Yasiel Puig

2014 Preview: Los Angeles Dodgers

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Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Big Question: Can the deep-pocketed Dodgers be stopped?

After a midseason turnaround led to 92 wins and a trip to the NLCS last year, the Dodgers had a relatively quiet offseason, at least in terms of bringing in outside talent. Sure, they locked up 2013 NL Cy Young Award winner Clayton Kershaw with a monster seven-year, $215 million extension to and re-signed Juan Uribe for two years and $15 million, but their two biggest additions were right-hander Dan Haren (one year, $10 million) and Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero (four years, $28 million). While they recently signed another Cuban infielder, Erisbel Arruebarrena, to a five-year, $25 million contract, he’s not expected to contribute in the majors right away. The truth is that they didn’t need to do much in the way of tweaking, because they were already in pretty good shape.

We heard rumors over the winter about the Dodgers potentially trading one of their outfielders, but they ended up hanging on to all of them. Given the injury histories of Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford, that’s probably for the best. The lineup has some potential weak spots between second base, third base, and catcher, but there are plenty of impact bats here. Hanley Ramirez was one of the best hitters in the game when healthy last year and Yasiel Puig was an absolute dynamo after his call-up. Adrian Gonzalez hasn’t surpassed 30 home runs since 2011, but he’s still a solid run producer.

Even though the Dodgers were unable to land Masahiro Tanaka, the rotation is looking potent once again with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu leading the way. Kenley Jansen has emerged as one of the best closers in the majors and bridge to the ninth inning should be stronger this year with full seasons from both Brian Wilson and Paco Rodriguez. Chris Withrow and J.P. Howell will be back in the bullpen and Chris Perez and Jamey Wright were both added to the fold over the winter. Oh, and Brandon League is still collecting a paycheck.

With a payroll well above $200 million, anything short of the World Series will likely be considered a disappointment. Who knows if the Dodgers can get there, as the playoffs are often a crapshoot, but all signs point to them being a forced to be reckoned with once again.

What else is going on?  

  • Matt Kemp is a big question mark as he makes his way back from ankle surgery. He was recently cleared to increase some baseball activities after an MRI showed proper healing, but he’s not expected to be ready for the start of the season and might not even make an appearance during Cactus League play. With Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier in place, the Dodgers don’t have to rush things. Still, a healthy and productive Kemp would make them even scarier.
  • The Dodgers would love for Alexander Guerrero to run away with the starting second base job, but he’s had some issues adjusting to the position and there’s some chatter that he could begin the season in the minors in order to get comfortable. However, if he keeps doing things like this, it’ll be tough to send him down. The possible alternatives at second base include Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas, and Brendan Harris, which makes the decision to let Mark Ellis walk a little questionable. The Dodgers certainly could have afforded him, even in an insurance role. He’s essentially doing the same thing for the Cardinals right now.
  • Josh Beckett was limited to just eight starts last year prior to undergoing surgery to relieve thoracic outlet syndrome, a procedure which involved having a rib removed to relieve pressure on a nerve which caused numbness in his arms and fingers. The good news is that he hasn’t had any issues this spring and projects to begin the season as the team’s No. 5 starter. The Dodgers have alternatives if things go wrong, as Paul Maholm was added over the winter for depth purposes and Chad Billingsley could be ready to return from Tommy John before the All-Star break.
  • What does Yasiel Puig have in store for an encore? With his all-out style and flair, the 23-year-old outfielder was the talk of baseball as a rookie last year, hitting .319/.391/.534 with 19 home runs, 42 RBI, and 11 stolen bases in 104 games. The Dodgers (and some opponents) would like to see him dial things back somewhat, but you take the good with the bat with this type of talent. Unfortunately, his style of play does put him at a greater risk for injury, which is something to watch this season.
  • Much was made of Don Mattingly’s job status last season and in the aftermath of their loss in the NLCS, but the situation should be less of a distraction now that he has received a contract extension through 2016. Of course, that could always change if the Dodgers flop.

Prediction: I could see the Giants, Diamondbacks, and Padres all competing for a Wild Card spot this season, but the Dodgers are the most well-rounded team here and they have the resources to upgrade as the season moves along. They deserve to be considered heavy favorites to win the division for a second straight year. No surprises here. First place, NL West.

Great Moments in Not Understanding The Rules

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Bill Livingston of the Cleveland Plain Dealer is a Hall of Fame voter. In the past he has voted for players who used PEDs, but he’s never been totally happy with it, seeing the whole PED mess as a dilemma for voters.

On the one hand he doesn’t like voting for users and doesn’t like harming those who were clean by shifting votes away from them, but on the other hand, he doesn’t want to pretend history didn’t happen and that baseball hasn’t been filled with cheaters forever. What to do?

This year he decided to abstain altogether. A fair and noble act if one is as conflicted as Livingston happens to be. Except . . . he didn’t actually abstain:

Major league baseball will confer bronzed immortality on a few players Wednesday when the results of the national baseball writers’ balloting for the Hall of Fame will be announced.

I had a 2017 ballot. I returned it signed, but blank, with an explanatory note.

A blank ballot, signed and submitted, is not an abstention. It’s counted as a vote for no one. Each “no” vote increases the denominator in the calculation of whether or not a candidate has received 75% of the vote and has gained induction. An abstention, however, would not. So, in effect, Livingston has voted against all of the players on the ballot, both PED-tainted and clean, even though it appears that that was not his intention.

This is the second time in two years a Cleveland writer has had . . . issues with his Hall of Fame ballot. In the 2014-15 voting period, Paul Hoynes simply lost his ballot. Now Livingston misunderstood how to abstain.

I worry quite often that Ohio is gonna mess up a major election. I guess I’m just worrying about the wrong election.

Hall of Fame voters are making news, not exercising democratic rights

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Last month the Baseball Writers Association of America voted to make all Hall of Fame ballots public beginning with next year’s vote for the 2018 induction class. In the past 24 hours or so, as this year’s Hall of Fame voting period comes to a close, a lot of folks have been talking about that. Most notably in Jayson Stark’s piece over at ESPN regarding next year’s brave new public world.

Stark is pro-transparency on the ballots, as are the vast majority of BBWAA members who voted on the public ballot measure (it passed 80-9). Not everyone Stark quotes in his article is on board with it, though:

“I’ve already seen a lot of people change their votes from one year to the next,” said one of the strongest dissenters to this decision, USA Today’s Bob Nightengale. “People have changed their votes based on public opinion.”

Two other sources in the story, Scott Miller of Bleacher Report and a voter who asked to remain anonymous equated their Hall of Fame vote with democracy and invoked the sanctity of the secret ballot. “The No. 1 reason I was against this rule is that in this country, it’s a democracy, and everyone has a vote on different things. And I hate to see a blanket rule that forces everyone to go in one direction,” Miller said. Here’s what the anonymous guy said:

“To me, a secret ballot is a fundamental of democracy. You should be able to vote your conscience without having to explain your vote. But once it’s public, you’re open to public pressure. And that’s not what we want in a democracy. We’re not elected representatives. We’re chosen to be part of a voting group.”

This is ridiculous of course. Voting for the Hall of Fame is not exercising democratic rights. It is making news and making history. Hall of Fame voters are making decisions which will fundamentally alter baseball history and which matter greatly to a large number of baseball fans. They are not advancing their own or society’s interests at the ballot box the way citizens do on election day. Despite the fact that the form of their action here is, technically speaking, a ballot, they are making news in the same way a GM makes a news with a trade, the commissioner makes news with a rule change or a team makes news by winning a World Series.

Would any of these voters — who are credentialed members of the media, by the way, and like to style themselves as truth-seeking members of the Fourth Estate — accept silence from the people who make the news on the beat they cover? Would they be content if the newsmakers whose acts they chronicle demanded anonymity the way they themselves do now? Of course they wouldn’t. And if they got the same silent treatment they’d prefer to give, they’d write one of those petulant little columns they love about players who “duck the press” after a game.

Suck it up, journalists. Act the way you expect the newsmakers you cover to act and own your decisions. Don’t pretend for a moment that you’re not the subject of, and not the reporter of, the story when Hall of Fame season comes around.