Los Angeles Dodgers 2014 Team Preview
The 2014 Los Angeles Dodgers will look to capitalize on their historic run to close out the 2013 season. The core of the team that went 54-27 in the final 3 months of the season will be back to try get over the hump and advance to the World Series, something they came up short on in 2013 as they lost 4-2 to the NL champion St. Louis Cardinals. To ensure stability, the Dodgers have made sure that their beloved Manager Don Mattingly will be back after signing him to a new contract that sources say will cover the next 3 seasons. Details of the deal have not been announced yet, but the important thing is that the Skipper will be back in LA next season and beyond.
2014 Preview - Position Battles
The team will hope for a big bounce back season from Matt Kemp after spending large portions of the last 2 years on the disabled list. Also coming back will be Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and phenom Yasiel Puig in the outfield. On the infield the team will again have Adrian Gonzalez, and Hanley Ramirez, as well as glue guy Juan Uribe who has a strong pedigree when it comes to being on winning teams throughout his career. The Dodgers have also brought in Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero hoping he can bring some of that magic that Puig brought to L.A. just one season ago. Guerrero is a shortstop by trade, but all signs at this point say that he will be involved in the second base battle this spring for the Dodgers, as they try to replace Mark Ellis at the position. Uribe is certainly not the designated starter at third base, as the team will continue to explore options both internally and on the market via trades and free agency to try to fill that spot, but if they are left with Uribe at third they could be doing a lot worse. Another option for the club would be to move Hanley Ramirez and his .345 batting average from 2013 back to third base, and have Guerrero or someone else play the shortstop position. With a little less than 2 months before spring training, the Dodgers still have some holes to fill when it comes to shaping their offense. It will be interesting to see how it all plays out, as Ethier could be an enticing trade chip, as well as Matt Kemp. I don’t see all 4 outfielders being happy about playing on the same team for another season, but with Kemp, Crawford, and Ethier’s injury history, perhaps keeping them all around could be key to keeping this team afloat during the rigors of the 162 game season. Handling the catching again will be A.J. Ellis, a guy not known for his bat, but a player who has grown to have a great rapport with the starting rotation.
2014 Preview - Starting Pitchers
The starting pitchers for the Dodgers, will be staff ace Clayton Kershaw, followed by Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu the big lefty who has shown plenty of ability, but also has a penchant for not taking care of his body, and thus will be a risk for arm trouble throughout the season. The final 2 spots in the rotation at the point go to Josh Beckett and Dan Haren. Beckett is coming off rib removal surgery to relieve pressure on the nerves in his neck, which was causing shoulder weakness. He only made 8 forgettable starts last year, and hopes to regain his all star form. This was the first time Beckett went under the knife during his 13-year big league career. The Dodgers hope he can bounce back in the manor that John Lackey did last year for the World Series champion Boston Red Sox. Beckett has the stuff to be a game changer in this rotation, especially in the back end, and add that with his unmatched competitive fire, and the Dodgers may start to see a return on their investment with Beckett. The last spot looks to be free agent acquisition Dan Haren’s job at the moment. This spot is a huge question mark, as Haren has had a really hard time missing bats the last couple of seasons, as he has bounced around a couple of teams (Angels, Nationals), but Haren is only 4 years removed from being an all-star caliber starter in the National League, so if he could find his magic in his splitter again, this could be an under the radar signing that could sway the balance of power in the NL. On the other hand, with his diminished velocity, and propensity to find the sweet spot on bats consistently over his last 2 seasons, Haren could end up being a colossal bust, that will leave the Dodgers wondering why they did not promote a young pitcher to handle the 5th starter duties, or better yet have brought back Chris Capuano to handle the job. Capuano filled in admirably after the injuries to Beckett and Ted Lilly, as well as Greinke during the 2013 season.
2014 Preview - Bullpen
The bullpen could end up being the Dodgers strong suit in 2014. Kenley Jansen will continue to serve as the teams closer after a strong 2013, and behind him will be free agent signing Chris Perez only a year removed from a 50 save season himself, and Brian Wilson who also decided to stay in LA this offseason. Wilson has been an all star closer before, so having 3 guys with the type of experience as these guys have will ensure Mattingly will be handing the ball off to guys he can trust late in games, and will also allow the team to keep pushing forward in the event that one of these guys goes down with an injury in 2014. Rounding out the bullpen will be J.P. Howell, Jamey Wright, Paco Rodriguez, Brandon League (more closing experience), and Chris Withrow. Howell decided to re-up with the Dodgers this winter during free agency, and he is such a durable piece of the bullpen. Howell’s repertoire allows him to be effective against both left handed hitters and right handers which allows Paco Rodriguez to handle most of the lefty specialist duties, and is the kind of guy who will take the ball everyday no matter the pain. Wright is a free agent signing who has undergone a bit of a renaissance over the last 4 seasons, and has turned into a nice long reliever. Wright started his career in 1996 as a starter, and did not make the switch to the bullpen full time until the 2008 season. It took him a few years to figure out the routine, but over the last 4 seasons he has posted effective sub 4 ERA’s, and will be a pleasant addition to Mattingly’s roster after spending 2013 with the Tampa Bay Rays. Brandon League is a pitcher whom was a dominant reliever on bad clubs in Toronto and Seattle during his career, and kind of fell flat last year in his first bid to pitch for a contender. He posted a 5.30 ERA for the Dodgers in 2013, failed as a closer, and had trouble being a set up man. League looks like the odd man out if the fireballer, Chris Withrow continues to develop. Withrow went on a tear in the season’s 2nd half last year, averaging almost 96 mph on his fastball, posting a sub 1 WHIP, and kept his era below 2.75 for most of the second half, finishing with a 2.60. His strikeout numbers (43 in 34.2 innings) show that this was no fluke, and he should be a mainstay on the big club for years to come.
2014 Preview - Hitters
From a fantasy perspective, there is a lot to love about the Dodgers this season. For starters, Yasiel Puig is a potential 5-category monster, who is still learning the game. This makes him a dark horse MVP candidate in the NL. Next in line has to be shortstop Hanley Ramirez. All he did last year was hit .345 with 20 homers 10 stolen bases, and 56 RBI’s and 62 runs scores...in 86 games. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out what those equate to over 162 games. The answer? Another 5 category monster. There will always be some concern with Ramirez, a player who has been known to take days off while playing, and let his frustrations get the best of him, but when he is right, there is not too many shortstops you’d want to own on your fantasy team than Han-Ram. Other options include first-baseman Adrian Gonzalez who is going to get you 290-20-95 even in an average year, Carl Crawford who scores runs, steals some bases and hits in the 280 range, and the former fantasy darling Matt Kemp. Kemp is the guy with the most upside here, even more than Puig it could be argued, but his inability to stay on the field will probably have him fall a little bit lower than his talent suggests on your draft day. If he drops low enough, he could be an attractive option for manager’s looking to gamble. Kemp is only 2 years removed from coming up 1 home run short of being a 40-40 man, and finishing 2nd in the NL MVP voting. If your league mates decide he isn’t worth the risk, go ahead and take a flyer on Kemp, and make sure you pick up Ethier later in your draft in the event Kemp goes down. If he doesn’t you may have gotten yourself a first round talent in the third or fourth round.
The sleeper here is Guerrero, but tread lightly and temper your expectations. This is a guy who was left off his country’s WBC team a couple of years ago, so he is no where near a slam dunk, but if he gets off to good start he’s worth a flyer. He’s got some pop, but scouts say he looks stiff in the field, so don’t expect too many stolen bases. If he goes through the yoga program Puig went through last winter, perhaps Guerrero could be a hidden gem that takes L.A.’s already potent offense to the next level.
2014 Fantasy Baseball Outlook
No other hitters in this lineup hold much fantasy relevance, but the pitching sure does. Kershaw is a no brainer, as his career continues to look like we are watching a hall of fame pitcher develop before our eyes. Behind him Greinke is a borderline fantasy staff ace, and an absolute stud if he is your #2 guy on your fantasy team. Ryu is a dangerous pitcher for fantasy, as he has off the charts stats, and is capable of being that #3 or 4 starter on your staff that has a season on par with your number 1, but his end of the season arm trouble leaves me wanting to see more before investing. Josh Beckett is an interesting candidate to take in the back end of your draft as a sink or swim type guy that you evaluate in April, but he is nothing more than depth for your team at this point. I am not buying on Dan Haren, but some other’s in the industry are, so I can’t say he is a sure fire fantasy bust for 2014, I just will look for my starter’s elsewhere when it gets late in my drafts. Closer Kenley Jansen has a chance to really lock down the closer role this year, and the team seems prepared to allow him to do just that. They almost lost Brian Wilson to free agency, as he wanted a closer’s job, something the Dodgers were unwilling to offer him as they believe Jansen is and will be their guy going forward. Expect a 50 save season from Jansen with strong strikeout totals. In holds leagues, Wilson, Perez, and Howell are all in play here, and Withrow could be a dark horse in that category if someone goes down with an injury, or just doesn’t pitch effectively.
All in all the Dodgers look like a great team on paper, and have many options when it comes to fantasy baseball in 2014. After a few more moves are made and spring training gets underway, we will have a little more clarity when it comes to declaring who is worth targeting in your fantasy drafts, but with their plethora of talent, most fantasy teams will have at least one Dodger on it’s roster. Check back with us in the coming days and weeks for more in depth team previews, as well as updates and changes to their roster that may change the way we think about the Dodgers for fantasy purposes in 2014.