Our team-by-team preview of the 2012 MLB season from a fantasy perspective continues today with the Los Angeles Dodgers. If you've just jumped on with our series or need a reminder, we are spending a day with each major league team, looking at 9 different fantasy angles for each franchise while also paying homage to the things we watch for as real life fans. The hope is that through this exercise we might all come to a greater understanding of the various environments that contain the players we spend so much time obsessing over. Fantasy baseball would be a lot easier if these guys played in a vacuum, but since they don't, it's a good idea to learn as much as we can about the circumstances that affect their play.
Make sure you check out Kenneth Arthur's spotlight on various Dodgers players. Our series will return Monday with the San Diego Padres.
2011 in Review & 2012 Outlook
The Dodgers finished above .500 in 2011, which is really quite an accomplishment given the off-the-field distractions that have plagued the team, from a messy divorce and ongoing team sale to fan-on-fan violence that dominated the headlines early on in the season. Los Angeles finished third in the NL West, mostly thanks to Herculean performances from Clayton Kershaw, who won the Cy Young and completed the pitching Triple Crown, and Matt Kemp, who many felt was deserving of the MVP (he finished second in voting). That the team could only muster an 82-79 finish is indicative of the talent surrounding these two superstars more than anything else.
Heading into 2012, GM Ned Colletti was hamstrung by the budget of a man going through bankruptcy court (some might say he was also limited by his own player evaluation skill), so the pieces he added weren't exactly what you might call impact signings. I count 7 additions to the 40-man roster; of the 7, 6 are 33 years old or older (and the seventh is journeyman reliever Todd COFFEY, who is 31). Coffey might just be the best of the acquistions...or does that short-change Jerry Hairston, Jr.? This conversation should be very depressing to Dodgers fans. In any case, a team that employs so many second-division stopgaps will probably not contend in the near future, but with a new owner (the list of prospective bidders is supposed to be trimmed from 11 to 5 today) and a new TV deal on the horizon, Los Angeles could be competitive again very soon.
As a fan of a team that recently went through a similar process, I feel your pain, Dodger fans. A word of caution: Don't get too optimistic about any deadline. The most recent promise is April 30, and that date will almost certainly pass with little to no progress. Stay vigilant. Your hour will come. Hopefully yours is as epic as ours was.
Dodgers Stadium ranks in the last third of ballparks in every measure except one - home runs, where it actually came in 19th. That number surprised me a little. I knew the stadium suppressed homers, but I didn't know it was also such a poor run environment overall. It sits in a recessed bowl, so the wind doesn't play much of a factor, which certainly helps pitchers. As a symmetrical field, Dodger Stadium does not favor hitters or pitchers of either handedness.
Manager & Coaching Staff
This will be Don Mattingly's second year at the helm, and hopefully for the Dodgers, he learned a few things, like not to play for 1 run when down by a bunch, or how to fill out a lineup card. It's easy to criticize Mattingly - he's surprisingly crotchety for a 50 year-old man - but he has the respect of his players and honestly doesn't have a lot to work with when it comes to on-field talent.
Expected Position Battles
Matt Treanor was brought in to push A.J. Ellis, but Mattingly is publicly backing Ellis to make the majority of starts behind the plate with Treanor in a true backup role. The other battle worth noting is at closer, where Kenley Jansen will challenge Javy Guerra for his throne...or so we thought. Mattingly says Guerra is his man, but apparently nobody believes him. Other than that, the most fierce competition will be over the utility spots and middle relief roles.
Projected Lineup & Rotation
Dee Gordon - SS
Mark Ellis - 2B
Matt Kemp - CF
Andre Ethier - RF
Juan Rivera - LF
James Loney - 1B
Juan Uribe - 3B
A.J. Ellis - C
Don Mattingly is on record saying Gordon at 1 and Kemp at 3 are his only locked-in spots, but we all know he's going to put his high-OBP catcher at 8 and Mark Ellis at 2, because tradition! Jerry Sands gets special mention as a guy who might platoon with Loney and/or Rivera against left-handed pitching.
Clayton Kershaw | Chad Billingsley | Ted Lilly | Aaron Harang | Chris Capuano
Rubby De La Rosa could challenge for a back-end spot once he returns from Tommy John surgery, but that might not even happen in 2012. Nathan Eovaldi is available for spot starts. He showed flashes of quality last year after being called up, but needs more seasoning.
As I noted above, Javy Guerra is the team's closer, but Kenley Jansen will be knocking on the door. Jansen set the record last year for highest K-rate ever (minimum 50 IP), and he actually struck out more than 50% of the batters he faced after returning from the disabled list in mid-June. I'd draft him before half of the closers in the league even if he had a 0% chance of receiving any saves this year. Let's not forget about Guerra, who will contribute to your rate stats and won't hurt you in the strikeout department. Jansen's presence means you can grab him at a discount, and who knows? If he doesn't blow any saves early in the year, what motivation does Mattingly have to switch things up?
Potential Fantasy Sleepers
My definition of sleeper and yours may vary. I use the term to refer to a player who may be undervalued, no matter his current or expected draft position.
It's hard to find a sleeper among a team that's built on a studs and duds philosophy (or so it seems), but try this on for size: In August and September, James Loney hit .357/.416/.608 with 8 HR and 32 RBI. There's no guarantee any of that will carry over, but Loney could be a useful half of a fantasy platoon...if you're into doing that sort of thing with your first base spot.
Spring Storylines to Watch
Usually in this space I highlight an injury recovery or a new swing or pitch a guy has developed, but LA's situation is unique - they will have a different identity in a few months than they do now. A new owner can change everything. Will there be a fresh infusion of cash? Will Colletti retain his job? Will the new guy come in with a mandate to contend now? New ownership watch starts in earnest today as the final 5 bidders are announced.
Follow the Team
MLB.com beat reporter: Ken Gurnick (Blog | Twitter)
Los Angeles Time beat reporter: Dylan Hernandez (Blog | Twitter)
ESPNLosAngeles.com beat reporter: Anthony Jackson (Blog | Twitter)
SBN: True Blue LA (Blog | Twitter)
Other Blog(s) of Note:
Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness (Blog | Twitter)
Know of any other sites or Twitter accounts that deserve a mention? Let me know in the comments.