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2012 Dodgers' Preview: Dodgers 2012: Bright Future

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.

2012 Los Angeles Dodgers Team Preview

For Dodgers fans who actually make it to the eighth inning, "Don't Stop Believin" by Journey is a song heard on a nightly basis (much to the chagrin of Steve Perry). It's been hard for those fans to keep up that believing given the ownership turmoil and the inferior on-field product that said turmoil has generated, but given new and likely deeper-pocketed owners will be in place no later than April 30, perhaps a more appropriate theme song would be Timbuk3's "The Future's So Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades." The Dodgers were predictably quiet this offseason, making (reportedly) a late run at Prince Fielder, but ultimately cornering the market on mediocre infielders in the forms of Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston Jr., and Adam Kennedy. They did lock up Matt Kemp via an eight-year deal, but unless the club gets bounce-back years from the likes of Andre Ethier, James Loney, and Chad Billingsley, it will likely have to wait for the new ownership to be in place before a playoff run is viable.

Offseason moves:

Signed second baseman Mark Ellis to a two-year $8.75 million deal.

No, Ellis was not signed to be a backup, but you probably knew that given the money involved. Ellis batted just .248/.288/.346 on the year, though he did look better with Colorado than Oakland (who wouldn't, given the ballparks involved?), batting .274/.317/.392 for the Rockies in 263 at-bats. He did swipe 14 bags, but the move to Dodger Stadium won't help his cause. Ellis could potentially bat second in the order between Dee Gordon and Matt Kemp, which is intriguing, but there are obviously far better second base options out there.

Signed infielder Jerry Hairston Jr. to a two-year $6 million deal.

Given Juan Uribe's complete ineptitude in all facets of the game last year, Hairston could very well find himself with 400 at-bats at the end of the year. He had just five homers and three stolen bases in 337 at-bats a year ago, so Hairston's real-life value is likely to exceed his fantasy one. That said, there could be some short-term NL-only value here and there. Uribe on the other hand was so bad (.557 OPS) that he could find himself released at some point this year despite the $16 million still due him through 2013.

Signed infielder Adam Kennedy to a one-year $800,000 deal.

Considering he turned 36 and is coming off a year in which he batted .234/.277/.355 in 380 at-bats, for Kennedy to get a major league contract is nice work by his agent. That said, unless "grit" and age are categories in your fantasy league, you'll have other options.

Re-signed 1B/OF Juan Rivera to a one-year $4.5 million deal.

After being designated for assignment by the Blue Jays in July, Rivera landed with the Dodgers and received significant playing time in left field and at first base, batting .274/.333/.406 for his new club. Apparently, that was enough for the Dodgers to hand him a one-year, $4.5 million deal to fill a similar role in 2012. How much playing time Rivera receives likely depends upon the play of Jerry Sands this spring, but Rivera should be good for at least 250 at-bats.

Signed pitchers Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to two-year deals.

Harang and Capuano are slated to fill the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation this year. Due in large part to the friendly confines of Petco Park, Harang had a bounce-back 2011, netting 14 wins on a 3.64 ERA. That said, his 2.14 K/BB ratio was his lowest in 10 years. He appears to be over his injuries, but don't expect much more than innings-eater type work.

Capuano reached the 30-start mark for the first time since 2006, starting 31 games and notching 186 innings. He's still just 33 and appears fully recovered from his second career Tommy John surgery in 2008. Don't go crazy on Capuano, but it is worth noting that his 8.1 K/9IP rate is the best mark of his career given 100+ innings. It's not a huge stretch to think that he could be the team's second-best starter this year.

Lost Hiroki Kuroda and Casey Blake via free agency.

Given the money involved ($10 million for Kuroda from the Yankees), the Dodgers apparently felt that Harang/Capuano was a better tandem than Kuroda/Nathan Eovaldi. That remains to be seen, but it's surprising to see a guy who really wanted to be a Dodger and who wanted just a one-year deal wind up elsewhere. Blake finds himself in Colorado, where until he gets hurt, he could be a solid NL-only option given the environment.

Re-signed RHP Mike MacDougal and signed RHP Todd Coffey, both to one-year deals.
These are depth signings more than anything, and neither guy should sniff the ninth inning. The portly Coffey has appeared in at least 69 games in each of the last three seasons, while MacDougal revived his career last season with 57 innings of deceptive (6.5 K/9IP, 4.6 BB/9IP) 2.05 ERA ball. Each is, at best, third in line for saves.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Dee Gordon SS
2. Mark Ellis 2B
3. Matt Kemp CF
4. Andre Ethier RF
5. Juan Rivera LF
6. James Loney 1B
7. Juan Uribe 3B
8. A.J. Ellis C

Ideally, we'd see Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis switch spots in the order, but batting a catcher second in the order just isn't done all that often. It's a lineup full of uncertainty and question marks, but it's what manager Don Mattingly has to work with. Jerry Sands will get a chance this spring to win time in left field while Tim Federowicz could eventually work his way into the starting catching job. At the top of the order, it's hard to see Dee Gordon getting on base much more than 33% of the time in his first full season, but if he can remain at the top, it's pretty easy to see 100 runs and 50 stolen bases given his speed.

Rotation:

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Ted Lilly
3. Chad Billingsley
4. Aaron Harang
5. Chris Capuano

CL: Javy Guerra

We'll dive into this question below, but the only real battle here is at the closer position, where Guerra must hold off Kenley Jansen. Nathan Eovaldi would likely be the first starter recalled from the minors, though Allen Webster could be an option later in 2012. A sleeper here could be Shawn Tolleson, who posted a 1.17 ERA and 105:18 K:BB in 69 innings between three minor league levels, ultimately finishing in Double-A. Tolleson is 24 and could contribute out of the bullpen from day one this year.

Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise

Who winds up with the most saves this year, Javy Guerra or Kenley Jansen?

In one corner you have Guerra, who took over for Jonathan Broxton and notched 21 saves with a 2.31 ERA and 1.179 WHIP in 46.2 innings. His 7.33 K/9IP and 3.47 BB/9IP were merely average, so while Guerra should enter spring training as the projected closer, Jansen will be right on his tail. Jansen, who seemingly struck out every batter he faced last year (actually a 16.10 K/9IP), has grown dramatically as a pitcher despite notching just 56.2 professional innings before being promoted to the Dodgers in 2010. The converted catcher appears to be the organization's future at the closer position, but we'll have to wait and see when that future commences.

Jerry Sands - Starting left fielder, bench player, or Triple-A bound?

Sands has bashed 64 minor league home runs the past two seasons, but after a so-so .253/.338/.389 in 198 big league at-bats last year, he's far from guaranteed a regular spot in the lineup. With the Dodgers out of the race, Sands hit .342/.415/.493 last September, flashing the ability that could lead to an Opening Day starting nod in left field. The Dodgers were reportedly leaning towards Sands as their left fielder back in October, but that was before re-signing Juan Rivera. Sands looks to be a solid keeper option, but at-bats could be limited early in 2012 unless he significantly outplays Rivera this spring.

Is James Loney's second half a tease - or is it real?

After homering 15 times in just 96 games in 2007, Loney has failed to top 13 long balls in his following four full seasons. The big question here is whether the light bulb truly went on last year, as Loney batted .320/.380/.534 over the season's second half. Those are true impact-player numbers, but we've been waiting for him to put things together over a full season for a while now, and it just hasn't happened. We could see a career year for Loney, who will be a free agent after 2012, but that may just mean .290-20-80, pretty average production from a first baseman.

Strengths: Kemp, Kershaw and big money about to flow into the organization via new ownership. There isn't a better hitter/pitcher duo in the game than Kemp/Kershaw. The rotation appears deep, and the 1-2 punch of Guerra and Jansen could be one of the league's best.

Weaknesses: On offense - just so many questions. We talked about James Loney above, but which Andre Ethier shows up this year, the one who was an MVP candidate in 2009 or last year's 11-homer version? The Dodgers are already looking at below-average production at second base, third base, left field, and probably first base and catcher, so they need Ethier to step up big-time.

Rising: Kenley Jansen - 100+ strikeouts appears to be a lock.

Falling: Chad Billingsley - You have to like a pitcher who is a lock for 30+ starts and an ERA in the 4.00 range each year, but Billingsley regressed last year. His strikeout rate dipped for the third straight year while his 4.0 BB/9IP was the highest mark of his career. Billingsley is entering his age 27 season, so he's right in his prime, but he's looking like more of a No. 3 starter than a No. 2.

Sleeper: Jerry Sands - We saw what Sands is capable of in September and in his Triple-A time, but we'll have to wait and see whether he hits enough this spring to make Juan Rivera a bench player.

Supersleeper: A.J. Ellis - Ellis has been an OBP beast in his long trip through the minors, putting up marks of .379, .382, .436, .435, .400, and .467 the past six years. He even has a .360 mark in over 200 at-bats in the big leagues, so that's a skill that appears legitimate. Problem? He turns 31 in April and has really no power. In over 1,700 minor league at-bats, Ellis has just 19 homers and his AB/HR rate has worsened the last couple years. Ellis did home twice in 31 big league at-bats last September, so he could be a decent NL-only catcher given enough at-bats. He should play at least 65% of the time over Matt Treanor, but Tim Federowicz will be lurking in Triple-A.

Top Prospects

Zach Lee - It was a successful first full season for the team's 2010 first-round pick, as the former LSU quarterback recruit (doesn't appear that he's missed all that much) posted a 3.47 ERA, 1.220 WHIP and 91:32 K:BB in 109 innings for Low-A Great Lakes. He's probably a top-50 overall prospect, and if you're looking to project him out, figure his upside is somewhere between that of Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. He'll likely open in High-A with the potential for a 2013 big league debut.

Nathan Eovaldi - It was a breakout season of sorts for Eovaldi in 2011, as after 103 Double-A innings (2.62 ERA, 8.65 K/9IP), injuries led to his big league debut in August. He fared well in five of his six starts, ultimately posting a 3.63 ERA to go with a below-average 23:20 K:BB in 34.2 innings. With the Dodgers having filled out their rotation in free agency this winter, Eovaldi will open the season in the minors, but he's on the short list once an injury strikes.

Allen Webster - Webster finished with a 4.03 ERA and 135:57 K:BB in 145 innings between High-A and Double-A. The scouting reports are better than the results he's put up so far in his young career, but Webster is thought by some to have No. 2 starter potential. He could make his big league debut in 2012.

Chris Withrow - A former first-round pick, Withrow appears to have stalled in Double-A. Spending the past two seasons at that level, Withrow has posted ERAs of 5.97 and 4.20, BB/9IPs of 4.81 and 5.27, and K/9IPs of 8.36 and 9.13. The strikeouts give us hope that he'll put it all together at some point, and he's still just 22, but like more than one Dodger pitching prospect over the years, walks have been a huge issue. Withrow will start 2012 back in the high minors, but to take that "next step," his pitches need to find the strike zone with far more frequency.

Tim Federowicz - The key component for the Dodgers in the trade involving Trayvon Robinson, Federowicz batted .287/.357/.450 across the two highest minor league levels last year, also posting a 1.058 OPS and six home runs in 83 Triple-A at-bats after joining the Dodgers' organization. The 24-year-old should get a chance to compete for a big league spot this spring, but he's more likely to open in Triple-A and join the team sometime during the year. There's some upside here for Federowicz to be a solid No. 2 fantasy catcher.

Alex Castellanos - Castellanos came to the Dodgers in the Rafael Furcal deal last year and it was a breakout season for the 25-year-old. Batting .320/.386/.573 with 23 home runs and 14 stolen bases in 125 games at the Double-A level, Castellanos looks to be worth monitoring in keeper formats. He's a corner outfielder, but there has been some conversation about trying him at second base where the Dodgers have no obvious long-term solution. Castellanos could compete for the left field job this spring, but he's more likely to open in Triple-A. Watch for that position change and key in on him if the bat holds up at the Triple-A level.

Alfredo Silviero - Silviero hasn't been a part of any type of top prospects list, but after a .306/.340/.542 season in Double-A this past year, he should at least be on deep keeper leaguers' radars. Silviero notched 91 strikeouts to just 30 walks in 533 at-bats, but we can't help but be intrigued by his 42 doubles, 18 triples, and 16 home runs. Silviero could put up monster numbers in Triple-A this year and eventually find his way to Los Angeles. He's a bit of a sleeper.