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MLB Team Previews: 2011 Dodgers Preview

David Regan

David Regan

David Regan is a five-time Fantasy Sports Writers Association award winner, and was named the 2010 Fantasy Baseball Writer of the Year.

Ongoing and well-documented ownership challenges have the Dodgers organization in a state of flux, a condition that finds them on the outside looking in in terms of pulling together a payroll necessary to compete with the other large market clubs. Sure, they did re-sign Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda while bringing in Jon Garland, but a gaping hole in left field combined with probably below-average offensive output from the infield corners and catcher positions will likely have the Dodgers looking up at the Giants (and others?) again in 2011 barring huge steps forward from their young core.

Offseason Moves

Signed infielder Juan Uribe to a three-year $21 million contract.
In the forms of Blake DeWitt, Ryan Theriot, and Ronnie Belliard, the Dodgers haven't received much in the way of production out of second base since the days of Jeff Kent. Paying $7 million a year to a 31 year-old player with a career .300 OBP isn't the best way to rectify that situation, but LA second basemen batted a collective .253/.339/.330 a year ago and Uribe is coming off a 24-homer season. Uribe should slot in the middle of the order and provide needed power with a low batting average.

Re-signed LHP Ted Lilly to a three-year $33 million contract and RHP Hiroki Kuroda to a one-year $12 million contract.
The Dodgers moved quickly this offseason to bring back a pair of reliable veteran pitchers in Lilly and Kuroda. Neither will anchor a fantasy rotation, but both should provide 170-200 innings of sub-4.00 ERA ball, and there's value in that.

Signed RHP Jon Garland to a one-year $5 million deal.
The list of Dodgers that occupied the No. 5 rotation slot last year is an ugly one: John Ely (5.49 ERA after Elymania fizzled), Carlos Monasterios (5.91 ERA), Charlie Haeger (9.78 ERA), and Ramon Ortiz (9.82 ERA in two starts). Garland brings stability to the back-end of the rotation, as he's topped 190 innings in each of the last nine seasons. We will note that a few potential suitors this winter were reportedly scared off by MRI results of Garland's shoulder, but at this point, we won't be overly concerned.

Signed outfielders Tony Gwynn Jr. and Marcus Thames to one year deals and re-signed OF Jay Gibbons to a one-year deal.
Not exactly Carl Crawford, Jayson Werth, or even Manny Ramirez. This trio will compete for playing time alongside Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp this spring, with a Thames/Gibbons LF platoon seemingly the most likely scenario. Gwynn Jr. is by far the team's best defensive outfielder, but this is an offense that can't afford the .600ish OPS that Gwynn brings to the table.

Re-signed C Rod Barajas to a one-year $3.25 million deal and signed C Dioner Navarro to a one-year $1 million deal.
After batting a healthy .293/.374/.469 in 2007, Russell Martin's status as another in a long line of perennial All-Star catchers seemed secure, but three disappointing years later, Martin is now in pinstripes and the Dodgers are left with the uninspiring Barajas/Navarro combo with A.J. Ellis as another possibility depending on how things go this spring. Expect Barajas to get around 65% of the playing time unless Navarro rediscovers the stroke that once made him a top Dodger catching prospect pre-Martin.

Signed RHP Matt Guerrier to a three-year $12 million contract.
Guerrier will fill a key role in the middle innings, but he has several guys ahead of him in the pecking order for saves, so he'll probably be valuable only in simulation leagues barring a host of injuries.

Re-signed RHP Vicente Padilla to a one-year $2 million contract.
Padilla was effective (4.07 ERA in 16 starts) when healthy for the Dodgers a year ago, but the LA rotation is full, so he'll fill the spot-starter / swingman role unless there is an injury. There is some talk in LA that Padilla could be tried as a closer (he has the stuff), but we just don't see it happening with Jonathan Broxton, Hong-Chih Kuo, and impressive rookie Kenley Jansen seemingly set for the late innings.

Traded 2B/SS Ryan Theriot to the Cardinals for RHP Blake Hawksworth.
After managing just a .606 OPS for them in 54 games, the Dodgers were set to non-tender or trade Theriot this winter, something they ended up doing in late-November in the form of a deal with the Cardinals for Hawksworth. Hawksworth will compete with a handful of other fringe major leaguers for a job this spring, but the former top prospect is coming off a season in which he recorded a 4.98 ERA and 1.64 WHIP.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

Rafael Furcal SS
James Loney 1B (could flip-flop with Uribe)
Matt Kemp CF
Andre Ethier RF
Juan Uribe 2B
Casey Blake 3B
Rod Barajas C
Jay Gibbons / Marcus Thames LF

As Rafael Furcal (and the young hitters) goes, so will go the Dodgers. Furcal's games played the last three years: 36, 150, and 97. For this lineup to have a chance at generating runs, that number for 2011 will have to be close to that middle number, otherwise the Dodgers are looking at more Jamey Carroll (who to be fair isn't awful, but he's not a healthy Furcal) than they would like. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier should approach a 30-100 season again, but overall this lineup is far from spectacular. It will take several things going right (more power from James Loney, average LF production, a healthy Furcal and Ethier, and an ugly bottom of the order exceeding expectations) for this lineup to produce runs with some frequency.

Left field is a position we'll discuss in detail later, but otherwise, the lineup is pretty set. Other than Kemp, Loney, and Ethier, it's an aging lineup really missing an impact bat in the middle of the order. If Uribe can repeat his 2010 season (he has hit .283/.316/.491 in 106 at-bats in Dodger Stadium since 2008), the Dodgers might be okay, but if there's any team that needs that stereotypical "big bat", it's the Dodgers. Look for the Dodgers to consider platooning Loney and maybe even Ethier should their respective struggles versus southpaws continue.

Rotation:

Clayton Kershaw
Chad Billingsley
Ted Lilly
Hiroki Kuroda
Jon Garland

There's some thought that Vicente Padilla could push Garland for the No. 5 slot this spring, but the Dodgers didn't hand Garland $5 million to be a middle reliever. All in all, it's a very deep and potentially very good rotation, with Kershaw as a guy who appears primed to perhaps being among the top five pitchers in the game. Control has always been his Achilles' heel, but the drop in his BB/9IP rate from 4.8 to 3.6 year-over-year (and just 3.0 after the break in 2010) is highly encouraging. Billingsley could take a small step forward again this year after also improving his command in 2010, and Billingsley has topped 190 innings in three consecutive seasons. Lilly is aging and losing velocity, but he still has enough to be a strong No. 3 while Kuroda should be just fine after recording his best big league season a year ago.

CL: Hong-Chih Kuo

We're putting Kuo here because he finished 2010 as the team's closer, but this should be a two-way battle between Kuo and Jonathan Broxton this spring. We'll break down this battle below and mention Kenley Jansen's name as a dark horse.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:

Who's in left?

The candidates:

Tony Gwynn Jr. (if he starts, it's probably as a CF with Kemp in RF and Ethier in LF)
Jay Gibbons
Marcus Thames
Trayvon Robinson
Jerry Sands
Casey Blake

It's anticipated that Sands and Robinson, two of the team's top prospects (more on them later), will need additional seasoning in the minors for a good portion of 2011, but considering the field, a lights-out spring from either could force Don Mattingly's hand. Casey Blake is set for third base, but what happens if Ivan DeJesus has a strong spring? Would the club move Uribe over to the hot corner and slot DeJesus at second base? Doubtful, but again, it's not like DeJesus has to perform better than Reggie Smith here.

Realistically, we're looking at a Thames/Gibbons platoon, with the latter getting 60-70% of the at-bats as long as he's hitting. Thames though homered seven times in 82 at-bats versus RHP a year ago, so it's certainly possible he could be in line for full-time duty given a strong spring. Overall, these are not the most attractive fantasy options.

Can Jonathan Broxton win his old job back?

Broxton is the owner of 77 career saves and back-to-back All-Star appearances (2009-2010), but he also posted a 7.13 ERA after the All-Star break a year ago once his command and confidence abandoned him. Fortunately Matt Stairs turns 43 later this month, so Broxton won't have to face one of his demons for much longer. Kuo's 56 games pitched last year were a career high, as he was treated with kid gloves due to the four elbow surgeries (two Tommy John's) on his charts. The Dodgers really don't have another reliable left-handed relief option as of early February, so if you're counting on Kuo to close, you may want to hope the Dodgers address the need for a second lefty (Scott Elbert?) prior to Opening Day.

Matt Kemp: superstar or something less?

Coming off a season in which he batted .297/.352/.490 with 26 homers and 34 stolen bases as a 24 year-old, many people expected first-round type numbers out of Kemp headed into 2010 drafts. Unfortunately they were disappointed to the tune of .249/.310/.450, though that included a career-high 28 home runs. Kemp's base-running (19-for-34 in SB opportunities), defense, and if the media is to be believed, his attitude all took steps back in 2010. We're projecting a return to his 2009 level this year, and given his natural ability, that may be conservative.

Strengths: Depth in the starting rotation, lots of young talent that could potentially break out. 

Weaknesses: Uncertainty at the closer position, potential below-average offensive production from several positions.

Rising: Andre Ethier - Ethier was batting an MVP-like .392/.457/.744 on May 14, when an unfortunate broken finger sidelined him for two weeks. He wasn't the same hitter the rest of the way, batting .263/.341/.418 post-injury. Hand injuries tend to linger, but an offseason of rest and rehabilitation should put Ethier right back on track as one of the NL's better hitters in 2011. Now about that batting line versus LHP...

Falling: Casey Blake - Blake lost 105 points of OPS year-over-year in 2010, as age and deteriorating skills caught up with the veteran third baseman. As of February however, the Dodgers had done nothing to address the third base position, leaving Blake in line for plenty of playing time in 2011. Expect frequent rest and around 450 at-bats assuming no major injuries.

Sleeper: Kenley Jansen - It wasn't quite Strasburg-like, but still, 2010 was an eye-popping debut for the converted catcher, as Jansen rode a grand total of 56 professional innings to a key role in the Dodger bullpen. Routinely hitting the mid-90s and above, Jansen struck out 41 batters in 27 innings while posting a 0.67 ERA. Sure, the 15 walks were a few more than you'd like to see, but Jansen is still raw, and improved command could easily come in time. He's set to pitch near the back end of the LA bullpen in 2011 and could find himself in the closer discussion depending on how things shake out with Jonathan Broxton's command and Hong-Chih Kuo's health.

Supersleeper: Dioner Navarro - Rod Barajas isn't exactly Joe Mauer and A.J. Ellis will never be mistaken for Buster Posey, leaving the door wide open for a guy like Navarro. Navarro owns a career triple-slash line of .249/.309/.356 in over 1,700 at-bats (a devilish .666 OPS), but he was once a top prospect and this is his age-27 season if you buy into that semi-myth. Don't get too excited here, but NL-only leaguers will want to monitor his play this spring.

Roster

Here's the rundown of players not mentioned above: 

James Loney - Sweet-swinger and slick-fielder just has not progressed as hoped. Among all first baseman with a minimum of 1,200 plate appearances over the past three seasons, only Daric Barton has homered with less frequency (once per 63.7 plate appearances versus 54.2 for Loney) and his .279 AVG in those three seasons doesn't come close to making up for the lack of power. At this point, he's a lesser version of John Olerud, and with Loney's rapidly escalating salary, his days in LA could be numbered.

Tony Gwynn Jr. - Gwynn is entering his age-28 season, the same year his Dad "slumped" to a .313 season a year after batting .370. Unfair comparisons aside, the younger Gwynn is an excellent defender, but from a fantasy perspective, his sole value is in his legs. An utter lack of power and a .244 career average probably leave him in a fifth outfielder role.

Marcus Thames - We touched on Thames above, but just to reiterate, he had an .841 OPS in 212 at-bats last year and he actually hit right-handers pretty well.

Jay Gibbons - Gibbons had zero big league at-bats the previous three years prior to being picked up off the scrap heap by the Dodgers last August. He had an .819 OPS in 75 at-bats and now he appears to be in line for starting outfield duty come Opening Day. He's pretty much a one-category guy (HR) at this point.

A.J. Ellis - Ellis had a .278/.363/.324 line in 108 at-bats for the Dodgers last year, an accomplishment that looks quite impressive until you get to that last number. He offers zero power despite being listed at a solid 6'2", 225, and at age 30 (in April), there's no reason to think he'll suddenly morph into Mike Piazza. Ellis will compete with Dioner Navarro for backup duties this spring.

Rod Barajas - Barajas hit just .240/.287/.447 for the year, but after coming to the Dodgers in an August waiver deal from the Mets, those numbers spiked to .297/.361/.578 in 64 at-bats. Clearly those numbers aren't repeatable over an extended sample size given Barajas' skill set and past performance, but he could be an average fantasy catcher given 300-plus at-bats. With the departure of Russell Martin via free agency, it appears Barajas will be the team's primary catcher in 2011.

Ronald Belisario - Belisario allowed just two runs in 18 innings in the Venezuelan Winter League, but he'll have a lot of competition for a roster spot this spring. His value is now negligible considering the guys the Dodgers have slotted ahead of him.

Jamey Carroll - Carroll probably played more than the team expected after they inked him to a two-year deal last winter. The utility man batted a solid .291/.379/.339 while playing shortstop primarily in place of the injured Rafael Furcal. Carroll offers no power (12 career homers in over 2,500 at-bats and none in 2010), so his fantasy value is limited to being an NL-only placeholder.

John Ely - Ely mania was in full bloom on June 1 of last season, as the prize of the Juan Pierre trade with the White Sox tossed seven shutout innings against Arizona to lower his ERA to 2.54 in six big league starts. That's when the wheels fell off and Ely posted an 8.04 ERA the rest of the way. With a fastball that averages just 87.4 mph, Ely profiles as a back of the rotation starter at best, and he's probably missed even that opportunity in Los Angeles.

Jon Garland - As his tour of the NL West continued, Garland pitched 200 innings for the Padres with pretty good results. He posted career bests in ERA, strikeout rate, groundball rate, and not surprisingly, BABIP. It wasn't all roses as his walk rate climbed to 3.92 BB/9IP. He's pitched at least 190 innings in nine consecutive seasons. While he'll still have a pitcher-friendly home park again this year in Dodger Stadium, his numbers likely will take a slight dip across the board moving away from Petco. Check the status of his shoulder this spring, as there were rumors that an MRI "scared off" a few teams this winter.

Matt Guerrier - Guerrier is a pitcher whose results have always defied his peripheral numbers. Last season his strikeout rate declined to 5.3 K/9IP and he had a mediocre 42:22 K:BB ratio. He gets some groundballs (45 percent of battled balls), but nothing so overly impressive to offset his mediocre stuff. Still, he's durable with more than 70 appearances each of the last four seasons. Overwork is always a concern as he's had some bad stretches (such as a 6.35 ERA over July and August). He'll work in a setup role again after signing with the Dodgers. Even if his performance declines given his peripheral numbers, it may be offset by the move to Chavez Ravine. His overall value is limited by the strikeout rate and distance from the closer role.

Hiroki Kuroda - Kuroda's third year stateside was his best, as the Japanese hurler posted career-bests in innings (196.1), wins (11), strikeouts (159), and ERA (3.39). Kuroda has also increased his strikeout rate in each of the last two seasons while maintaining a walk rate that continues to hover right around 2.0 per nine innings. Kuroda elected to return to the Dodgers on a one-year, $12 million deal, and all signs point to the 36-year-old having another solid season in LA. A healthy Kuroda should be an effective one.

Ted Lilly - The Dodgers re-signed Lilly to a three-year $33 million deal this winter after Lilly went 7-4 with a 3.52 ERA in 12 starts after coming over in a deadline deal with the Cubs. If the improved control he showed throughout last season remains a part of his skill set, Lilly should remain a steady option in the middle of the Dodgers' rotation for the life of that contract even though he'll be 37 when it's all said and done.

Russ Mitchell - With Russell Martin's departure, Mitchell immediately becomes the best "Russ M." in the system. All kidding aside, Mitchell had a bit of a breakout in 2010, batting .315/.363/.535 with 23 home runs and 38 doubles for Triple-A Albuquerque. He was just 6-for-42 with the Dodgers (two homers), but his 1.164 Triple-A OPS versus southpaws may get him on the 25-man roster in 2011. In that role, he would spell James Loney and Casey Blake at the corners. Mitchell has some talent, but it would take an injury for him to find his way onto many fantasy rosters.

Carlos Monasterios - The Dodgers selected Monasterios out of the Phillies' organization in the 2009 Rule 5 draft, and the right-hander stuck on the big club all season, going 3-5 with a 4.38 ERA in 88.1 innings over 13 starts and 19 relief appearances. His 5.3 K/9IP screams "limited upside," and as of December, he was seventh on the starting pitcher depth chart at best. Look for Monasterios to open 2011 in Triple-A, with middle relief his likely landing spot long term in Los Angeles.

Vicente Padilla - Forearm and neck injuries limited Padilla to 16 starts last season, but he was solid enough when healthy for the Dodgers to bring him back on an incentive-laden $2 million contract. Padilla posted good peripherals last year (8.0 K/9IP, 2.3 BB/9IP) in compiling a 4.07 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. He sits at No. 6 in terms of the rotation pecking order, but someone is bound to get hurt in-season. Once that happens, go ahead and grab Padilla if he's pitching well and if you need the rotation help.

Top Prospects:

Dee Gordon - Gordon remains a fantasy prospect worth monitoring strictly for one thing - his penchant for stolen bases. Gordon swiped 53 last season (73 in 2009) while batting a Juan Pierre-like .276/.331/.353 for Double-A Jacksonville. His 5-foot-11 frame leads to little in the way of power projection, but if Gordon can show progress in his plate discipline this coming season, he could be in the mix to replace Rafael Furcal (free agent) at shortstop in 2012. Gordon also hit .361 this winter in the Puerto Rican Winter League and he's reportedly working on his strength. He'll open the season in Triple-A.

Jerry Sands - We saw hints of a 2009 breakout, but 2010 proved to be Sands' coming-out party as a top prospect. The former 25th-round pick batted a combined .301/.395/.586 between Low-A and Double-A (he skipped High-A entirely) with 35 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Sands has played first base and the outfield in the last couple seasons and was reportedly taking groundballs at third base in the Arizona Fall League, so he's far from settled in terms of a future defensive position. Still, if Sands can continue at this pace in Triple-A this season, the Dodgers will find a spot for him.

Trayvon Robinson - A graduate of the same high school that produced several former big leaguers (most notably Darryl Strawberry), Robinson has taken huge strides the past two seasons in turning tools into production. The key? A walk rate that has jumped from seven to 14 percent over a two-year period. After batting .306/.375/.500 in the hitter-friendly California League the year prior, Robinson proved 2009 was no fluke, batting .300/.404/.439 as a 22-year-old in the Double-A Southern League in 2010. That line included nine home runs and 38 stolen bases, so this is clearly a player worth keeping an eye on in keeper leagues. He'll likely open 2011 in Triple-A.

Rubby De La Rosa - Named the organization's minor league pitcher of the year, 2011 is shaping up to be De La Rosa's year to burst onto the prospect scene. In 110.1 innings between Low-A and Double-A, De La Rosa posted a 2.37 ERA and 94:38 K:BB while reportedly hitting as high as 102 mph with his fastball. He'll open 2011 in Double-A, but this is a guy to watch in keeper leagues. There is some disagreement as to his ultimate role.

Zach Lee - In a big surprise, the financially-hindered Dodgers were able to lure Lee away from an opportunity to become the LSU starting quarterback with a last-minute $5.25 million bonus to play baseball (though to be cynical, Lee's two-sport status allows the Dodgers to do what they do best, defer the payout). He immediately arguably becomes the team's No. 1 prospect, offering a strong arm and very good athleticism. We don't know where he'll begin his professional career, but his talent is such that a 2013 major league debut is very possible.

Ethan Martin - The Dodgers' top pick in the 2008 amateur draft, Martin hasn't got off to the best of starts in his pro career. His already-shaky command took a nosedive in 2010, as the 21-year-old posted a 6.35 ERA and 6.5 BB/9IP for High-A Inland Empire. Granted, the California League is a tough environment for pitchers, but that is still an overly-high walk rate. Martin had strong strikeout rates in his two professional seasons (10.8 K/9IP in 2009 and 8.4 last year), but he's got a ways to go to regain his top prospect status. Expect a High-A repeat in 2011. Martin was also a very high-regarded third baseman coming out of High School, but the Dodgers aren't ready to go there just yet.

Chris Withrow - Like Martin, Withrow is looking (so far) like a first-round disappointment. In 129.2 innings for Double-A Chattanooga, Withrow posted a 5.97 ERA and 1.66 WHIP, including a 4.8 BB/9IP. He'll probably head back to Double-A to start 2011 and try and turn things around.

Allen Webster - The 21 year-old Webster profiles as a solid No. 3 starter after posting a 2.88 ERA in 131.1 innings for Low-A Great Lakes, a mark that included an 8.2 K/9IP and 3.6 BB/9IP. Let's see how he does against more advanced competition, but the tools are intriguing.

Aaron Miller - Another disappointing former #1 pick it seems. The 23 year-old left-hander fared well in High-A last year, posting a 2.92 ERA in 101.2 innings, but a mid-season six-start stint in Double-A wasn't nearly as pretty (7.04 ERA, 22 BB in 23 IP). He'll get another crack at Double-A this year, but his stock is down.