Scouting the competition: The Dodgers

Here's a look at the Los Angeles Dodgers, a team that might have a big turnaround next season.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were just one of the disappointing teams in the National League West, but with a payroll over $115 million the expectations were very high making the pressure even greater. But the disappointment is coupled with a great deal of hope about the future of this franchise.

The Dodgers have a ton of good young players that will make up the face of this team into the next decade. And if they add a piece or two this winter and get back some players that were not healthy in 2007 the Dodgers might be the favorite in the National League West.

The 2007 team had trouble scoring runs (735, 10th in runs scored in the National League) and did not hit a lot of home runs (129, 15th in the NL), and the defense was also very shaky (114 errors, third most in the NL). But the pitching staff, even with a lot of people out at times during the season, kept the team afloat and produced the 82-80 record.

Los Angeles had a 4.20 team ERA, sixth best in the National League. The bullpen was pretty good (3.82 ERA), while the starters struggled to stay healthy most of the season. Jason Schmidt was signed to a huge deal last winter, but he started only six games before having to have shoulder surgery. He is scheduled to start throwing in November and the Dodgers hope Schmidt will be back to lead the rotation next spring.

In Schmidt's absence, Brad Penny became the Dodgers' ace with a 16-4 record in 33 starts. Derek Lowe was also effective, with a 12-14 record in 32 starts and posted a 3.88 ERA. After Schmidt got hurt, the Dodgers put young Chad Billingsley in the rotation and he was very solid going 12-5 overall and 8-5 as a starter with a 3.38 ERA.

If Schmidt returns, he'll join Penny, Lowe, and Billingsley to form a dangerous foursome at the top of the rotation. Randy Wolf (9-6, 4.73) got hurt and missed the last third of the season, and he's a free agent and might not return. David Wells signed with the Dodgers late and went 4-1 in seven starts, but who knows if he'll be back at his age.

The Dodgers got Esteban Loaiza late in the season from Oakland and he's got another year left on his contract, so Loaiza might have the inside track on the fifth starter's job. LA's top phenom, Clayton Kershaw, is not ready yet and might be a year away.

The bullpen is very deep, with Takashi Saito leading the way with 39 saves and a 1.80 ERA from the 2007 season. He'll be 38 years old next year, so the team needs to make sure there are other options in case he gets old really fast. Jonathan Broxton is probably the heir apparent anyway. The hard-throwing Georgian had 32 holds in the setup role last season and throws gas.

Like Broxton, Joe Beimel pitched in 83 games and was effective (16 holds and a 3.88 ERA). Scott Proctor came over the Yankees for Wilson Betemit and will probably have a larger role next season, especially with Rudy Seanez (3.79 ERA in 73 games) eligible for free agency (again!). Chin-Hui Tsao, D.J. Houlton, Jonathan Meloan, and Eric Hull will be the other candidates for the bullpen next spring.

The Dodgers lineup is kind of strange. It has decent speed (Juan Pierre with 64, Rafael Furcal with 25 steals), but there are not many power hitters (Jeff Kent led the team with 20 in 2007). So expect the main priority this winter to be finding an additional bat that can hit the ball out of the ballpark.

There was a great dose of youth injected into the team in 2007 with James Loney, Andre Eithier, and Matt Kemp becoming major parts of the puzzle. Loney started 85 games at first base and hit .331 overall with 15 home runs and 67 RBI (including 32 in September) in 344 at bats. With Nomar Garciaparra now across the diamond at third base, first belongs to Loney and the Dodgers expect him to get better every year.

Eithier started 91 games in right field and 26 games in left, and it remains to be seen where he'll play next season. But there's no doubt he can hit, with a .284 average, 13 home runs, and 64 RBI. If he's not traded, Eithier will have to be given a spot somewhere so he can be apart of the lineup.

And Matt Kemp is a star waiting to happen. He started 66 games in right field and overall this season hit .342 with 10 home runs, 42 RBI, and 10 steals in 292 at bats. Kemp could easily bust out and be a 30/30 candidate next season. Plus, his defense out in right in exceptional.

Pierre might move to left field, since his arm remains the poorest for a center fielder in the game, and since Luis Gonzalez (.278, 15, 68) is not coming back. Pierre did what he does in 2007 with a .293 average and 64 stolen bases. Pierre and Furcal (who will be in the last year of his contract) are two dangerous speedsters at the top of the order.

If Pierre does move to left, they may look at Andruw Jones as an alternative in center. Scott Boras, Jones's agent, has done a lot of business with the Dodgers, and the team could use a power hitter, which is about all Jones is offensively after his dismal season in Atlanta.

The Dodgers have to figure out what to do with Garciaparra, who moved from first to third and started 41 games there. Nomar hit .283 overall with 7 homers and 59 RBI. Will he play third again, or will the Dodgers insert Adam LaRoche's little brother Andy, or will they go pursue a big-name third baseman (Aramis Ramirez or A-Rod?)?

There could also be a change made at second, where Jeff Kent's act is getting old once again. Kent mouthing off late in the season did nothing to help his case, and he's just getting older (40 next season) and not as dangerous (only 20 home runs).

Los Angeles also has a star behind the plate in Russell Martin, who hit .293 with 19 home runs, 87 RBI, 19 stolen bases, and a .387 OBP. Martin is also outstanding behind the plate and is already becoming the leader of this team. With Mike Lieberthal a free agent, the Dodgers will be in the market for a backup for Martin this season.

So the Dodgers have perhaps one of the best nucleuses in the game, with a good mixture of talented veterans, outstanding young players, and good pitching. Expect them to be one of the favorites in the National League West next season.


Players Eligible for Free Agency: Giovanni Carrara, Ramon Martinez, Luis Gonzalez, Roberto Hernandez, Shea Hillenbrand, Damian Jackson, Mike Lieberthal, Joey Mays, Chad Moeller, Bill Mueller, Olmedo Saenz, Rudy Seanez, Mark Sweeney, David Wells, Randy Wolf
Players Eligible for Arbitration: Joe Beimel, Yhency Brazoban, Mark Hendrickson, Scott Proctor, Jason Repko, Chin-Hui Tsao


Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. He can be heard on 680 the Fan in Atlanta and 105.5 the Fan in Macon. Email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.



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