by Jason Martinez
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LOS ANGELES DODGERS OFFSEASON PREVIEW
A late-season blockbuster trade with the Red Sox didn't have quite the effect that the Dodgers and their new ownership group were hoping for. They went 18-18 the rest of the way while the Giants, who held a three game lead in the NL West at the time of the trade, went 23-13 to run away with the division. If anything, the Dodgers' ownership group showed that they were willing to acquire players with big contracts and this shouldn't change during their first offseason.
Filling a rotation spot and possibly signing a top setup man through free agency is very likely. The lineup doesn't have any obvious holes but I have a feeling that it won't stop them from going after some of the top free agent hitters. GM Ned Colletti could then trade from his surplus to fill other holes or improve the farm system.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
A full season of Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez in the middle of the lineup with Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier gives the Dodgers' lineup the potential to be an offensive juggernaut. Kemp was playing with a shoulder injury down the stretch and Gonzalez was never able to find his power stroke after being acquired so it didn't happen late in 2012. Ramirez was an upgrade at shortstop but he hasn't been really good since 2010. Ethier was a star against right-handed pitching (.944 OPS) but could find himself in a platoon after he posted just a .606 OPS versus lefties.
Catcher A.J. Ellis showed surprising power (13 HR, 20 2B) and ended up being one of the more pleasant surprises on the team. Luis Cruz was an even bigger surprise, solidifying the third base position late in the season. The 28 year-old played great defense at the hot corner, had several big hits down the stretch, and finished with a .753 OPS in 78 games. His emergence will likely keep Ramirez at shortstop and Dee Gordon in the minors, or possibly on the trade block.
Left fielder Carl Crawford, who also came over in the Red Sox trade, might not play his first game with the Dodgers until early May. The 31 year-old underwent Tommy John surgery two days before the trade and is expected back early in the season. He had shown signs of bouncing back from a terrible 2011, posting a .785 OPS with 5 SB in 31 games before shutting it down for the season.
Bringing in another outfielder who could start the season in left field and also platoon with Ethier once Crawford comes back could be a priority. Juan Rivera has a $4M club option but only had a .661 OPS in 2012.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
A potential season-ending elbow injury to Chad Billingsley makes the pursuit of a frontline starting pitcher to pair with ace Clayton Kershaw a priority. Josh Beckett pitched well after being acquired but could be beyond the days of being a dominant top-of-the-rotation starter. Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano solidify the back-of-the-rotation, as does Ted Lilly if he can stay healthy.
John Ely and Stephen Fife give the team Triple-A depth and top prospects Zach Lee and Chris Reed reached Double-A in 2012. Despite having some decent rotation depth, expect the Dodgers to be among the suitors for Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, Kyle Lohse, and any other free agent starter who can fill the role immediately behind Kershaw in the rotation.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
Led by closer Kenley Jansen, who now has 236 K in 145.2 career innings, the Dodgers have a solid foundation late in games. Javy Guerra wasn't as good as he was during his rookie season and spent two separate stints on the DL, but he still posted a 2.60 ERA 45 appearances. If Ronald Belisario can stay out of trouble this offseason - he's had issues with drugs and alcohol - he gives the team another shutdown setup man to bridge the gap to Jansen.
A return to health for Matt Guerrier will also help. Shawn Tolleson and lefties Scott Elbert and Paco Rodriguez all have late-inning potential and minor league closer Steve Ames had a big season in Double-A (1.56 ERA, 63.1 IP, 13 BB, 72 K). As is the case with the rotation, expect Colletti to shore up the bullpen by bringing in another reliever with experience and success pitching with the game on the line.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 Starting Pitcher
2 Setup Man
3 Right-handed hitting 4th OF
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS