Entering the new year, the Los Angeles Dodgers are considered one of the favorites to reach the World Series and will begin their quest for a title on March 22 in Australia.
Last season, the Dodgers reached the NLCS and fell to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. The team has made some moves this off-season to improve their chances of taking the next step and reaching the World Series.
With that in mind, we took a look at the top-5 storylines heading into the 2014 season:
1. Contract Situations
The Dodgers have three contract situations to work with this off-season; however, none of them will jeopardize the upcoming season. Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and Don Mattingly are all under contract for one more season and are looking to get extensions.
Mattingly is the least important of the three to get an extension, even though management stated that they were working towards a deal. The Dodger manager was on the verge of being fired last season before the team turned the season around and went from last place to NL West champions. He expressed his desire for a multi-year deal after the season in a now infamous joint press conference with GM Ned Colletti. The Dodgers may give Mattingly an extra year or two but may not be sold on his credentials yet.
Ramirez is the one most likely to get an extension this off-season and has earned himself quite a payday with his play last season. The shortstop hit .345 with 20 home runs and 57 RBI in 86 games and led the Dodgers in the NLDS before being injured in the NLCS. Ramirez played with a broken rib against the Cardinals and expressed his desire to remain in Los Angeles. He’s hinted at an extension with the team and the Dodgers should get it done before the season.
Kershaw is on his way to becoming the highest-paid pitcher and possibly player in the majors with his potential contract extension. Some have said that he’s going to receive a long-term deal in the $300 million range. The left-hander won his second NL Cy Young in the past three years in 2013 and is considered the best pitcher in baseball. Kershaw said that he’s curious to test the free agent market, meaning the Dodgers must work hard to prevent that. The 25-year-old will likely not want to negotiate during the season, so the team will have to work quickly.
2. Second Base Position
The Dodgers signed Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero back in October to be their starting second baseman; however, that idea dwindles with each passing day as he’s battled with injuries all off-season. He was sent to the Dominican Republic to participate in winter ball but missed time with a hamstring injury and is behind schedule. Guerrero was supposed to get reps at second base, a position he’s never played before, and get at-bats.
The team hasn’t panicked yet but as the season gets closer, they may have to make a move. Dee Gordon has gained momentum in recent weeks as a potential started until Guerrero is ready while Colletti also mentioned Miguel Rojas as another candidate. The Dodgers lost Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston, Jr. and need someone to step up.
Guerrero will likely seize the position eventually but Gordon may start the year at second, unless the Dodgers bring in someone from the outside.
3. Sophomore Slump?
The Dodgers have two key players that’ll be entering their second season in the major leagues and could find themselves victims of the fabled “sophomore slump”. Starting pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu and outfielder Yasiel Puig both had strong rookie campaigns, finishing fourth and second in the NL Rookie of the Year vote, respectively. The team is counting on both to be significant contributors once again and could struggled if they falter.
Ryu is the number three starter in a thin rotation and will be counted on to provide stability after Kershaw and Zack Greinke. The left-hander will need to be consistent all season to give the Dodgers a strong rotation heading into the postseason. Puig will come in as the team’s starting right fielder and will look to improve his numbers in his first full season. The right fielder came in and provided a spark to the team last season and now will have the chance to do that from the start.
The team can’t afford for any of the two to fall to the second-year jinx and they’ll do anything to make sure it does not happen.
4. Four’s A Crowd
The Dodgers have four starting-caliber outfielders for three outfield spots. The team is waiting for Matt Kemp to recover from off-season ankle surgery before making any decisions, but if all are healthy, it’ll likely be Carl Crawford, Kemp and Puig in the outfield on Opening Day. Many believe that Andre Ethier will be traded before the season starts or be kept for a trading chip during the season. There are also others that think a healthy Kemp in Spring Training will make teams up their ante for the 29-year-old outfielder.
Last season, Puig began the year in Double-A and once he was called up, the four outfielders were all healthy for just two games during the season. The team may elect to keep all four in case of injury, or wait for another team to be desperate and overpay for their services. The Dodgers haven’t been shopping any of the outfielders and while mostly listening to offers.
The Dodgers will likely head into the 2014 with all four outfielders and the beginning of the season will determine their fate.
5. The Bench
The departures of Punto, Schumaker and Hairston have left the Dodgers rather thin on the bench. Depending on the second base situation, the team won’t have much in the form of role players in the infield. In the outfield, the team will have one of the four outfielders and Scott Van Slyke. The backup catcher will be Tim Federowicz, but not much beyond that is set.
If Guerrero becomes the starter, then Gordon moves to a utility role off the bench. The team doesn’t have much experience in their farm system, with Justin Sellers as the most experienced infielder. Sellers can play multiple positions but has struggled to hit in the majors. The Dodgers will have to make at least one move in a thin utility infielder market. Chris Getz, Yuniesky Betancourt, Justin Turner, Ramon Santiago and Alexi Casilla have been named as possible candidates to be signed.
The Dodgers will make at least one move to improve their bench before the season starts, it just isn’t known what that move will be.
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