Jon Heyman
Wednesday March 11th, 2009

1) Forgetting Manny for a second (and that isn't easy), the Dodgers have terrific young positional talent. It starts with the big four of Andre Ethier, James Loney, Matt Kemp and Russell Martin. All are under 27, and only Loney is mature beyond his years, according to Dodgers personnel. So there's plenty of room for growth here. Regardless, they're no dummies and all seem to understand the importance of Manny. Of greater significance, they all can play.

2) "We need another arm,'' one Dodgers official said. Indeed, they do. Their rotation will be comprised of Chad Billingsley, Hiroki Kuroda, Randy Wolf, talented 20-year-old Clayton Kershaw and a yet-to-be-determined No. 5 starter. Everyone agrees Kershaw will eventually be a star, but right now, with Kershaw, "You're rolling the dice,'' the Dodgers official said. "It's hit or miss.''

Several pitchers are missing from last year's NLCS team -- though one clearly stands out. "Derek Lowe's the one we really miss,'' another Dodgers person said. Greg Maddux, Brad Penny, Takashi Saito and Joe Beimel are also gone. All had varying degrees of health and effectiveness last year. Wolf should help, though one competing executive said, "He's a No. 4 starter who got hurt every year until last year.'' The emergence of Kershaw and James McDonald would help even more.

3) Camelback Ranch is missing the nostalgia of Dodgertown, L.A.'s beloved longtime spring home in Vero Beach, Fla. But this is definitely among the nicer camps. It's still also about the friendliest, with fan access remaining a Dodgers hallmark. No matter what their team is like, the Dodger tradition of great public relations lives on.

Orlando Hudson wanted to come to the Dodgers, and he got his wish. Although his $3.38 million contract was probably about one-tenth of what he was hoping to get on the free-agent market. Hudson, a peppy sort, expressed no great disappointment about failing to get the big contract and attributed the surprisingly low salary to a wrist injury that was slow to heal. He says he's OK now, though.

Los Angeles-native Mark Loretta appears ready to fill the role of utilityman -- though there was a buzz at Dodgers camp that the Yankees could be interested in him. For the most part, though, there aren't a lot of new people here. Free-agent signees Rafael Furcal, Casey Blake, Manny Ramirez and Wolf have all been Dodgers before.

It would be a nice story to see Pedro Martinez return to the Dodgers after a 16-year absence. L.A. definitely needs the starting pitching help, and while Pedro is publicly pining for his Mets days, people close to him say he'd really like two things: 1) a National League team, and 2) a good pay day (that part could be the problem, as he's believed to want $5 million-plus, which won't happen here since they just bought Wolf for $5 million).

The No. 5 job in the rotation will likely go to the chronically hurt but well-compensated veteran Jason Schmidt if he can show anything. So far he has shown that he's healthy enough to get on the mound, but that's about it. After Schmidt, there's Eric Milton, Shawn Estes, Claudio Vargas and the youngster McDonald, who raised his profile with a great show of poise in the NLCS in Philly last October. "No one's taken the job so far,'' another Dodgers official said.

Milton, 33, hasn't won a big-league game since 2006, but has looked decent so far. Jeff Weaver, a former thorn to manager Joe Torre in his New York days, has looked OK, too, and may yet win a bullpen job.

Career utilityman Juan Castro (.524 this spring) may be winning a job with a big spring performance.

Young outfielder Xavier Paul has been on fire, with a team-high 13 hits and 10 RBIs. Manager Joe Torre is excited about what he sees from Paul, who can also run and throw but is battling a numbers game made more difficult by Blake's ability to play the outfield as well as the infield.

Besides all the young stars, it's got to be Manny, who led the Dodgers into the NLCS last year. The team was only .500 when he arrived last summer, and his late signing this spring seemed to lift the spirits of everyone around here (perhaps everyone but Juan Pierre, who lost his starting job when Ramirez arrived).

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