Will they be better this season?
That’s the big, immediate, simple question. Will the 2015 Dodgers be an improved team over the one seen last season?
You can hate every trade, question every signing and fear for their future once the contracts of three-fourths of their infield expire at the end of the season, but for now, for 2015, are they a better team?
Naturally, the Geek Squad thinks so. It put this troupe together. There are 16 new players on the 40-man roster and 18 non-roster invitees.
“We like the team we put together,” said General Manager Farhan Zaidi. “We really do. A lot of the guys who are on this team are guys we targeted early in the off-season. We know the expectations are high and we’re trying to put together a team to meet or exceed those expectations.”
This was the core of last year’s team: lineup – Dee Gordon, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Carl Crawford, Juan Uribe, A.J. Ellis; rotation – Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Josh Beckett, Dan Harren; bench – Drew Butera, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Justin Turner, Miguel Rojas; bullpen -- Kenley Jansen, J.P. Howell, Brandon League, Paul Maholm, Chris Perez, Brian Wilson, Jamey Wright.
Here’s a projection at this year’s team: lineup – Jimmy Rollins, Crawford, Puig, Gonzalez, Howie Kendrick, Uribe, Joc Pederson, Yasmani Grandal; rotation – Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson; bench – Ellis, Ethier, Van Slyke, Turner, Darwin Barney; bullpen – Jansen, Howell, League, Joel Peralta, Juan Nicasio, Chris Hatcher, Sergio Santos.
Which looks better to you? The team that won 94 games last season or the rebuilt one for 2015?
Clearly, the new lineup lacks the dramatic bats of Kemp and Ramirez. It has no one who’s going to steal 64 bases like Gordon. If it gets a combined 25 homers out of Rollins and Kendrick, it’s made up for the power loss of Kemp; and last season they combined for 42 steals. Grandal hit 17 homers, which was actually three more than Ramirez managed last season.
That’s largely because Ramirez was so frequently injured it became almost impossible to count upon him.
The selling spiel given to promote the new lineup – it has improved balance, will be better at battling for each at-bat and is significantly improved defensively with Rollins, Kendrick, and presumably, Pederson up the middle. That makes the pitching better and reduces the need to score as much (the Dodgers were second in the National League in runs last season).
You figure the bullpen has to be better by default. There are a lot of unknowns in there, or at least unfamiliarity, but given how inefficient it was last season, it’s not difficult to give it the benefit of the doubt.
The rotation has the same star-studded big three but has replaced the uncertain fourth and fifth starters, with two new uncertainties. If McCarthy and Anderson stay healthy and pitch to their potential, it’s an upgrade. That is one titanic “if.”
“We were trying to create a team that was better defensively and geared toward pitching, defense and lineup balance,” Farhan said. “I think the moves we made sort of reflected that.
“Everything we did was primarily driven by the on-field product and the kind of team we wanted.”
There could yet be more changes before April rolls around. Ethier could be traded, more depth added to the bullpen, you’d hope some potential rotation depth.
Yet most of the heavy lifting’s done. Defend better, pitch better -- win more than last season?
“I don’t think anybody discounts that [we had] a good club,” said Manager Don Mattingly. “It was built around our pitching. I think that hasn’t changed, we’re still building around that. We’re putting a little different defense out there, probably a little more reliable on the infield. Obviously big changes in the bullpen as far as turnover.”
So it will win more?
“We’ll see,” Mattingly said. “We’ll see.”
Read Steve Dilbeck on Twitter @stevedilbeck