USA TODAY Sports Weekly

New Dodgers en­vi­sion selves in man­ager’s gritty im­age,

Fo­cus on con­tend­ing for ti­tle ev­ery year, not just this sea­son

- Jorge L. Or­tiz @jorgelor­tiz USA TO­DAY Sports Sports · College Sports · Baseball · MLB Baseball · Cactus League · Los Angeles Dodgers · Los Angeles · National League West · National League (Baseball) · San Francisco Giants · San Francisco · Arizona Diamondbacks · Arizona · Zack Greinke · Corey Seager · Cy Young · Dave Roberts · Yasmani Grandal · Adrian Gonzalez · Justin Turner · Chase Utley · Scott Kazmir · Clayton Kershaw · Brett Anderson · Alex Wood · Hyun-jin Ryu · Brandon McCarthy · Yasiel Puig

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

 ?? JAYNE KAMIN-ON­CEA, USA TO­DAY SPORTS ?? Yas­mani Gran­dal, an All-Star in 2015, has taken over as the start­ing catcher.
JAYNE KAMIN-ON­CEA, USA TO­DAY SPORTS Yas­mani Gran­dal, an All-Star in 2015, has taken over as the start­ing catcher.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA