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Q & A: What do free-agent acquisitions mean for Dodgers, Angels?

Who would have thought the baseball off-season would be so interesting? The Dodgers spent a lot of money and added the top pitching free agent Zack Greinke, getting him from the Angels. And then on Thursday the Angels added Josh Hamilton, the top hitting free agent. What’s left are a lot of questions and speculation about what might happen. Here’s an attempt at some answers.

Does the increased payroll mean increased ticket prices for both teams?

Probably not. The Dodgers released their season-ticket prices in October and they weren’t significantly different than they were a year ago. Here’s something to remember: Ticket prices are largely based on supply and demand. The Dodgers have to get fans back to Dodger Stadium, and raising ticket prices won’t help them do that. The Angels also aren’t in position to raise ticket prices. They signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson last winter, only to see their attendance decrease for the third consecutive season.

What happens to Don Mattingly and Mike Scioscia if their teams don’t reach the playoffs?

They might not be back in 2014. In Mattingly’s case, he almost certainly wouldn’t be back. This will be a make-or-break season for Mattingly, who is entering the final year of a three-year contract with the Dodgers. He has two years of managerial experience and the most expensive roster ever assembled. He won’t have any excuses. Fair or not, if the Dodgers stay home again in October, he’ll take a significant amount of blame. Scioscia will also face immense pressure. Last winter, after the Angels signed Pujols, he appeared to be heading into a do-or-die season. The Angels missed the playoffs but Scioscia survived. Now, for the second consecutive winter, the Angels have signed the best position player available on the free-agent market. If the Angels miss the playoffs again and Scioscia isn’t fired, it will probably be because he is under contract through 2018.

Will the Angels put measures in place like the Rangers did to help make sure Hamilton remains on the wagon?

We don’t know, but it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t. Hamilton has had a couple of relapses with alcohol that became public. The Angels have too much invested to take any chances.

The Angels have a five starting outfielders now (Hamilton, Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo, Vernon Wells, Peter Bourjos). Will they trade one of them? Which one is most likely to go?

The starting outfield will be Hamilton, Trout and Trumbo, meaning Bourjos and Wells are expendable. The speedy Bourjos is only 25 and not yet eligible for salary arbitration. He could be attractive to other teams and the Angels could try to trade him for a starting pitcher. The New York Mets are known to be shopping Cy Young Award winner R.A. Dickey. Wells batted only .230 last season and will earn $21 million next year, so he has almost no trade value. If the Angels can’t trade Bourjos and have to clear a roster spot, Wells could be released.

Did the Angels sign Hamilton as a response to all of the Dodgers’ recent moves?

Probably. It’s no secret Angels owner Arte Moreno has been wanting to cut into the Dodgers’ share of the Los Angeles market. Moreno is fiercely competitive and he couldn’t have liked how the Dodgers turned themselves into the talk of baseball. The Angels’ declining attendance in recent years could also have been a factor.

Carl Crawford might not be ready for opening day. Who will start then for the Dodgers?

Crawford is recovering from reconstructive elbow surgery, but the Dodgers are expecting him to be in their opening-day lineup. If he isn’t, the Dodgers could turn to utilitymen Jerry Hairston Jr. and Skip Schumaker. Tony Gwynn Jr., a Gold Glove-caliber defender, isn’t on the 40-man roster but is under contract. If Crawford has to miss significant time, look for Gwynn to be promoted from the minor leagues. Even if Crawford is healthy, Hairston and Schumaker could get occasional starts in left field to give him some days off.

The Dodgers have an excess of starting pitchers now. Will they make some trades?

They will try. Only two years ago, the Dodgers went into spring training with four starting pitchers. Now, they have eight — and all of them are making $6 million or more next season. Their rotation is expected to consist of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Chad Billingsley, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Josh Beckett. After Billingsley missed the final month of last season because of elbow problems, General Manager Ned Colletti will probably want to hold on to an extra starter or two from a group that includes Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly. Capuano and Harang are the most likely candidates to be traded, as uncertainties about Lilly’s shoulder could scare off some teams. The Dodgers are known to have explored a potential trade that would send Capuano to the Pittsburgh Pirates in exchange for reliever Joel Hanrahan.

The Angels’ rotation appears weaker than it did a year ago. Is their offense good enough to overcome this?

A lot is riding on the elbow of Ryan Madson, whom the Angels signed to be their closer. If Madson fully recovers from reconstructive elbow surgery and can regain his pre-injury form, the Angels could have an outstanding bullpen. Ernesto Frieri, Kevin Jepsen, Scott Downs and Sean Burnett could all be excellent setup men. If the bullpen performs as expected, less will be needed from the starting pitchers. This was the Angels’ formula for success when they won the World Series in 2002.

Will Hyun-Jin Ryu be able to make the transition from the Korean Baseball Organization to the major leagues?

The Dodgers believe he can. This is a difficult question to answer because Ryu will be the first player to ever go directly from South Korea’s top league to the major leagues. Though the level of competition in Korea is considered inferior to that in Japan, the physical style of play in Korea is said to be closer to that of the major leagues. Because he has faced power hitters for his entire career and knows how to pitch inside, Ryu won’t have to significantly change his pitching style.

If the Angels can’t trade Bourjos, will they revisit the idea of playing Trumbo at third base?

Probably not. They tried it once and it didn’t work. Trumbo played third base early last season but the plan was scrapped because his defensive shortcomings were costing the team games. Scioscia prioritizes defense, particularly in the infield. If they can’t trade Bourjos, the Angels could look to move Kendrys Morales, who is a year away from free agency. That would allow them to play Bourjos in center field and use Trumbo as the designated hitter. But if Bourjos and Morales are still on the team, playing Trumbo at third base on a limited basis is something Scioscia might consider.


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