The Dodgers enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match
It has been a billion-dollar makeover. The Dodgers have emerged from bankruptcy and the dark days of the McCourt ownership transformed into one of baseball’s heavyweights. Armed with deep-pocketed owners (and anticipating a multi-billion dollar windfall from the negotiation of a new TV rights deal), the Dodgers have taken on $600 million in salary commitments over the past year, trading for former All-Stars Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in midseason then adding free-agent pitching prize Zack Greinke and top Korean lefthander Hyun-Jin Ryu in the offseason. The midseason makeover did not take. The anticipated playoff push never materialized. Now the Dodgers will enter 2013 with the highest payroll in MLB history — and expectations to match.
The Dodgers pieced together a rotation for 2012 with low-cost signings of free agents Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano. The result was a 3.41 starters’ ERA that ranked second in the National League and third in the majors. That wasn’t good enough to secure a playoff spot, though, and the Dodgers made landing a top-tier starter their No. 1 offseason goal. Health issues with ace Clayton Kershaw (hip), Chad Billingsley (elbow) and Ted Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) made depth in the starting rotation a need as well. A commitment of over $200 million satisfied both goals as the Dodgers gave Greinke the second-largest contract ever given to a pitcher ($147 million over six years) and signed Ryu. The result could be one of the best 1-2 punches in any rotation (Kershaw and Greinke), uncommon depth (Billingsley, Ryu and Beckett), and potential trade chips to address other possible needs (Capuano, Harang and Lilly).
A deep bullpen was a Dodgers strength in 2012, and GM Ned Colletti did his best to put the band back together for 2013. Re-signing Brandon League was the first step. Acquired from the Mariners in July, League will open the season as the team’s closer. But the Dodgers have a hard-throwing option to step in if needed in Kenley Jansen (recovering from a surgical procedure to address recurring problems with an irregular heartbeat). J.P. Howell was signed as a free agent to fill the lefty specialist role.
The “best-case scenario,” manager Don Mattingly said during the offseason, is for Ramirez to be the Dodgers’ everyday shortstop in 2013. That will take a re-commitment to defense by Ramirez, who has not been known as the most focused and consistent performer in the field, or the hardest worker. That sounds great, but Ramirez tore a ligament in his thumb in spring training and will miss the first two months. So much for Ramirez taking over at short. When he returns, if Ramirez has to move to third base, Luis Cruz is the next option at shortstop. Second base figures to be shared by steady veteran Mark Ellis and Skip Schumaker, a versatile left-handed bat acquired from the Cardinals.
Not that long ago, Gonzalez was one of the most complete and consistent hitters in baseball. The Dodgers are hopeful that Gonzalez — sidetracked by the pressure and clubhouse drama that come with playing for the Red Sox — can once again provide a productive presence in the middle of their lineup. If Gonzalez does, he and Matt Kemp could form a 1-2 combo to rival other top duos like Prince Fielder and Miguel Cabrera in Detroit or the anticipated pairing of Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols in Anaheim. Third base is more of a question mark. The Dodgers hope Ramirez grabs hold of the shortstop position when he returns in June. If he does, Cruz gets first crack at being their everyday third baseman. The journeyman hit .297 with 40 RBIs in 78 games for the Dodgers last year and is the best of some unappealing options at third base. For now, Cruz will be the main man at short with Nick Punto filling in at third.
Kemp, Crawford and Andre Ethier might be the best outfield in baseball — if this were 2010. It isn’t, however, and the Dodgers are counting on a rebound to health by Kemp (offseason shoulder surgery) and Crawford (wrist and elbow surgeries in 2012) as well as bounce-back years overall from Crawford and Ethier to make this group worthy of the massive financial investment the Dodgers have made in them. Kemp is the best bet to live up to his potential. After a near-MVP season in 2011, Kemp was limited to 106 games in 2012 due to hamstring and shoulder injuries, and there is some concern that Kemp’s power could take time to return. If the rest of the Dodgers’ potentially potent lineup is productive, there won’t be as much pressure on Kemp. Crawford and Ethier are much more questionable commodities. Crawford was a complete bust with the Red Sox. Health issues were only part of his problem, and Crawford has a long way to go to rediscover the game that produced four All-Star selections and a Silver Slugger award with Tampa Bay. Ethier has become a flawed player since his All-Star selection in 2010, posting disturbing splits against left-handed pitching. That could be less of a problem with a much deeper lineup around him in 2013.
For all the headline-grabbing moves the Dodgers made last season, one of the most pleasant and valuable developments was the emergence of A.J. Ellis at age 31 as a rare commodity — an everyday catcher capable of contributing offensively. Ellis hit .270 with 13 home runs and a robust .374 on-base percentage that was critical in helping turn over a National League lineup. Defensively, he handled the Dodgers’ evolving staff well enough to have a catcher’s ERA of 3.31. The Dodgers are confident enough in Ellis’ ability to reproduce that performance in 2013 that they could stick with inexperienced Tim Federowicz as his backup.
The Dodgers added an important, versatile piece when they traded for Schumaker. He provides a left-handed bat off the bench capable of filling in for Kemp and Crawford in the outfield if they are not at full strength after 2012 surgeries (as well as providing balance at second base with the right-handed Ellis). The rest of the bench is an assortment of spare parts left over from last season — Jerry Hairston Jr., Juan Uribe, Punto and Federowicz, the backup catcher.
Has any GM in baseball weathered a wider swing in fortunes than Colletti over the past few years? Colletti has gone from needing to pinch pennies and make do with limited resources in the dying days of the McCourt era to the free-spending billionaire-backed days of the new ownership. But the high payroll and big investment made in these Dodgers have created high expectations that both Colletti and Mattingly will have to meet — or likely feel the heat.
The Dodgers will carry the highest payroll in baseball history during the 2013 season — and big bucks have not always brought big success for their predecessors among baseball’s biggest spenders. The Dodgers changed a third of their roster on the fly last season, adding a passel of former All-Stars. It remains to be seen how that group will play together, and health issues (with Crawford and Billingsley, in particular) could scuttle any progress made. Playing in the same division with the Giants (World Series champions in two of the past three seasons) also presents a large challenge. Given all that the Dodgers’ new owners have invested in the past year, however, anything short of a playoff spot and deep run into the postseason would have to rank as a disappointment.
Lineup LF Carl Crawford (L)
Dodgers are counting on combination of good health and escape from Boston to revive his career. 2B Mark Ellis (R)
Veteran second baseman came back after nearly losing leg from fluke injury in May. CF Matt Kemp (R)
Talk of 50-50 season disappeared with injuries in 2012 — but massive potential remains intact. 1B Adrian Gonzalez (L)
Career .244 hitter at Dodger Stadium, second-lowest of any park in which he’s played (.236 at Tropicana Field). RF Andre Ethier (L)
Has gone from foundation piece to flawed complementary player (poor lefty-righty splits) in matter of months. SS Luis Cruz (R)
Feel-good story with breakout season in 2012 after 12 seasons in pro baseball with six organizations. Will spend the first two months at shortstop. C A.J. Ellis (R)
One of only four catchers in NL last year to start at least 125 games (Buster Posey, Miguel Montero and Yadier Molina). 3B Nick Punto (S)
The solid defender will fill in at third as Cruz shifts to short while Hanley Ramirez recovers from a torn ligament in his thumb.
Bench UT Jerry Hairston Jr. (R)
Played well in super-utility role last season until hip issue that led to surgery became problematic. 2B-OF Skip Schumaker (L)
Could see plenty of playing time as multi-position backup — and protégé of hitting coach Mark McGwire. IF Juan Uribe (R)
Has hit .199/.262/.289 in first two years of misguided three-year, $21 million deal. C Tim Federowicz (R)
Could head back to Triple-A if Dodgers sign a more experienced backup for Ellis. UT Alex Castellanos (R)
Appeared in 16 games last season as a rookie, entering five times as a pinch-runner.
Rotation LH Clayton Kershaw
Young ace is 35–14 over past two seasons, lowest ERA and WHIP in NL each year. RH Zack Greinke
$147 million man only 10th in wins (57), 24th in ERA (3.37) among starters since 2009. Elbow inflammation is a red flag. RH Chad Billingsley
Offseason rehab and throwing program have put surgery for partially torn elbow ligament on hold — for now. LH Hyun-Jin Ryu
Led Korean Baseball Organization in strikeouts five times in seven seasons — but will that translate to MLB? RH Josh Beckett
ERA dropped from 5.23 with Red Sox to 2.93 as Dodger last season, but WHIP didn’t (1.33).
Bullpen RH Brandon League (Closer)
Lost closer job in Seattle but finished season with one run, eight hits, 27 strikeouts in final 27.1 IP with Dodgers RH Kenley Jansen
Has closer stuff and could be back in that role quickly if League’s Seattle struggles resurface. RH Matt Guerrier
Veteran presence was lacking for much of 2012 due to elbow problems. LH J.P. Howell
Held left-handed batters to a .200 batting average with the Rays in 2012. LH Ted Lilly
Dodgers’ surplus of starting pitching could land a veteran like Lilly (recovering from shoulder surgery) in the pen. RH Ronald Belisario
Struck out 69 last season and allowed just 47 hits. RH Aaron Harang
Evidently, he’s still in the league.
These hurlers could surprise everyone this MLB season
We all know the favorties to win the National League Cy Young award this season: Clayton Kershaw, Stephen Strasburg, Cole Hamels, Matt Cain and maybe closer Craig Kimbrel. But who are the longshots that could come out of nowhere and surprise baseball fans. Here's a quick list of 10.
2013 Spring Training camps are open and many players will compete against teammates for jobs before taking on other baseball teams in April. Here are some position battles to keep an eye on this spring.
Steroids are now just as synonymous with baseball as hot dogs or cold beer. It is an unfortunate era of the game that fans of all ages must accept. Are the use of performance-enhancing drugs terrible for the body and a form of cheating? Yes, and this country should work diligently to combat their growth. But steroids are a part of why the game of baseball returned to the nation’s heart after a work stoppage and no World Series in 1994.
An Orlando basketball organization combed through nearly 5,000 fan-submitted nicknames in a 1986 naming process. The group went with Magic over other options like the "Heat," "Tropics and the "Juice." Maybe it's because the team's superstars always want to play elsewhere or the extensive number of stars in the logo, but this nickname conjures up more images of Doug Henning than NBA Championships. That is what happens when you let the fans decide anything.
9. Philadelphia Phillies
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If it weren't for such a storied history, generally awesome uniforms (especially, the blue ones) and a killer mascot, the Phillies might be the lamest sports nickname of all-time. Phillies is short for, you guessed it, the Philadelphia Philadelphias. Yes, this franchise is the oldest unchanged nickname in all of pro sports (1890), but it doesn't scream intimidating by any stretch.
8. Music Genres
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I love nasty blues guitar riffs and chaotic jazz brass bands, but I like them on my turntable not in the Stanley Cup Finals or the NBA Championship. The "Jazz" at least made sense in New Orleans but couldn't be further from relevant in the state of Utah. Additionally, the blues are inherently depressing (much like the hockey team) and musical notes certainly do not instill fear into the opponent's heart.
7. Toronto Maple Leafs
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It rolls off the tongue, the blue and white color scheme is classy and very cool and the Maple Leaf is front and center on the Canadian flag. But could anything be less scary than something that dies every year and ends up in the neighborhood garbage can? All of this from a franchise that hasn't even played for a Stanley Cup since 1966-67. At least, they didn't go with The Wanderers.
6. Los Angeles Dodgers
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This team has a rich history of success and a storied tradition of some of the game's greatest names. But what exactly is a Dodger? The name stems from the busy Brooklyn city streets and the common phrase "trolley-dodgers" given to those literally dodging trolleys in the New York borough. To quote Patches O'Houlihan, "if you can dodge a wrench... you can hit a baseball?" Well, I am paraphrasing.
5. Cleveland Browns
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The Browns are the biggest draw in a city that has been without a championship of any kind for over sixty years. Maybe if they went with a more inspiring nickname like a terrifying jungle cat (they were actually named the Panthers for two months) or at least an ornery bird instead of... a color? Yes, the name comes from legendary football pioneer Paul Brown but the logo is essentially a brown sheet of paper? Even Paul Brown himself didn't want the nickname. Enough said.
4. Brooklyn Nets
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It's not a person, an animal, a historic idea, symbol or logo. It's simply an inanimate object that hangs on both ends of the court. Does Brooklyn Backboards sound any better because that is essentially what the New Jersey-turned-Brookyn franchise is nicknamed. There is a reason this team's mascots include Duncan The Dragon, Sly the Silver Fox and now BrooklyKnight — who is one letter away from being a porn star (do your web searching at home, please).
3. Denver Nuggets
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The Denver basketball franchise was originally named the Larks after the Colorado state bird and the Rockets after original owner Bill Ringsby's trucking company. When the ABA team moved to the NBA it obviously had to rename itself. The fans picked Nuggets as the team name after the long history of gold prospecting in the state. So a small rock (okay, a gold rock) is what fans in the Mile High city root for each night. Considering the state's and NBA's reputation for recreational marijuana use, it's apropos that their team is named the Nuggets.
2. Any type of sock
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The Chicago White Sox. The Boston Red Sox. The Cincinnati Red Stockings. Winter jackets, work boots and Under Armour might be the toughest articles of clothing and even they sound super lame. But a mispelled sweaty glove made for your feet? Really? It's about as intimidating as a mitten or a diaper. The Red Stockings were smart enough to drop the stockings early in the going and have excelled as the Reds for decades. But the Chicago White Sox — formerly the White Stockings — take the cake. Not only are they named after one of the nastiest pieces of clothing, but the baseball team that hails from the South Side of the Windy City doesn't even wear white socks. They are black.
1. Anaheim Ducks
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Executives at Walt Disney would call it "synergy." Sports fans call it garbage. And it's why the Anahiem Mighty Ducks had to eventually drop the "mighty" from their name. Yes, the powers that be at Disney founded the Ducks franchise in 1993 and named it after their successful hockey movie about a rag-tag youth hockey club led by coach Emilio Estevez. The duck goalie mask may have looked mean, however, this team was anything but until a shocking Stanley Cup run in 2006-07.
It's never too early to look ahead to the next MLB season.
Just as I did a few weeks ago, I once again examine the pennant races as they’re shaping up for 2013. Sure, it’s early, but what else are you going to read about? Bowl games between a bunch of non-BCS .500 teams? Now that some major free agent dominoes have fallen, and some major trades have changed the MLB landscape, here are my early 2013 MLB picks.
Robert Kraft saved the Patriots from leaving New England before winning three Super Bowls.
The players and coaches may hog the spotlight, but success in sports usually starts from the top. Those owners who sign the checks and make the right hires have the ability to not only change the fate of their respective teams, but to significantly improve their sport and, in some cases, impact the course of history. These are 10 of the best examples of the greatest owners in sports history.
It’s never too early to start thinking about 2013. At least now that the World Series is over. I mean, what else is there to think about? Pitchers and catchers report in a little more than 100 days. Certainly, key trades and free agent signings will tweak these predictions as we get deeper into the offseason. But for now, here’s an early, early look at how the standings might appear next October.
These MLB players are making way more than their production.
Fans love it when their team signs a big-name free agent or locks up a current star, but too many times organizations pay for past accomplishment instead of future production. There are obviously some baseball superstars on this list, but unfortunately much is expected from those who have been compensated at the highest level. Here’s our look at the 10 worst contracts in major league baseball.