Despite the hype, Dodgers are no lock - NBC Sports

Despite the hype, Dodgers are no lock
LA ramps up with huge trade, but this team has plenty of hurdles
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Adian Gonzalez, 30, brings solid production, great defense and a Mexican heritage that should make him a big plus for the Dodgers, NBCSports.com contributor Tony DeMarco writes.
August 30, 2012, 8:08 pm

For all the hype created and long-term expense added, the Los Angeles Dodgers' talent/payroll accumulation guarantees them exactly nothing. Not for the rest of this season. And not beyond 2012.

And nobody knows it better than manager Don Mattingly.

"We don't think that we're going to show up and win, just because we got new guys," Mattingly said. "We're pretty realistic. We've got to play, and we know it."

We've never seen this big of a roster-altering deal this late in a season. Last week's blockbuster deal with the Red Sox rendered the July 31 non-waivers deadline irrelevant, and the Dodgers' talent grab since the All-Star break has grown their booklet of new player biographies to 25 pages, front and back.

And to ask a dramatically made-over roster, with eight new players added in the past six weeks, to put everything together, erase a short deficit in the standings and earn a playoff spot might be a stretch.

"I think we all know that we're in a short-term, short-run, sprint situation, and anything can happen - no matter what kind of guys you have playing," Mattingly said. "To me, our challenge is what kind of baseball are we going to play? What are we going to be?"

The immediate answer hasn't been pretty. The Dodgers arrived at Coors Field on Monday off two home games following the mega-deal, and by the time they left town, were facing a list of sobering issues.

We're not just talking about 10-0 and 8-4 losses before a sweep-avoiding 10-8 victory Wednesday tainted by the Rockies' seven-run bottom of the eighth.

Closer Kenley Jansen again is dealing with a heart-related issue that has sidelined him indefinitely. Concern was raised Monday, when he came into the blowout and quickly added to the deficit. After not pitching for five days, he didn't have his usual velocity, and was knocked around for four runs in 2/3 innings. Nobody knows when we'll see him on the mound again.

There also is concern that Chad Billingsley's latest elbow issue might shut him down for the rest of the season, costing the Dodgers their most-effective starter of late. Before going on the disabled list, Billingsley had gone 6-0 with a 1.80 ERA.

You know how crucial those two losses could be when Mattingly says, "it's still going to get back to our pitching. We have to pitch well enough every day to keep us in games." Look for the Dodgers to try to make another trade, although at this point, there isn't much left to acquire.

And one more thing. Make no mistake - the Rockies, Giants and rest of the National League will be gunning for a team that has picked up the "Yankees of the West" tag. Why, the Rockies' Jim Tracy managed the Dodgers' series as if it was his team's playoffs.

Facing deficits of 3 1/2 games in the NL West and 1 1/2 games in the wild-card race, the Dodgers' final five weeks will bring a very challenging schedule - more so than those of the Giants, Pirates and Braves.

Unlike the Giants, who will stay entirely within the NL West after this weekend's series against the Cubs, the Dodgers will face a crucial 10-game, out-of-division stretch Sept. 13-23: four games vs. St. Louis, three in Washington, and three in Cincinnati. The Dodgers also have six more cracks at the Giants: Sept. 7-9 in AT&T Park, and a season-ending series Oct. 1-3 in Dodger Stadium.

In contrast, the Braves have only two series remaining against playoff contenders: at home Sept. 14-16 against the Nationals and a season-ending series in Pittsburgh.

The Pirates already are done with the Cardinals, and other than that season-ending series against the Braves, will play only six games against a playoff contender: home-and-home series with the Reds.

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But at the very least for the Dodgers, there is a clubhouse full of players with new-found respect for, and level of commitment to, ownership. As Clayton Kershaw said: "If this ownership group has taught me anything, it's that you can't count us out of anything."

Which in part is why this is a risk worth taking for Dodgers ownership - especially when you can afford to pay $2 billion for the franchise, and are looking at a new local television rights deal that probably will run significantly higher than the $3 billion deals recently signed by the Angels and Rangers.

But what exactly do the Dodgers have in Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford - and how will they impact the roster going forward?

Gonzalez, 30, was the obvious star-power target. Even though his numbers fell amidst all the turmoil in Boston, between his usual production, plus defense and Mexican heritage, should be close in value to the $127 million remaining on his deal through 2018.

Beckett, 32, is a middle-of-the-rotation guy these days, throwing 90-92 mph fastballs and needing good command of his entire repertoire to succeed. He's owed $35 million for 2013-14, and although that's a big over-pay for a No. 3 starter, if his good year/bad year pattern holds for another season, he's due for a good one in 2013 - especially with the move from AL East to the NL West.

That leaves Crawford, 31, as the biggest long-term exposure risk. Truth is, the Dodgers took on one of the worst contracts in the game here, as Crawford is owed $102.5 million through 2017, and will be coming off Tommy John surgery and two lost seasons. But observers say he was beginning to regain the line drive/gap pop in his bat before the elbow gave out. So that offers hope the Dodgers will be getting more for their nine figures than another Juan Pierre.

There also is the nagging issue that Crawford and Andre Ethier will leave the lineup vulnerable to left-handed pitching for the next five years, as both left-handed-hitting corner outfielders have much-worse splits facing southpaws.

Talent evaluators say the Dodgers also gave up too much in pitching prospects Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster, given the enormous money they took on in salaries. That probably will prove to be a valid criticism.

But the money picture wasn't all that daunting before all the additions began - thanks, of course, to Frank McCourt's financial woes that had put a lid on the payroll.

Before the Red Sox's deal, the Dodgers' only contracts in place beyond 2014 were for Kemp (seven years, $148 million remaining), Ethier (five years, $85 million), and Cuban defector Yasiel Puig (seven years, $42 million). Of course, Kershaw will have to be next as far as a long-term mega-deal goes, as his two-year, $19 million deal expires after next season.

But Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton and Brandon League ($23 million combined) are free agents this winter, and deals for Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang, Chris Capuano and Juan Uribe ($33 million combined) expire after 2013.

Some of that money will have to be turned into a legit No. 2 starter behind Kershaw and in front of Beckett and Billingsley for the Dodgers to be considered serious World Series contenders. But luring free agents to Chavez Ravine should prove to be an easier task going forward.

"It's exciting," Kershaw said. "There are no more excuses. We have a great team. But we have to go do it now."

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