chase Utley to a oneyear deal for $7 million, it seemed as if they intended to platoon him at second base with Enrique Hernandez, who pounded left-handed pitchers to the tune of a .423 batting average and a 1.215 OPS in 87 plate appearances in 2015. But then Los Angeles re-signed Howie Kendrick, and it’s clear he will get the majority of the at-bats after he batted .295 and drove in 54 runs in 117 games. Kendrick’s defensive metrics ranked below average, but he provides a consistent bat and a positive clubhouse presence. Utley and Hernandez will slide into utility roles.
Depth chart: Kendrick, Utley, Hernandez, Micah Johnson, Alex Guerrero, Charlie Culberson, Elian Herrera.
uThird base: Justin Turner has evolved from a utility man into a full-time third baseman, posting an OPS of better than .850 in each of the last two seasons. Last year Turner set career highs with