Christmas Day is officially December 25, but for Dodgers fans, it came nearly two months early, with the announcement this week that the universally-reviled Frank McCourt finally succumbed to the inevitable.
He agreed to sell the Dodgers.
As a fan, I have a certain amount of built-in bias, but this is an organization that opened up shop in 1884, broke the color barrier in 1947, featured Tommy Lasorda, Kirk Gibson's iconic home run, and was generally among the elite franchises under the stewardship of the O'Malley family. The decline began when O'Malley sold out to Fox, who subsequently brought about the trade of franchise icon Mike Piazza and the disastrous regime of Kevin Malone. It only got worse however, once Fox sold out to the carpetbaggers from Boston, Frank and Jamie McCourt. These are people that looted $189 million from the organization to buy mansions, three-figure haircuts, limo drivers, massages, etc. All in a failed attempt to integrate into the LA lifestyle and as some have speculated, eventually run for office. Attendance plummeted to the point, where the estimated crowd for the final Wednesday day game of the seasons was a Marlins-like 8,000.
Well, it's a new day. The team will be sold, with MLB hoping for a new owner to be in place by Opening Day. That's great and all, but what happens to the team this offseason? Let's look at where the club has holes and what might be done to fill said holes.
Catcher – A.J. Ellis / Tim Federowicz – This should be a serviceable combo, so no need to bring Rod Barajas back or sign a free agent such as Ramon Martinez. Ellis handles pitchers well, can get on base, and showed a little pop at the end of the season. He'll likely get 60|PERCENT| of the starts, with the rest going to "Fedex". Projected starter: Ellis.
First base – James Loney has never hit .300 over a full season and has never hit more than 15 home runs. He did however, bat .320/.380/.534 after the All-Star break in 2011, so offering him arbitration (est. salary $6.5 million) seems likely. Of course I'd love to see Prince Fielder or Albert Pujols brought in, but that seems unlikely. Projected starter: Loney.
Second base – This spot is ripe for an upgrade. Jamey Carroll could be back, but not as a starter. I'd expect the Dodgers to pursue free agents Kelly Johnson and Aaron Hill. If that doesn't work out, we're looking at Justin Sellers as the top in-house option, and that's not good. Projected starter: Johnson.
Shortstop – This is Dee Gordon's job. Expect .280/.320/.350 or so, but .300 could be a possibility, as could 50 stolen bases. Projected starter: Gordon.
Third base – Hmmm…Juan Uribe's job to lose I guess. Aramis Ramirez would be a nice fit here. The Dodgers could also bring back free agent Andy LaRoche or another ex-Dodger Wilson Betemit, but it's probably Ramirez or Uribe here. Likely Uribe considering they still owe him $16 million. Projected starter: Uribe.
Outfield – Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier get two of these spots, with the only question being whether the Dodgers can lock them up to extensions this year. The pending free agents should be in line for something like this: Kemp – 8 years, $160 million; Ethier – 6 years, $84 million. As for left field, that is Jerry Sands' job to lose after Sands batted .342/.415/.493 in September. Expect Juan Rivera to be brought back to fill in in left and first base. Projected starters: Sands/Kemp/Ethier.
Rotation – Three spots will go to Clayton Kershaw, Chad Billingsley, and Ted Lilly. I'd expect Hiroki Kuroda back on another one-year deal unless he chooses to return to Japan. If that happens, expect the Dodgers to pursue someone like Mark Buehrle or Paul Maholm. The fifth spot will be up for grabs, with Nathan Eovaldi the early favorite, along with the usual assortment of veterans and SF Giants castoffs. Projected starters: Kershaw, Kuroda, Billingsley, Lilly, Eovaldi.
Bullpen – Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra will again form the 8th-9th inning duo, with Jansen coming off an all-time major league record 16.1 K/9 season. Will he take over as closer though? Too early to tell. The Dodgers will bid farewell to Jonathan Broxton barring Broxton's willingness to take a significant discount to remain in the organization. LA Minor League Pitcher of the Year Shawn Tolleson is also ready to make an impact after a 105:18 K:BB in just 69 minor league innings last year. Projected bullpen: Jansen, Guerra, Guerrier, Elbert, Lindblom, Tolleson, free agent lefty (Mike Gonzalez perhaps).
Opening Day lineup:
SS Dee Gordon
CF Matt Kemp
RF Andre Ethier
LF Jerry Sands
1B James Loney
3B Juan Uribe
Not an inspiring group by any means, and one highly dependent on James Loney's second half being for real, Andre Ethier rediscovering his power stroke, and Chad Billingsley not regressing further. I'd expect the new owner to try and deal for someone like David Wright in-season, while casting their sights on the 2013 free agent class, which barring extensions, could include Mike Napoli, Josh Hamilton, and a huge crop of free agent pitchers – Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, John Danks, and Shaun Marcum. The focus now though should be locking up Kemp and Kershaw while seeing whether Ethier will sign for a reasonable sum and if not, trading him for young talent.