While the weather outside may be frightful, and the calendar may indicate otherwise, we have made it through another winter. The Dodgers open Spring Training at Camelback Ranch in Glendale, Arizona Saturday.
"Spring Training," like the religious holiday "Opening Day," is a term that should be treated with proper reverence, always to be graced with the upper case, especially when used in the glorious phrase, "pitchers and catchers report" in fill-in-the-blank days.
The team from Los Angeles, as has been so for over half a century, begins 2014 with a stockpile of arms. So much so, in fact, you might call the club's move from Brooklyn "the pitching invasion." Clayton Kershaw (16-9, 1.83 ERA, with 232 strikeouts), fresh off his second Cy Young Award in three years, with his lower case giant-sized contract extension in hand, leads the way. As has been so for over half a decade.
Zack Greinke (15-4, 2.63, 148) follows the ace - Koufax and Drysdale; yeah, yeah, yeah, all that good stuff - with Hyun-Jin Ryu (14-8, 3.00, 1.54) in the three spot. Free agent signee Dan Haren is most likely to pitch fourth in the rotation, followed by either rehabbing Josh Beckett or a player to be named later. Rumors about Bronson Arroyo on a two-year deal swirl, and we should have a determination on his status soon enough, with A.J. Burnett for a single season being an even better option.
With minor leaguers Zach Lee, Ross Stripling and Stephen Fife available, and the many scheduled off days leaving little need for a fifth starter in April, the Dodgers have plenty of arms. Chad Billingsley might be good to go in May. Fret about eight men not being enough last year if that's what gets you through the night, but the Dodgers have the arms. They always have the arms.
Depending on the bounce back potential of Brandon League, L.A. has a surplus in the bullpen as well, which may cost sophomore Chris Withrow a spot on the Opening Day roster. Chris Capuano, Ronald Belisario, Carlos Marmol and Ricky Nolasco are out, Chris Perez and Jamey Wright are in, the latter for his second stint with the team, with Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez returning. Nothing to see here; the Dodgers have the arms.
Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, there is no such surplus in the outfield. Yasiel Puig is fine. Better than fine; wonderful, actually. But Carl Crawford missed 46 games in 2013 after sitting out most of 2012 in Boston, Andre Ethier was banged up last September and October, and Matt Kemp, famously, has been a physical mess for two years running. Kemp says he's not attempting a full-scale comeback until he's 100% healthy, and while I have faith in L.A.'s center fielder, it's anyone's guess as to when, or if, that will ever be.
Returning to the infield are shortstop Hanley Ramirez, first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe, who was re-signed in December (@ two years and $13 million) to play third. Cuban import Alex Guerrero, a shortstop on the island, will attempt the slide-over to second base. Some are worried about both his bat as a rookie in a foreign league and his defense at a new position. I, frankly, am not.
But I would like the front office to address the bench with more baseball savvy than we've seen thus far. The Nick Punto backup role has not been filled, and with his ability to play second, third, and especially short behind Ramirez, the Dodgers no doubt regret letting Punto go to Oakland for $2.75 million, with an option for the same salary in 2015. Ramon Santiago was an ideal fit, and the team could have easily beaten Cincinnati's minor league contract offer (Cesar Izturis signed a similar deal with the Astros) and ICYMI, Mark Ellis left for St. Louis for the paltry sum of $5.25 million. Spilt milk re all four men.
Los Angeles will consider Dee Gordon for a reserve role, supposedly and laughably doing the same with Chone Figgins and Miguel Rojas, with Brandon Harris also in mix. They just signed local boy Justin Turner to a minor league deal this week, which isn't the worst thing in the world, as he can play a number of positions while giving you a little something with the bat.
Backing up catcher A.J. Ellis again in 2014 will be Tim Federowicz, with 35-year-old Miguel Olivo in camp as insurance. You may note that I haven't mentioned Drew Butera. And Scott Van Slyke will try to earn a job as a fifth outfielder/first baseman/pinch hitter type.
But the team still needs another versatile bench player, and Emilo Bonafacio would be a great pickup if the Dodgers can pull it off, if they are even trying. Bonafacio can play all over the diamond, he switch hits and runs exceptionally well. He can lay down a bunt for you (or to be more precise, for Don Mattingly), he's a bundle of energy, and since he was designated for assignment by the Kansas City Royals February 1, can be acquired in trade for a marginal player immediately, or signed as a free agent come Monday, if he's hasn't already been scooped up by a more ambitious general manager. He's not a star, but the 25th man never is, and L.A. needs to leap before continuing to look for no apparent reason.
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With a two-day head start, the Arizona Diamondbacks are the only club to open Spring Training earlier than the Dodgers. The teams open the regular season nine days ahead of the other 28 because they'll be traveling to Sydney, Australia for the occasion. Yes, Australia. Lewis Black would no doubt suggest that if the Aussies want more visitors to make the 14-hour trek from LAX, they ought to get out and push their continent closer.
Dodgers' pitchers, catchers and injured players are due in camp tomorrow, with the full squad reporting by Thursday, February 13. The exhibition season opens February 26, with at least one game scheduled daily until the team crosses the Pacific on St. Patrick's Day. They'll play Team Australia in an exhibition on March 20, open the 2014 championship season with two versus the DBacks March 22 and 23, and then rest up before the traditional-though-displaced-this-year Freeway Series with the Angels March 27-29.
Los Angeles will re-open the season in San Diego March 30, play three against the Padres before hosting the upper case Giants at home on what will amount to their third Opening Day of the year, Friday, April 4 at 1:10 p.m. Three openers means the Dodgers will see a lot of bunting. Let's hope it's not an omen.