Dodgers heading into spring training
Center fielder Andruw Jones; pitcher Hiroki Kuroda; catcher Gary Bennett.
Left fielder Luis Gonzalez; pitchers Mark Hendrickson, Roberto Hernandez, Chin-hui Tsao, David Wells, Randy Wolf; catcher Mike Lieberthal; first basemen Olmedo Saenz, Shea Hillenbrand.
Can Jason Schmidt recover from major shoulder surgery?
Schmidt made only six starts in the first year of his three-year, $47-million contract, posting a 1-4 record with a 6.31 ERA. He hasn’t suffered any setbacks in his rehabilitation and will be throwing off the mound at the start of camp. But it’s uncertain if the 35-year-old can regain his velocity, which was down in his limited action last season. If Schmidt can come close to regaining the form that made him a three-time All-Star in San Francisco, a rotation that includes him, Brad Penny and Derek Lowe could be one of the best in baseball. With the club saying it will be patient in moving Schmidt along, Esteban Loaiza or Hong-Chih Kuo could be the team’s fifth starter when the season opens. Loaiza and Kuo also spent significant time on the disabled list last season.
The addition of Andruw Jones gives the Dodgers four outfielders capable of playing every day, the others being Matt Kemp, Juan Pierre and Andre Ethier. With Jones set to start in center, Pierre will battle Ethier for playing time in left field. Ethier also will compete with Kemp in right. Third baseman Andy LaRoche could push incumbent Nomar Garciaparra. With 35 pitchers in camp, competition for the last couple of spots in the bullpen could be fierce. Of the 13 non-roster pitchers, 10 come to camp with major league experience.
Keep your eye on
Jones and Hiroki Kuroda. The Dodgers put more than $70 million into their two prized off-season acquisitions. Jones won his 10th Gold Glove last year but struggled at the plate, batting a career-low .222 in his contract year. He hit 26 home runs, down from 51 in 2005 and 41 in 2006. Under contract for only two years, Jones faces the pressure of having to re-establish his value quickly. Kuroda has yet to throw a pitch in the big leagues. Like every pitcher coming to the majors from Japan, Kuroda will have to get used to a slicker ball, a rotation that includes one fewer pitcher and tougher lineups.
Reasons to be excited
If Schmidt is healthy and Kuroda can adjust to pitching in the big leagues, the rotation could be outstanding. With closer Takashi Saito, Jonathan Broxton and Joe Beimel back, the core of the bullpen remains intact. Jones provides not only an upgrade on defense in center field but also the kind of pop in the middle of the lineup that the team lacked last season. Rafael Furcal, who was hindered last season by a sprained ankle, looked fully recovered at the Caribbean Series. The team’s promising young players, including All-Star catcher Russell Martin and first baseman James Loney, received ample playing time last season and return a year older.
Reasons to be worried
Third base. Garciaparra hit only seven home runs and appears to be in decline and LaRoche looked overwhelmed at the plate when called up in September. The potential for power exists but there are no assurances that it will actually be realized, as Jones is coming off a tough season, and Loney and Matt Kemp are still developing. Pitching depth could be a problem if Schmidt, Loaiza and Kuo don’t bounce back from their injuries.
Hiroki Kuroda... RH