This offseason, general manager Ned Colletti has strengthened the Dodgers' bullpen in hopes of the team repeating as National League West champions. In 2013, the Dodgers often struggled offensively, costing them many victories. So far this offseason, Colletti hasn't done anything to strengthen the offense, and this may represent a problem for the Dodgers in 2014.
An old baseball adage says pitching wins championships, but a team must outscore its opponent to win games. With a weak offense, it puts more stress on the pitching staff to perform well. Sometimes overly stressed pitching staffs don't perform up to standards.
Injuries were a big part of the Dodgers' 2013 season. However, injuries are a part of the game, and how a team deals with them determines how well it will do during the season. Right now, the Dodgers don't appear to have adequate depth to deal with any trips to the disabled list.
As for the bullpen, the Dodgers needed to retain the services of Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell, which Colletti did. Nevertheless, they didn't need to sign Chris Perez, who hasn't performed well in Cleveland for the last year, or Jamey Wright, who couldn't get his contract renewed after a fantastic 2012 for the Dodgers. These relievers are question marks, and they will block the development of the promising Chris Withrow.
Last year, the Dodgers seemed to have endless money to spend on players, but this year, they have seemed to put Colletti on a restricted budget. They couldn't or wouldn't retain the services of either Skip Schumaker or Nick Punto. Colletti hasn't yet rebuilt the bench, a weakness for the team. Re-signing Juan Uribe ensures the Dodgers will have a decent third baseman, barring an injury. They don't have a proven second baseman after they let Mark Ellis go to the St. Louis Cardinals. In October, just after the Cardinals knocked them out of the playoffs, the Dodgers signed another Cuban defector, Alexander Guerrero, whose natural position is second base, but he's an unknown quality in the Major Leagues.
Hanley Ramirez is essential to the Dodgers' offense. Last year, plagued with various injuries, Ramirez only played in 86 games, and the Dodgers couldn't find another shortstop who could contribute to the offense. If the season began today, Dee Gordon, whose primary asset on a baseball diamond is his speed, is the backup shortstop. The primary shortcoming of the team in the first half of 2013 was not having a shortstop who could hit. In 2014, the Dodgers will face the same problem if Ramirez gets injured.
During this offseason, many people want the Dodgers to trade an outfielder because they have four top-notch outfielders. They can't play all of them at the same time, probably causing chemistry problems. Meanwhile, the Dodgers couldn't find enough good outfielders in the playoffs, causing severe offensive problems that prevented them from advancing to the World Series. There are doubts that Matt Kemp can begin the 2014 campaign since he has had serious ankle surgery and another shoulder clean-out. Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford are over 30, so they will need periodic rests to prevent injuries. Scott Van Slyke is the only reserve outfielder, and manager Don Mattingly didn't trust his skills enough to allow him to play in the National League Championship Series.
The starting rotation might be a problem for the Dodgers, needing more offensive support than it has in the past. Barring injury, two-time NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu look solid. After that, the Dodgers have questions. Both Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett are recovering from serious surgeries. This offseason, Colletti signed veteran Dan Haren, whose best days are behind him, to be the fifth starter. If either Billingsley or Beckett can't begin the season in the starting rotation, Dodgers fans might get their wish of seeing prospect Zach Lee or Minor League journeyman Stephen Fife in Los Angeles. However, the Dodgers need more depth in their starting rotation to continue dominating the improved NL West.
Having a good bullpen is essential to the success of a team, but ignoring other aspects can be detrimental to the Dodgers' postseason goals. Colletti didn't want to repeat the bullpen fiasco that plagued the Dodgers early last season, but he hasn't improved either the offense or defense. His reluctance to give anyone over 30 a multiyear contract has weakened both the starting rotation and bench. It may be a long season in Los Angeles for Dodgers fans.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.