By Eric Stephen of True Blue LA
It seems you can't swing a dead cat this offseason without hitting a story about the divorce of the McCourts, as the owner and his wife (or is it co-owners?) haven battled quite publicly for the past few months. The usual accompaniment of Dodger divorce talk is that of financial troubles. While such matrimonial acrimony may affect the future of the franchise, this 2010 squad is too talented to be bothered with such things.
SS - Rafael Furcal
CF - Matt Kemp
RF - Andre Ethier
LF - Manny Ramirez
1B - James Loney
3B - Casey Blake
2B - Blake DeWitt / Ronnie Belliard
C - Russell Martin
The outfield is as good offensively as any in baseball, and the trio of Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Manny Ramirez will do the heavy lifting for the offense, most likely batting 2-4 in the everyday batting order. The second base battle has essentially been won by Blake DeWitt, although Joe Torre hasn't yet officially announced the starter. Russell Martin has a strained right groin that will likely land him on the disabled list to start the season, although Martin seems hellbent on being in the starting lineup on opening day. A little rest could go a long way for Martin, who has caught more innings that any other catcher since his 2006 debut. If Martin does end up on the DL, A.J. Ellis will likely get the bulk of the starts at catcher.
C - Brad Ausmus
IF - Jamey Carroll
IF - Belliard
OF - Reed Johnson
PH - Garret Anderson / Doug Mientkiewicz
Belliard has a weight clause in his contract that would guarantee his $825,000 salary if he weighs in at 209 pounds at any point in spring training, a weight he has not yet met. As long as he is hitting, Belliard will still likely make the team, and get starts at second, third, and first base. Garret Anderson is the favorite over Doug Mientkiewicz in the battle for lefty pinch hitter.
The opening day starter will be Padilla, but it probably ought to be Clayton Kershaw, who at 22 years old would have been the third youngest opening day starter in franchise history, behind Fernando Valenzuela (1981) and Don Drysdale (1958) were he to get the nod. They key to the staff will be Kuroda, who battled injuries last season. If he can make 30 starts, the Dodgers will be in good shape. The wild card is Padilla, who transformed himself from pariah in Texas to near playoff savior with the Dodgers (at least until that final start against the Phillies).
The fifth spot will likely be a revolving door all season, but for now the battle is between Eric Stults and Charlie Haeger, both out of options, Rule 5 pick Carlos Monasterios, and non-roster invitee Ramon Ortiz. Russ Ortiz and Josh Towers are technically still in the race for the final rotation spot, but I don't expect that to be the case for much longer.
CL - Jonathan Broxton
LHP - George Sherrill
LHP - Hong-Chih Kuo
RHP - Ramon Troncoso
Ronald Belisario would be a lock for a prominent bullpen spot, but he still hasn't arrived in camp due to visa issues, stemming from his DUI last year and, according to some sources, Belsario's flakiness. As it stands, he will almost certainly start the season on the restricted list, suspended without pay as he "gets into shape." Look for Monasterios, Ortiz, and Haeger to likely start the season in the pen. Jeff Weaver, who had a resurgent season in 2009 as the swing man, came to camp again as a non-roster invitee and is also fighting for one of the final spots in the pen.
The bullpen was a major strength of the Dodgers last year, and figures to be again this year, although there are reasons for concern. Kuo is currently experiencing elbow soreness, and could start the season on the disabled list. Given his injury history, there is always the fear that every pitch thrown by Kuo could be his last, but when healthy he is one of the best in baseball. Given Belisario's current absence, Cory Wade being out up to three months after shoulder surgery, and the demotions of James McDonald and Scott Elbert to Triple A, the bullpen depth chart is looking a little thin right now.
In The System
The aforementioned McDonald and Elbert will begin the year in Triple A, but both will see time in Los Angeles this summer. Jon Link, a 26-year old reliever acquired in the Juan Pierre trade this winter, was recently praised by Torre as someone with enough polish to make an impact on this year's bullpen. Josh Lindblom has had two very good springs in a row, but as a player off the 40-man roster, he draws the short straw when it comes to the roster crunch.
Offensively, the help from the system could come in the form of fourth outfielder types Jason Repko (who has been in the organization since 1999, longer than any other player on the team), Xavier Paul, and Jamie Hoffmann, who was lost in December in the Rule 5 draft, but was just returned to the club by the Yankees. Infielder Chin-Lung Hu could also help the big club, particularly if Rafael Furcal gets hurt for any significant amount of time.
This is the final year of Joe Torre's contract, but he's been working on a one-year extension seemingly all winter. Whether Torre, who at 69 is already the oldest manager in Dodger history, ends his managerial career after 2010 or 2011, the organizational plan appears to have hitting coach Don Mattingly take over for Torre once he's through with his Hall of Fame career. The Torre extension talks are currently on hold, but a deal will almost certainly get done at some point this season.
The Dodgers have a good young group of players that should perform quite well in 2010. The division figures to be a dogfight, but those 9/1 odds for the Dodgers to win the World Series seem fair, as they have a good shot at getting to their third straight postseason.