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Playing Pepper 2009: Los Angeles Dodgers

Posted on February 24, 2009 at 3:30 PM
Filed Under: Los Angeles Dodgers | Playing Pepper
As the players start getting themselves ready for another season, I thought it'd be a good idea to do the same.  I contacted a blogger for each major league team and posted them five questions.  This is the result.  You can find the tentative schedule of teams here and today's main post is right here.

The Dodgers are one of those storied, crown-jewel type franchises in baseball.  You have the Yanks and Red Sox in the AL and the Dodgers and the Cardinals in the NL, when you factor in history, winning, etc.  There are some others that could make the claim to join these four, but I don't think too many would argue with these.

Los Angeles has had some media focus this offseason for various reasons.  I talked to the author of Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness to get the latest on Manny Ramirez and opinions on Joe Torre's first year at the helm.

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C70: Will Manny Ramirez return to Dodger Blue?

MSTI: At this point, who the hell knows. Manny has nowhere else to land, and the Dodgers have no other good outfield options now that Bobby Abreu and Adam Dunn have signed elsewhere. If the season started today, the left fielder would either be Juan Pierre or Casey Blake (with Orlando Hudson pushing Blake DeWitt to third), neither of which are very attractive options.

I still expect Manny to return to LA because it's the only place that makes sense, but don't expect a quick resolution; Boras is still pushing 4/$108 (which will never happen) and Manny's probably happier drinking pina coladas in Florida than he'd be running sprints in Arizona anyway.

C70: Who is the one player you are most excited about for 2009?

MSTI: This is such a hard question. I'm extremely interested in seeing Chad Billingsley and Clayton Kershaw take their next steps towards ace-dom, but I'll have to go with Matt Kemp here.

He's a true five-tool player with a cannon of an arm and speed to go along with developing power, but the really exciting part is that he's been an above-average player the last two years and he still hasn't even come close to putting it all together yet. Not only is he still just 24, but he didn't start playing baseball full-time until his late teens (basketball was his first love), so he's a little behind in terms of pure baseball instincts, which manifests itself at times with baserunning mistakes and poor routes in the outfield.

He clearly needs to cut down on the strikeouts (153 in 2008), but he's increased his homers each year from 7 to 10 to 18 which stealing 35 bases last year. If he can take the next step, he's a true 30/30 threat with a plus arm in center field. And what team doesn't want that?

C70: Will Juan Pierre stay on the bench or will he get extended starting time?

MSTI: Just like everything else, this depends entirely on Manny. If Manny comes back, then the outfield is set with Manny/Kemp/Andre Ethier, with Pierre on the bench or on his way out.  Without Manny, there's still the chance that Casey Blake ends up in LF, though that remains to be seen.

If Pierre does have to play every day, the real question will be if Joe Torre realizes that Pierre's the 8th best hitter in his lineup (though I would say something like 13th best, since I like the backups better than him) and doesn't try to stick him at the top of the order due to some outdated notion of "speed". Pierre's just not that good, and the dropoff from Manny to him is larger than I can even comprehend.

C70: Which player is considered the most likely trade bait?

MSTI:  This has to be Pierre, though it's less "bait" and more "please haul away our trash". Assuming Manny does return, Pierre's already said he wouldn't be happy with a bench role. The kicker is, Pierre's not a great bench player for the same reasons he's not a great starter, which would be no power and a poor arm, and he'd be unhappy merely being the highest-paid pinch runner in baseball.

Due to the economy, his contract somehow looks even worse now than it did when it was signed, but if the Dodgers are willing to eat enough salary, they might be able to pawn him off on a team that still thinks he could be a leadoff hitter. The White Sox, perhaps?

C70: What was the general opinion of Joe Torre's first year as manager?

MSTI: Mixed.

He did a lot of stupid things (played Pierre far too often in the first half/refused to stop using Pierre at leadoff until he was hurt/overused Russell Martin, especially in the whole "playing him at 3B" thing/kept sending up the corpse of Mark Sweeney/screwed Billingsley's April with his bizarre usage), but he did get better over time, allowing Kemp and Ethier to claim starting jobs and keeping quiet would could have been a nasty OF situation with Pierre and Andruw Jones.

Unfortunately, for all of his well-known clubhouse magic, he's still a lousy tactical manager, and that hasn't changed. Now, with the book and the announcement that 2010 is his last year, he's become part sideshow and part manager. Honestly, I'll be happier in 2011.

Thanks to MSTI for their comments.  With Manny in that lineup and with the pitching that is still in LA, the Dodgers would have to be considered the favorites to win the division.  If they could just get him signed...........

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