At this time last year, observers wondered how the Dodgers could afford anything to help make them more competitive. After all, the team was mired in bankruptcy court and waiting for the previous owner to choose a new ownership group.
What a difference a year makes!
Now it appears that the Dodgers will have the highest payroll in the Major Leagues when the 2013 season begins. They haven't begun obtaining free agents or making trades to improve the team. After years of budget restrictions, general manager Ned Colletti often appears to have gone crazy with seemingly endless money, but the new ownership approves of what he is attempting to do.
Since the Dodgers' Minor League system has been depleted, the team must purchase what it needs to fill shortcomings. On average, a newly drafted player needs four years in the Minor Leagues before he is ready for the Majors. Consequently, until the Minor League system can produce players that can help the Dodgers be competitive, their massive spending spree will continue.
Everyone who follows baseball knows teams can't buy championships, but the Dodgers don't have much choice but to attempt to do that. Next year will be 25 years since the Dodgers have appeared in the World Series, and Dodgers fans have grown impatient. The new ownership group understands this. Subsequently, it wants to bring the best players it can to Los Angeles because these players should help the team reach its goal until the Minor League system begins producing.
It is hard for me to change completely within less than a year, but I am delighted to see the Dodgers have owners committed to establishing a perennial winning franchise.
Since money isn't an issue, the Dodgers need many changes before Spring Training begins. Signing Brandon League, who closed several victories after he came to the Dodgers in late July from the Mariners, was a brilliant move by Colletti. Although the Dodgers bullpen looks pretty well set and one of the best in baseball, it needs left-handed relievers. While the Giants were making their fantastic run to their World Series championship, it became clear to me that teams can't have too many left-handed relievers. Right now, the Dodgers have only Scott Elbert, who is coming off elbow surgery. Colletti needs to find another lefty and re-sign Randy Choate. With three lefties in the bullpen, manager Don Mattingly will be able to mix and match against opponents.
Even though the Dodgers have six starters under contract, their rotation needs to be rebuilt. Clayton Kershaw is rock solid, an annual Cy Young Award candidate, barring serious injury. What Josh Beckett did for the Dodgers after coming from the Red Sox in August earns him the second spot in the rotation.
The rest of their rotation can be forgotten. Chad Billingsley, who had a slightly torn ligament in his elbow, aims to avoid Tommy John surgery and return to the rotation during Spring Training. Although the reports are fantastic, I don't know of any precedent on this, so I don't think the Dodgers should rely on Billingsley for 30 starts in 2013.
Ted Lilly is coming off shoulder surgery in September. He already didn't have much velocity. Therefore, even if he can rebuild shoulder strength, will he be effective? Neither Chris Capuano nor Aaron Harang gives anyone much confidence. With serious arm injuries in their history, the Dodgers shouldn't depend heavily on either of them.
This year's free-agent class is weak, especially in starting pitching. The rumors say the Dodgers have interest in all of the good starters: Hiroki Kuroda, Zack Greinke, and Anibal Sanchez. They could use all of them.
For several years, the Dodgers have had weak offensive production. Pitching may win championships. However, if a team can't score runs, it won't win games. After the Dodgers struggled offensively, Colletti dismissed hitting coach Dave Hansen. Mark McGwire, who had a proven track record with the Cardinals, became the Dodgers' eighth hitting coach under Colletti, whose tenure began in December 2005.
Replacing the hitting coach won't help the situation. The Dodgers must learn how to manufacture runs. Seemingly set at every position, they don't have much room for change.
Having a healthy Matt Kemp for the entire season should help the offense. Although there are rumors saying the Dodgers want to trade Andre Ethier, I don't see that happening. Dumping Ethier, who just signed a large contract, won't happen.
The Dodgers must decide what to do with Dee Gordon. They could use his speed, but he isn't patient enough to have a good on-base percentage. Though he has terrific range, he developed a throwing accuracy problem last season. With Hanley Ramirez, who has much more power than Gordon, the Dodgers don't have much place for the kid. They should consider trading Gordon.
The Mets might want to trade David Wright, and he would be a perfect fit for the Dodgers. He would give them a power-hitting third baseman with excellent defensive skills. If the Mets would take Gordon, Juan Uribe and a starter for Wright, the Dodgers would be thrilled.
With seemingly limitless financial flexibility, the Dodgers can do almost anything this winter. They have become the team to watch in the National League.