(Photo Credit: Jon SooHoo)
With six weeks remaining before pitchers and catchers start filing into the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch, there’s certainly enough time to make a few roster upgrades heading into Cactus League play if the front office crew of the Dodgers decides to do so. But if the team brings an almost identical look from last year to the beginning of the 2017 regular season, will the club have enough firepower to win a fifth consecutive division title, and more importantly, have the strength to make a deep run into the playoffs in October?
For as many critics as there are among the fan base, with each passing year there seems to be more and more optimists. Much of the gossip surrounding the Dodgers so far this winter has been connected to acquiring Brian Dozier of the Twins, yet as the days and weeks continue to mount, a large contingent of fans believes the more prudent move is to hold on to the two or three top-tier prospects it would take to land the Minnesota second baseman.
The same can be said about the starting rotation. Towards the end of the Dodgers’ run in the 2016 playoffs, many pundits thought the team needed a true No. 2 starter to compliment resident ace Clayton Kershaw while attempting to overcome the final hurdle of bringing home a World Series Championship. But with age comes experience and maturity, and the youngsters who make up the core of the club’s current pitching staff will almost definitely perform better this year.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman agrees, as he explained a few of his philosophies to reporters just after the Dodgers were eliminated from the playoffs last fall.
“I think the experience from this postseason will serve our guys really well going forward. It hurts to say that but that’s the silver lining in it,” Friedman said. “This has been a very resilient group all year. During postgame embraces, there was a lot of talk among the group about how we’ll come back next year. I think that’s motivation for all of us. A number of our young guys getting this experience bodes well for the future.”
Even the coaching staff will remain exactly identical.
Besides the younger players on the squad approaching the peak of their respective learning curves, the fact that the team’s overall health will surely improve from the dreaded number of injuries in 2016 is also evidence of prospective renovation.
In 2016, the Dodgers broke the record for most players sent to the disabled list in one season with 28, a mark which was previously held by the Red Sox in 2012.
Just with the maturity from the youngsters and a better diagnosis in health and wellness alone, even those from the sabermetric school of thinking believe the Dodgers’ chances are mathematically better. Who knows how much separation in the division standings a full season of a healthy Kershaw will create?
The contributions from the infieldeing corps, most specifically Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Adrian Gonzalez, will be critical to the offensive production of the club, ultimately putting the spotlight of health on this particular group of iron men. The trio amassed 252 total RBI while averaging 154.7 regular games played per player per season. Throwing catcher Yasmani Grandal into the mix, the group was responsible for 98 of the Dodgers’ 189 long balls last year.
If there’s any area of potential weakness, it’s probably the bullpen, despite the return of All-Star closer Kenley Jansen. Middle-men Jesse Chavez and Casey Fien are both gone, Louis Coleman likely will not return, while J.P. Howell and Joe Blanton still remain unsigned. This crew of five was responsible for a whopping 230.0 relief innings pitched during the 2016 regular season. Without any major upgrades, Jansen, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez and Adam Liberatore, among others, will all be mandated to shoulder huge loads of responsibility.
While change can sometimes be considered a good thing, the same can also be said for uniformity. However, without any major additions, the question of whether this core of players and coaches can produce a championship run will linger for the next six months, at least until the trade deadline creeps up in July.