Four days before pitchers and catchers are scheduled to report to camp, and here are six questions the Dodgers hope to answer this spring. Why six? Why not?
Most of the tough questions about this year’s Dodgers won’t be answered until the season is well underway. Although if we learn in the spring that Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson won’t be able to start close to 25 games, the answers will be bad.
Here are six things they do hope to learn:
Can Joc Pederson win the center-field job?
That’s their unspoken plan. Despite his remarkable season last year at triple-A, he still needs to demonstrate he’s ready to be an everyday player in the majors. It’s almost been set up as a spot for him to lose.
Plan B could involve some shuffling, including playing Yasiel Puig in center.
Will they trade Andre Ethier?
This figures to have a lot to do with how Pederson looks early this spring. Ethier will be fighting not only to win back a starting spot here, but also to impress other clubs enough to pique trade interest.
He’s made it clear he’s done being a backup, and if he’s asked to start the season on the bench, doesn’t figure to be a happy camper.
Will the new bullpen be better than the old one?
OK, something of a trick question, since last season, the bullpen emerged as the team’s great weakness and almost has to be improved. But there could easily be four new faces in this year’s bullpen, and that’s a lot of new arms to find roles for.
And role-playing hasn’t exactly been a team strength with recent Dodgers teams.
Will Jimmy Rollins, Howie Kendrick and Yasmani Grandal add enough lineup balance to make up for the loss of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez?
That’s what the Dodgers’ new front office team has been selling, and it may be proved correct. “Functionality” became the off-season buzz word.
They certainly lost plenty of power with the exits of Kemp and Ramirez, but the Dodgers claim they now have a deeper, more practical lineup that includes switch-hitters Rollins and Grandal.
Who will line up as the sixth starter?
OK, they only need five starting pitchers. It’s just that teams actually use the same starting five all season about as often as it snows on the Huntington Beach Pier.
Last season, the Dodgers got 137 starts from their expected rotation (Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Dan Haren, Josh Beckett) and used a total of 12 different starting pitchers. Eric Stephen’s research at True Blue LA showed the Dodgers have averaged 10.5 starting pitchers per season over the last six years and never fewer than nine.
They need to figure out how Joe Wieland, Carlos Frias, Juan Nicasio, Zach Lee, Mike Bolsinger, and Erik Bedard line up behind the rotation before April arrives. Things can change once the minor league season opens, but they need an early depth chart.
Will Don Mattingly feel fresh pressure under new regime?
Mattingly is in the second year of a three-year contract extension signed under former General Manager Ned Colletti. There’s a new team upstairs now, a young one with its own ideas and greater emphasis on statistical analysis.
Mattingly said he’s all for the new input and additional information, but now he has to actually demonstrate it. This will take longer than spring to analyze, but it could offer early clues. Fresh eyes will be watching.