Did big dollars make the Dodgers a contender? - NBC Sports

Did big dollars make the Dodgers a contender?
Skyrocketing payroll will put tremendous pressure on team to succeed
Reuters
Los Angeles Dodgers signedÿright-handed pitcher Zack Greinkeÿto a six-year, $147 million deal in December.
December 12, 2012, 9:12 pm

They've spent about $650 million in the last seven months, and some time in the near future, will make Clayton Kershaw the highest-paid pitcher in history.

Last week, they dropped just over $200 million on Zack Greinke and Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin.

The record-setting payroll number is heading well north of $200 million for the 2013 season, probably landing in the $220-225 million range.

Considering they finished 86-76 and missed the playoffs by only two games in 2012, the Dodgers likely have bought their way back into the post-season. After all, unlimited resources may not win titles, but almost always put you in position to get there.

But how far above 90 regular-season wins - and how deep into the post-season - the Dodgers might go in 2013 will in part be a function of what currently are a series of question marks.

And arguably the biggest one of those remains an absolute mystery: How will the clubhouse respond to an inordinate amount of scrutiny headed its way, beginning on day one in Camelback Ranch? As for the roster: As it's presently constituted, the rotation lines up this way:

Kershaw, Greinke, Josh Beckett and Ryu, and a four-for-one proposition complicated by the health issues of Chad Bilingsley and Ted Lilly that could leave Chris Capuano and Aaron Harang in key roles again.

You could make legit cases for the Nationals, Giants and Reds (counting Aroldis Chapman) as having equal or better projected rotations. Possibly the Phillies, too, assuming Roy Halladay is something very close to his 2002-2011 self again and a quality fifth starter is added.

Nothing wrong with the Kershaw/Greinke 1/1A pairing, which could post a combined 10 WAR. Kershaw has put up back-to-back 6.4 and 6.3 numbers, and Greinke peaked at 10.1 in his dominant 2009 Cy Young Award season before slipping into the 3.2-3.4 range in two of the last three seasons.

Beckett - as he did last August and September - should continue to benefit from facing NL lineups, and several starts in the California parks. But Ryu comes with mixed reviews attached, Billingsley didn't pitch after Aug. 24 and Lilly, 36, made only eight starts in 2012 - none after May 23. So the idea that Kyle Lohse or Anibal Sanchez could end up in Don Mattingly's rotation has at least some merit.

But since the latest health reports on BIllingsley and Lilly are encouraging, the likelier scenario is the Dodgers heading into spring training with the current cast, and making a deal only if/when the health uncertainties are removed, leaving themselves with a potential sixth starter serving as a long man.

The bullpen also has a health uncertainty in Kenley Jansen, who's dealing with heart issues, but is expected to face no limitations in the spring. And that needs to be the case, because he's an important piece at the back end along with Brandon League.

What the Dodgers get out of Carl Crawford is another major uncertainty. Although Crawford is projected to be ready for Opening Day, counting on a significant contribution from him after an Aug. 13 Tommy John surgery, a wrist surgery last spring, and back-to-back off seasons is a stretch.

If he can do it, he's Comeback Player of the Year material. But there could be at least some left field at-bats to spread among Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker, another veteran right-handed bat to-be-acquired, and possibly highly regarded prospect Alex Castellanos.

The bigger issue is a quality leadoff hitter other than Crawford. The role likely would fall to second baseman Mark Ellis, Hairston or Schumaker when in the lineup. And the vulnerability to left-handed pitching of both Crawford and Ethier could become problematic.

But with full seasons from Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez - as well as Matt Kemp, who played only 106 games in 2012 - the Dodgers should be able to improve on their 2012 run total of 637. Maybe that's why they haven't made a bigger offensive splash, preferring to drop big dollars into Greinke and Ryu and League.

Defensively, they're a bit of a mixed bag. But playing Ramirez at shortstop figures to cost them.

Far from an All-Star-at-every-position ideal, far from even a settled roster - what do you expect for $200-million-plus these days?

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