Adjusting to Zack Greinke’s departure and Dave Roberts’ arrival among key issues facing Dodgers in 2016

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke talks to the media during a press conference, on Dec. 11 in Phoenix.

Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Zack Greinke talks to the media during a press conference, on Dec. 11 in Phoenix.

(Rick Scuteri / AP)

A pair of pillars propped up the Dodgers in 2015 as the team collected its third consecutive division title and suffered its third consecutive early exit from the playoffs.

Clayton Kershaw dominated from the left side, Zack Greinke from the right. The team went 43-22 on days either pitched and 49-48 when any other starter did.

In the winter, Greinke bolted for a $206-million offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks, weakening the Dodgers’ core while strengthening a division rival. How the Dodgers adapt to life without Greinke is one of several issues facing new Manager Dave Roberts and his staff as they prepare for 2016.


When Greinke departed, the Dodgers faced a decision. The team could pursue another front-line starter. Or it could bolster the organizational depth. The latter route won out, as the team added Scott Kazmir and Japanese star Kenta Maeda.

With the addition of Kazmir, the return of Brett Anderson and the potentially rejuvenated health of Hyun-Jin Ryu, the rotation could take on a decidedly left-handed bent. Waiting is another southpaw, Alex Wood, who hinted at stardom while in Atlanta. Julio Urias, a talented lefty from Mexico, leads an armada of pitching prospects.

The organization has an impressive amount of depth. Yet uncertainty surrounds so many of their pitchers. Kazmir struggled after joining the Houston Astros midway through 2015. Maeda must adjust to the contours of the majors while also alleviating concerns that arose from his physical exam. The long-term health of Anderson remains a question.

If the group gels, it could mitigate the loss of Greinke. But there are still a lot of unknowns. Here are the other main issues facing the latest edition of the Dodgers:

How will Roberts handle the club as a first-year manager?

After the Dodgers parted ways with Don Mattingly in the fall, Roberts zoomed past eight other candidates to win the managerial opening. He was impressive with his positive energy and insistence on team unity. He emphasized the collective over the individual as critical to the team’s fortunes.

Implementing this vision with the team will not be simple. The outfield remains full, with Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford competing for time, while Scott Van Slyke and Trayce Thompson wait. Chase Utley, one of the most accomplished players of his generation, must accept a complementary role after the team re-signed Howie Kendrick to play second base. Roberts needs to settle bullpen roles before Kenley Jansen pitches the ninth.

In years past, the Dodgers clubhouse was a breeding ground for tension. The team hopes this era has passed, but Roberts still needs to establish a relationship with Puig, perhaps the organization’s most talented, temperamental asset.

Which version of Puig will perform?

Puig captivated the sport upon his arrival in the majors in 2013. His performance has steadily declined since then, falling further last season. Hampered by hamstring injuries, Puig appeared in only 79 games and hit just .255. He was not a factor in the team’s first-round playoff defeat to the Mets.

Puig was asked to shed some weight during the off-season, and he insists he took the message to heart. Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations, praised Puig for his dedication to the team’s suggestion. The Dodgers hope he can become less susceptible to muscle pulls if his physique is less cumbersome.

The team still must handle Puig’s tendency toward tardiness and lapses in concentration. Roberts met with Puig at the team’s Fan Fest at the end of January. Roberts promised Puig a clean slate. Puig also indicated he planned to speak with Kershaw during spring training and clear any lingering resentment built up over the past three years.

Will youth rule the day?

In Pederson, the Dodgers possess a center fielder blessed with tremendous power, a rare gift in today’s game. Pederson smashed 20 homers in the first half of 2015, but fell apart in the second half as he struggled to make adjustments to opposing pitchers.

In Corey Seager, the Dodgers have the consensus No. 1 prospect in baseball, a shortstop capable of batting third in a championship lineup. Seager will be asked to anchor the team’s defense in his first full season in the majors, a tremendous task even for a player of his skill.

If Pederson and Seager progress, the team will be equipped with a pair of dynamic offensive forces. If the duo suffers the normal growing pains of younger players, the team must adapt. While Ethier and Thompson could handle center field, the organization lacks a credible backup plan at shortstop.

How will the surgically repaired Dodgers perform?

Third baseman Justin Turner needed microfracture surgery to fix his knee. Catcher Yasmani Grandal had shoulder surgery, and so did utilityman Enrique Hernandez. All three are vital to the team’s operation.

Turner emerged as one of the team’s best hitters during the previous two seasons. Grandal hit 14 homers in the first half of 2015 but only two the rest of the way as his body broke down. Hernandez provides depth at many positions.

The greatest strength of the Dodgers — besides the left arm of Kershaw — is depth. Still, the club hopes all three can recover without issue and make it through spring training to opening day.

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes