No franchise underwent a transformation quite as sweeping as the Dodgers a year ago. They traded the dysfunctional McCourts for an ownership group that includes Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten, then made two of the biggest deals of the entire season, landing Hanley Ramirez from the Marlins and Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford from the Red Sox. While the on-field moves didn't help them reach the playoffs, the off-field ones ushered in a new era in Los Angeles -- one that, at least at first, can be characterized by a willingness to spend.
The acquisitions of Ramirez, Gonzalez and Crawford, in addition to the huge deal signed by Matt Kemp, already exploded the team's payroll. After this year, the Dodgers will have to worry about re-signing ace Clayton Kershaw, though he remains under team control. Still, they did not let any of that stop them from making the biggest splash in the free agent market this offseason, agreeing to a six-year, $147-million contract with Zack Greinke that effectively puts them neck-and-neck with the Giants to start the season. With Kershaw and Greinke topping one of the deepest rotations in the entire league, the Dodgers should contend for a playoff spot. A lot of their offense will depend on whether their big-ticket additions from last year can get back on track, but this team should pitch well enough to remain in the thick of things all year.
1. Carl Crawford, LF 2. Hanley Ramirez, SS 3. Matt Kemp, CF 4. Adrian Gonzalez, 1B 5. Andre Ethier, RF 6. A.J. Ellis, C 7. Luis Cruz, 3B 8. Mark Ellis, 2B
1. Clayton Kershaw 2. Zack Greinke 3. Josh Beckett 4. Hyun-Jin Ryu 5. Chad Billingsley
When healthy, Kemp was easily one of the best players in the league last year. The word out of Los Angeles is that he's progressing as expected from arthroscopic shoulder surgery and won't miss any time at the start of the year. No one is discounting him too much; he's likely to be one of the first five or six players taken in all fantasy drafts this year. The argument for Kemp over Trout would have to come down to track record. We've seen four very strong years out of the Dodgers center fielder, including one that was MVP-worthy, and given that this will be his age-28 season, there's a good chance we've yet to see his best. While I don't necessarily agree with it, I can see the argument.
Kemp over Braun is a bit harder to justify. Braun carries that same track record, has played at least 150 games each of the last five years, has been in the top three in MVP voting in three of those years (including winning the award in 2011) and is as close to a lock to go 30/30 as anyone has been in recent memory. Kemp might deserve a little more love than he's getting, but Braun is the No. 1 player on my board.
The answer to that question will depend a lot on league size and format. If you're in a shallow league, there's no reason to invest a pick in him. If you're in a deep league or a keeper league or one that uses minor league or taxi rosters, Gordon is definitely worth some attention. Despite getting on base in just 28 percent of his plate appearances last year, he still stole 32 bases. In a full year at Triple-A in 2011, he posted a .373 OBP, so we know he carries some on-base skills. Even in 233 plate appearances in the majors in 2011, he only struck out 11.6 percent of the time. That number was all the way up to 18.8 percent last year. This is just his age-25 season, so last year's growing pains aren't too unusual. The bet here is that he gets back on track this year, though be wary of a move to the outfield. The Dodgers have a glut of infielders, and Gordon committed 18 errors in 79 games in 2012.
Ethier turns 31 this year, so he's likely exiting his prime, a notion supported in part by the last two seasons. Still, he has always been a reliable second outfielder in fantasy leagues, and that shouldn't change this season. Ethier's peripheral stats from last year all generally remained in line with his career numbers, and he actually posted the best HR/FB ratio of his career. The main areas for concern are his walk and strikeout rates, which both went in the wrong direction in 2012. For the first time in his career, he walked in less than 10 percent of his plate appearances and struck out in more than 20 percent of them. These aren't reasons to avoid him completely, but there are signs that his decline in performance is likely a trend, not an anomaly. As long as he's not one of your top three or four hitters, you'll be happy with his presence on your roster. Another 20-homer season with good rates is likely in order.
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