Dodgers hope camp proves overhaul was wise
Roster renovation leaves question marks as Spring Training begins
LOS ANGELES -- From the front office to the clubhouse, the Dodgers' thorough housecleaning might have been expected from an also-ran, not a back-to-back division champ.
Whether it works won't be known until October, but the Spring Training that begins when pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Ariz., on Thursday will bring into clearer focus issues such as:
Will there be enough offense without Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez? Is Joc Pederson ready for Opening Day? How close are top prospects Corey Seager and Julio Urias? Is the leaky bullpen plugged and the starting rotation bolstered? What becomes of Andre Ethier?
"The number of runs we need to score will be lower if we play better defense," said manager Don Mattingly. "That's like how it is in the playoffs."
New management blew up the clubhouse to win those October games. It set out to tighten the defense, build a balanced and functional roster and reinforce bench depth to share the load with super-utility man Justin Turner.
"Our hope and belief is that by having a more balanced lineup one to eight, we'll have a different look and feel but be just as productive," said general manager Farhan Zaidi. "I feel really good that we'll have quality at-bats and be less reliant on the middle of the order."
Zaidi said Mattingly will have greater game flexibility because he has players better suited for specific roles. Add that to an increased reliance on advanced analytics and the lineup and batting order could change frequently depending on matchups.
"Look around the game and you don't have 162-game guys as we've had in the past," Zaidi said. "We've added players that aren't just insurance for the inevitable injury, but that can get in games more often than average bench players and lighten the load on the front-line guys over the course of the season. So when the manager gives somebody a day off, he has a good alternative and the lineup doesn't take such a hit that it's harder to execute."
Mattingly's job has already been made easier by the clubhouse subtractions of Kemp, Ramirez and Brian Wilson. Although Kemp was a star again in the second half, his relationship with Mattingly was strained. Ramirez was a daily uncertainty physically, especially after the club wouldn't extend his contract. And Wilson's eccentricity, tolerated when he was unhittable, became a distraction when he couldn't get outs.
Zaidi said Brett Anderson, the biggest rotation question mark, has thrown three bullpen sessions with no problems from his surgically repaired back. Anderson will initially be on a reduced spring program for precautionary reasons, but is expected to be ready for April. Non-roster veteran Erik Bedard is one fallback option, along with young starters Joe Wieland, Mike Bolsinger, Carlos Frias and Zach Lee.
Zaidi said he's confident the bullpen will be improved behind closer Kenley Jansen, "even though we didn't get high-dollar guys." They did deal for Joel Peralta, Chris Hatcher, Juan Nicasio and Adam Liberatore, and the non-roster list includes Sergio Santos, David Aardsma and David Huff to go with returnees J.P. Howell, Brandon League, Pedro Baez, Paco Rodriguez, Yimi Garcia and Daniel Coulombe.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
Tuesday, Feb. 24
First Spring Training game
Home vs. White Sox, March 4, 12:05 p.m. PT
Home vs. San Diego, April 6, 1:10 p.m. PT