The 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers are virtually the hottest ticket in town; with virtually and ticket being the salient words here.
Many season ticket holders became a bit perturbed when the team announced “real” tickets would no longer be given out. Instead, fans get to log onto their own computers (or cell phones) and print off a receipt which acts as a ticket. So if you happen to be at a game where history gets made, be sure to laminate that 8 ½ by 11 piece of Office Depot recycled paper for a keepsake.
As if that didn’t anger the fans who are old enough to remember Paul McCartney wasn’t always a solo act, the Dodgers upset all generations when they upped some ticket prices by as much as 140% (a number of seats that cost $5 last season will now cost $12) and decided to charge $5 more for parking if you pay when you get to the ballpark rather than at the time you buy your tickets.
No matter management’s efforts to gouge fans, season ticket sales are through the roof, or smog, given this is Los Angeles. Per MLB, a 90% renewal rate is considered amazing; the Dodgers announced a 98% renewal rate. For the second straight year, the team was forced to cut off season tickets sales in spite of orders still pouring in. The Dodgers sold 31,000 season seats in 2013 but are keeping mum on this year’s tally.
Now that fans have parted with tons of bread, the question is whether the 2014 Dodgers will make an even more delicious entree than the 2013 team that went all the way to the NLCS.
Best case scenario for 2014
There may not be a best-case scenario for the Dodgers this year, just one case – World Series or bust. Las Vegas has made the Dodgers the favorite to take it all this year based on how they steamrolled over everyone the second of half of last season.
The Dodgers were a middling .500 ballclub at the 2013 All-Star break and the vultures were starting to circle around manager Don Mattingly. Team president Stan Kasten would later admit he was ready to fire Mattingly during the season if the Dodgers didn’t start winning.
Lucky for Mattingly, the team got both healthy and hot. The Dodgers closed out July winning 10 of 12 and went 19-6 in August to leave the rest of a somewhat disappointing NL West division in the dust.
Although the team fell to the Cardinals in the NLCS, most fans assumed the Dodgers were one big happy family that was anxious for 2014 to roll around. Well, sometimes families can look like “The Brady Bunch” on the outside while being more like the family from “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” on the inside.
The offseason got off to an auspicious start when both Mattingly and star pitcher Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA) started pulling the “pay me or you might pay for it” statements out of the hat.
At the first end-of-the-season press conference Mattingly, whose contract had a team option for the 2014 season, called out GM Ned Colletti by stating he did not want to enter 2014 as a “lame duck manager.”
The 2014 season would have been the final year of Kershaw’s existing 3-year, $19 million deal and he could have filed for free agency after the 2015 season. When reports surfaced during the 2013 season that Kershaw was in negotiations for a long-term deal, Kershaw made sure to tell everyone he didn’t want to talk about it. Naturally, everyone did start talking about it. Besides, Detroit’s Justin Verlander was walking around with both Kate Upton and a new contract that could exceed $200 million. It was no surprise that Kershaw was thinking “I want that!” And the married Cy Young winner wasn’t talking about SI swimsuit models.
Fortunately, Dodgers ownership took everything in stride and signed Kershaw and Mattingly to long term deals. Spring training may actually open with the focus on the field instead of the front office. And that bodes well for everyone.
Most Important Dodgers
St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Michael Wacha was named the MVP of the NLCS last year but Dodgers fans think the award should have really gone to pitcher Joe Kelly.
It was Kelley who threw a pitch that cracked the rib of Dodgers star Hanley Ramirez (.345 BA, 20 home runs in 86 games) in Game 1 of the NLCS. It completely disabled the man whose back the team was pretty much being carried. Although June saw rookie Yasiel Puig take over the headlines, it was Ramirez who is generally credited for righting the Dodgers ship.
Ramirez was sidelined for all but four games the first two months of the season. He returned on June 4th and proceeded to bat .369 with 10 home runs and 34 RBI through the end of July. Ramirez was doing so well, many writers were calling him to be named to the All-Star team even though he had played less than 30 games when rosters were announced. Ramirez is entering the final year of the contract he signed with the Marlins and could become a free agent. When a reporter asked about it, Ramirez simply replied he wants to be “a Dodger for life.”
The pitching staff may have the best 1-2 punch in the majors with Kershaw and Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63 ERA in 2013). For years, Kershaw was being viewed as the best Dodger left-hander since Sandy Koufax. Well, he certainly earned being in the same sentence as the legendary southpaw after the 2013 season that saw him win a second Cy Young award. Fans are hoping Kershaw’s final game of the year, game 6 of the NLCS, which saw him go just four innings giving up 7 runs and throwing 98 pitches, is not a harbinger of things to come.
Potential Breakout Players
Talk about a compliment.
Mattingly, a man who knows a little bit about hitting, said some very nice things about the potential of outfield prospect Joc Pederson. “…his swing looks a lot more like [that of Robinson Cano and Carlos Gonzalez] because it’s nice and easy. There’s no tension in his swing.” Pederson (.278 BA, 22 HR in Double AA last season) is not expected to start the season with the team but the feeling is he may be in the mix should the injury list grow as it did last year.
As far as potential pitching prospects, Mattingly may have unknowingly jinxed the possibility of a young arm jumping up from the minors. The day after Mattingly announced young pitching prospects Zach Lee and Ross Stripling would be given a fair shot at making the roster, Lee suffered a serious back injury and, in a no-one-saw-it-coming move, the team acquired former Braves starter, Paul Maholm. Maholm might start but is currently being eyed as a long reliever in a revamped bullpen filled with a couple of strange characters who are a perfect fit in Hollywood.
The team re-upped with the beard, Brian Wilson. Although Wilson rambled a bit about not wanting to be the set-up guy for closer Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers gave him ten million reasons to accept the 8th inning instead of the 9th. The marijuana-ordering Chris Perez fell out of favor with the suddenly relevant Cleveland Indians leading the Dodgers to sign him to a $2.3 million deal and a chance to reside where he can order medical pot. The Dodgers also brought back Jamey Wright, 38, who still seems to have gas left. Brandon League self-destructed in the first year of his $22 million three year deal in 2013 but he claims to have found the answer to what ailed him. I’m sure he would prefer not to be the richest mop up guy in the majors.
The downside to this veteran-heavy bullpen is that a couple of promising rookies from last year may have to count on an injury to come back to “The Show.” Rookies Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow contributed in a big way late last season. So far, it appears that, as in Pederson’s case, it will take someone to fall down in order for them to come back up.
With not much to expect in the way of rookies, the spring talk has focused a lot on whether last year’s new faces, Puig and pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00 ERA), can build on the promise they showed in 2013.
In case you were on Mars and missed it, Puig became the talk of baseball last June when he was called up from the minors. He electrified fans in both good and bad ways. After his call up in June, he batted .349 through the end of August while working wonders with his glove. On the other hand, Puig had a tendency to put himself before the team.
He would get thrown out when trying to take an extra base against coach’s orders. In one game, Puig, in right field, vigorously waved off center fielder Andre Ethier while both were chasing a rolling base hit. Many perceived it as Puig’s way of saying only he, and not Ethier, could make a big throw to nail the runners. Puig has also been in trouble with the law having been ticketed for speeding twice. And, because the Dodgers were in control of their division by Labor Day, it was barely mentioned that Puig batted a paltry .214 in September. Had pitchers figured him out the second time?
Fans of “The Biggest Loser” may be keeping an eye on Ryu. He reported to camp noticeably slimmer than the 255 pound frame he carried last year. He won’t divulge his secrets to losing weight but admitted there were times last season he got winded a little too soon.
Worst Case Scenario
Things are seemingly so peaceful this spring, Los Angeles Times writer Steve Dilbeck wrote “Truth be told, this could shape up as one of the duller Dodgers camps ever.”
About the only story making headlines is the team admitting they are not very excited about opening the season in Australia. “I would say there’s absolutely zero excitement for it,” Greinke told ESPN. So outside of jet lag, this team could be done in by one major injury given the lack of depth.
Catcher A.J. Ellis will turn 33 this spring and, like Ryu, is coming to camp a bit lighter as a way to avoid straining his knees. He batted .238 last year after batting .270 in 2012. His backup, young Tim Federowicz, batted just .231. There is no one in the way of a “sure hands, sure bat” backup first baseman if Adrian Gonzalez, who turns 32 in May, goes down. Juan Uribe, 35, remains at third base simply because the Dodgers have failed in very obvious attempts to replace him.
So who can step up if the first-line gets injured or needs a break? Uhm, excuse me, the sound of crickets is getting annoying.
Areas of concern
The first concern is second…base that is.
The Dodgers let Mark Ellis go and told fans not to worry since they had plucked some guy named Alexander Guerrero out of Cuba. Naturally, fans are expecting Yasiel Puig, the sequel. But recently, some in the organization started questioning if this guy can be ready to blossom the same way in such a short time.
As a stopgap, the Dodgers signed journeyman Justin Turner and are even going to give former Angels hero Chone Figgins, 36, a shot to latch on. Infield prospect Dee Gordon, whose speed evoked comparisons to Maury Wills, has not quite been the breakout player the team was hoping for but he will be given a chance to win the “roving” infielder spot.
The Dodgers starting four pitchers look formidable. The addition of Dan Haren solidifies that slot behind Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu. The question is whether either Josh Beckett or Chad Billinsgley can bounce back and fill in that number five spot. Billingsley is coming off of Tommy John surgery and even a June return may be overly optimistic. Beckett suffered the dreaded “dead arm” syndrome and was a total bust going 0-5. He had surgery over the winter to remove a “pesky” rib in the shoulder area and said he is back and ready to go. Don’t count out young Stephen Fife (4-4, 3.86 ERA in 12 games) who gave up an average of just two runs in his ten starts.
Who needs to bounce back from a down 2013
Does anyone remember Matt Kemp? You know, the budding superstar that the Dodgers signed for, well, forever in 2011 but has been beset by injuries since then and played in only 73 games last season? He is coming off yet another surgery, this one on his ankle, and might begin the season on the DL. Right now, Kemp is the fourth outfielder behind Carl Crawford, Ethier, and Puig. Just don’t tell Kemp that.
“I’m not a fourth outfielder. We can cut that question off right now,” Kemp told a reporter. That’s the last question you have to ask me. I’m not a fourth outfielder. I’m not going to be a fourth outfielder. I’m here to help my team win and play every day. We can stop right there.” The speculation was the Dodgers were looking to unload Kemp but his contract and health brought all that to an end pretty quickly. Could the number four outfielder in Los Angeles end up being etched into some other team’s lineup card this year?
Of course, if the Dodgers had their way, lineup card exchanges would be done by cell phone texts.
AL Team Previews
NL Team Previews