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Code Blue – An L.A. Dodgers Offseason Outlook

Los Angeles Dodgers Dugout

When I worked in the Los Angeles media, there was a widely-held, but unreported belief that Bud Selig only approved ex-owner  Frank McCourt’s 2004 bid for the Dodgers as an unofficial way to install a salary cap on a big market team. The rumor held that McCourt’s wealth was a sham, and he wouldn’t wisely spend all the money the Dodgers generate. And judging by the fact that the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy before McCourt sold the team in 2011, and even owed Vin Scully money, I’d say that rumor was true.

Los Angeles Dodgers Dugout

The Dodgers will look to add another free agent during the offseason to put them over the top in the NL West. Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIRE

The good news is the Dodgers new ownership, led by Lakers great Magic Johnson, has no such problems spending money. They took on some big, bad contracts (and some good players, like Adrian Gonzalez) in last year’s megatrade with Boston. And with a pending TV deal that could net the team billions, the purse strings are expected to be even more wide open this off-season. So let’s take a look at some of the things the Dodgers may do (and some they should do) to get back to the postseason in 2013:

1. Figure Out Where Hanley Ramirez is playing – The Dodgers 2012 trade for Hanley Ramirez, who not long ago was thought to be the best player in baseball, was the first sign these weren’t McCourt’s boys in blue. While he underperformed at Chavez Ravine, a healthy Ramirez, with some big hitters behind him in the lineup, could be poised for a standout year. But the Dodgers already have top prospect Dee Gordon at short, and would like to keep his speed in the lineup. Ramirez did play 8 games at Third for the Dodgers, but I wonder if keeping him at short and moving Dee Gordon to 2B might be a better move. Mark Ellis was only serviceable as the Blue Crew’s regular 2B in 2012, so even with Gordon’s lack of hitting, it wouldn’t be a huge offensive downgrade. And you’d be getting more speed and defense on the field. Whatever the Dodgers do, I believe they are better in 2013 with both Ramirez and Dee Gordon on the field.

2. Build Around Clayton Kershaw The Dodgers have a certifiable ace in 2011 Cy Young Winner Clayton Kershaw. Great, young lefties do not come around often, so the Dodgers need to take advantage of his skills in two ways: 1. Lock up the 24 Year-old to a long term deal. The good news is, that appears to be high on Dodgers GM Ned Colletti’s  priority list. 2. Strengthen Your Rotation Behind Kershaw – The Dodgers pitching staff actually wasn’t horrible last year. Chad Billingsley, Aaron Harang, Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano all had surprisingly solid seasons. But when you have someone like Kershaw to take up the stress of being your Number One starter, you need the rest of your rotation to be more dominant. That’s why someone like Zach Greinke could be a nice fit. He tends to pitch better when he is not the center of attention (like he was in a pretty bad half-season in Anaheim.) But with Kershaw soaking up the So-Cal spotlight, Greinke can focus on what he does best: pitch. A Kershaw/Greinke 1-2 punch would help the Dodgers match the arms of the rival Giants. But with a $200 Million dollar payroll already, and a Kershaw extention looming, will L.A. want to give Greinke the $150 Million dollar contract he’s looking for?  Anibal Sanchez could be a solid, cheaper option, or the Dodgers could bring up top pitching prospect Zach Lee. It looks like the team will have Korean stud Ryu Hyun-jin in their rotation next year. If Ryu adjusts quickly to the big leagues, he definitely has the stuff to be a #2 or 3 starter. Whatever they decide to do, the Dodgers need starters 2-5 to be a lot more dominant  in 2013.

3. Find Top Of The Lineup Help – Shane Victorino never really provided the leadoff spark the Dodgers needed. Hanley Ramirez is better further down in the lineup, and Dee Gordon is better even further down in the lineup. That leaves a big need for a leadoff man, preferably one that’s cheap and can play in the outfield. That’s why I’m surprised the Dodgers haven’t been linked more strongly to Twins CF Denard Span. He’s a great, patient leadoff hitter and plus defender who can play all three outfield spots. He also has a friendly contract for the next two seasons. And assuming the Dodgers sign a frontline starter, they will have the starting pitching depth the Twins covet to trade for Span.  Span is a lefty, and the Dodgers would rather add a right-handed bat to the outfield, but they need someone who can get on base for Matt Kemp, A-Gon and Andre Ethier to drive in. The Dodgers could also look from within to fill this role on the cheap, by relying on prospects Alex Castellanos, Brian Cavazos-Galvez, or Bobby Coyle.

The truth is, when you win 86 games, there isn’t a lot you need to do differently. But if the Dodgers want to stop the horrific sight of the Giants raising even more World Series Champion banners, they should follow the three steps I’ve outlined above. With a strong new ownership team that spends money like Rob Gronkowski on Ladies night, I’m optimistic that Dodgers fans won’t have much to feel blue about in 2013.

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