By Will Carroll
March 01, 2011
There was a time in history where no one had a sports medicine advantage on the Dodgers. Frank Jobe and Tommy John met up on a date with history after John blew out his elbow, but that's hardly the only advance that happened due to the longstanding relationship between Robert Kerlan, his protege Jobe, their protegees at the Kerlan-Jobe Clinic, and the Dodgers. But something happened along the way. People caught up, in part because Kerlan-Jobe did such a great job of exporting knowledge and talent. Whether it was Lewis Yocum handling the Angels or one of the hundreds of Kerlan-Jobe trained orthos that worked with teams at every level, the advantage slipped away. The team saw this a few years ago as they went from losing their advantage to losing, period. They brought in Stan Conte from the Giants, an Athletic Trainer with a bent for research and new methods. Pairing up Conte with doctors such as Neil El Attrache and Robert Gambardella has led to some exciting concepts, but sadly, there's not much in the way of results. The acquisition of Jason Schmidt is symbolic. The team took on a risk, one Conte knew well, and ended up burning money. Time and again, the Dodgers GM, Ned Colletti, acquired risk both in trades and in roster construction. Last season was the start of a shift, as getting Clayton Kershaw through the last couple seasons healthy shows that they're doing more than just counting innings and pitches. He's still very, very risky, as a young pitcher that will have more than 1,000 innings on his arm by age 25 -- if he stays healthy. Doing things like that could be called luck, but underneath it, there's a lot of skill, science, and work. Research takes a long term view of things with an eye towards investment. That's a far different model than baseball normally operates under, where teams hate spending on anything aside from payroll and where it's either "win now" or "clean house." If the Dodgers find a third way, they could find themselves back in first place.

(HEAD TRAINER: Stan Conte; FIVE YEAR RANK: 25; 2010 RANK: 16)
For explanation of these ratings, click here
CF Matt Kemp
I worried last season that his relationship with Rihanna would be a distraction. It was. It didn't mean he stopped working hard or lost any talent. It's not like Rihanna's the only girl he can get. He's rich, good looking, young, and talented. It's OK to hate him a little bit as you draft him.

SP Chad Billingsley
Billingsley made it past the injury nexus and has four seasons of 190-plus IP under his belt. The Dodgers seem to understand how risky that is in the long term, not broaching a long-term deal with him. In the short term, there's little reason to think that he doesn't have at least one more good season in him. The risk for the Dodgers is that he has two good seasons and gets real expensive. Yes, his butt is still big even if his risk isn't.

SP Jon Garland
A lot was made of an MRI Garland had in his file. Guess what? If you took an MRI of most pitchers, you'd see something you didn't like (which is why teams don't routinely do baseline MRIs.) Garland's never had any symptoms that have kept him from feeding on innings the way Dodgers fan Charlie Sheen ... oh, never mind.

Also Green:
1B James Loney
2B Juan Uribe
RF Andre Ethier
3B Casey Blake
Blake's decline didn't come with a lot of missed games, but rib and back problems are the bane of many guys Blake's age. Look for any sign that his power is coming back in camp and if there aren't any, avoid another year of decline, one that will likely be met with a benching. Dee Gordon could fit in here, though he's far from a prototypical third baseman.

LF Marcus Thames
Thames will be in a platoon with Jay Gibbons, star of the Mitchell Report. As long as that platoon holds, neither is that risky, from an injury standpoint, that is. One FOT -- front-office type for those unfamiliar -- suggested that Gibbons signing was proof that no one was colluding against Jose Canseco. Sad, but that's the best explanation I've heard.

SP: Clayton Kershaw
He's young, he's seen a couple seasons of innings increases, but the biggest risk to Kershaw might be Don Mattingly. Time and again during the offseason, Mattingly talked about how much he liked his young ace and thought he'd compete for a Cy Young. The worry here is that Mattingly will love him to death, letting the 22-year-old go too deep into games, throw too many amazing curveballs, and work himself to the point of fatigue. has Kershaw's top comparable player as Dave McNally. I'm not sure if McNally's career is the upside or downside for Kershaw. It might be both.

SP Ted Lilly
Lilly made it through his last contract more or less healthy and seems ready to keep going. Lefties are different, but this is more about Lilly having had minor shoulder surgery. It depressed his innings in '09, but he came back to break 190 in '10, even with the trade. There's a survivor effect for older pitchers. You only become an older pitcher if you stay healthy and healthy pitchers tend to stay healthy. It's circular logic, but logic nonetheless.

CL Jonathan Broxton
Was it just that one outing? Joe Torre let Broxton go 48 pitches against his old team in June and pow, Broxton turned into a pumpkin. Closers don't often stay at an elite level for long and Broxton relies on heat more than most. There were positive signs at the end of the year and Kenley Jansen sounds more like a swimsuit model than a closer. Watch him in camp for signs of his old velocity.
C Rod Barajas
Barajas hit well in a small sample with the Dodgers. The larger sample, his most plate appearances in '09, showed something closer to his true talent level. Without much behind him, Barajas is likely to be very overexposed, hurting his production, and increasing his injury risk.

SS Rafael Furcal
Groundhogs don't like shadows. Old ballplayers don't like mirrors. It's not a vampire thing, but when a guy like Furcal sees a player that looks like him, just younger, it's a sign. Furcal's in the last year of his deal with the Dodgers and his back problems might have Dee Gordon in his place sooner rather than later. If Furcal can hold up, the speed does appear to still be there.

SP Hiroki Kuroda
Kuroda had his best season in the U.S. after avoiding comebackers and shoulder problems. The System worries a bit about breaking 190 for the first time at age-35, though we know that he did it three times in Japan. The red is a bit over what I'd have expected, but there's risk here even if it's just of a slight slide back.

RP Hong-Chi Kuo
Joe Torre babied Kuo and for the first time ever, Kuo stayed healthy. We'll assume it was the usage pattern, but he's at the end of the honeymoon period on his second new elbow ligament and last year looks like a light-usage fluke to The System.

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