Spotlight will shine bright on Mattingly in 2013 - NBC Sports

Spotlight will shine bright on Mattingly in 2013
Expectations also will be high for Hamilton, Rivera, Jeter in coming season
Reuters
Dodgers manager Don Mattingly, who is in the final year of his contract, has little room for error this season.
January 21, 2013, 3:01 pm

1. Don Mattingly: He had the Dodgers in first place for almost the entire first half of last season - back when on most nights, his lineup included Bobby Abreu, Juan Rivera, James Loney and a third baseman du jour. So Mattingly definitely can manage.

But ownership spending $650 million or so to add Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, Zack Greinke, Hyun-Jin Ryu and J.P. Howell comes with the biggest burden of expectation in the game. Nothing less than 90-plus wins and the playoffs will be acceptable here. And it's all going to start from the get-go at Camelback Ranch.

Trouble is, for all their spending, the Dodgers' roster still is far from perfect, and therein lies the challenge for their manager - who in case you didn't know, is in the final year of his contract.

If things break right health-wise this spring, the Dodgers could have as many as eight starting pitchers, meaning one could go for help needed elsewhere - such as third base, the bench or the bullpen. But keep in mind the Dodgers finished 26th in the majors in runs, and 28th in slugging percentage in 2012, and the lineup thins considerably after the No. 6 spot.

How much will the weaknesses of Crawford and Andre Ethier against left-handed pitching hamper run production? Is Kenley Jansen OK? Can Brandon League close through a full season again? Is Luis Cruz the answer at third base? What to do with Dee Gordon? Questions, questions.

2. Josh Hamilton: For the second consecutive spring, the biggest new arrival in any camp will put down roots right off the I-10 at Tempe Diablo Stadium. Move over, Albert Pujols - and for the first time, we'll have two former MVPs back-to-back in a lineup.

Arte Moreno's spending hasn't quite been to the Dodgers' extreme, but there is no mistaking the win-now pressure it has set in motion, especially on Mike Scioscia, whose team hasn't been in the post-season since 2009. At least Scioscia - unlike Mattingly - has the security of six more years and $30 million remaining on his contract.

And you can wonder how much better the Angels are going to be record-wise after Jerry Dipoto's many moves:

Out: Torii Hunter, Zack Greinke, Dan Haren, Kendrys Morales, Ervin Santana, Jordan Walden, LaTroy Hawkins, Maicer Izturis.

In: Hamilton, Tommy Hanson, Joe Blanton, Peter Bourjos playing a more prominent role, Jason Vargas, Ryan Madson, Sean Burnett.

The lineup should be one of the game's most lethal, but how much of a run-production gain is there really going to be in swapping Hamilton and Bourjos for Hunter and Morales? Especially when Hunter's perfect fit in the No. 2 spot has been lost.

Roles throughout the roster are more settled than last spring, and the bullpen should be better. But the rotation most likely won't be.

But front and center will be Hamilton - a $125-million risk in a much-different situation than from where he came. The ending wasn't pretty in Texas, but don't forget the protective atmosphere created by the organization, especially teammates, during Hamilton's stay there. That's not to say a similar situation can't be created in Anaheim, but we'll have to wait and see if it does.

3. Aroldis Chapman: When he recorded his first save on May 21, the Reds' record was 21-19. Certainly, other factors also were involved the rest of the way, most notably a five-man rotation that stayed intact to make 161 starts. But Chapman's emergence as a dominant closer was a big key to the Reds' 97-65, NL Central-winning regular season.

So why fix it if it ain't broke? Well, because trying Chapman as a starter has been the Reds' logical-in-theory plan all along. Two-hundred quality innings are far more valuable than 60-70 overpowering ones, especially considering the way closers are used these days. It's also what Chapman always has desired.

The issues will be if he can develop an effective off-speed pitch, and hold up to a substantial innings increase, especially in light of a bout of shoulder fatigue in 2012.

At stake could be the emergence of a legitimate No. 1 starter - the kind the Reds can't otherwise afford, and possibly one of the top 5-10 in the game. It says here that will be the end result. And there is an easy-enough fallback scenario of simply putting Chapman back in the closer role if it doesn't work out.

But at risk could be an injury; just ask Neftali Feliz. No pressure on pitching coach Bryan Price, right?

4. Dayton Moore: After seven seasons in charge, and no more than 75 wins in any of them, the clock could be ticking on his stay in Kansas City.

Moore's contract runs through 2014, but he's gone all-in this season with the additions of James Shields and Wade Davis (for three top prospects including Wil Myers) and Ervin Santana, plus the re-signing of Jeremy Guthrie.

So how much better will the Royals be, and how much do they need to improve for Moore to stay put?

Say what you want about Davis, Santana and Guthrie, but around 90 starts between them should make for a solid upgrade over the Royals' 2012 rotation. Bruce Chen and Luke Hochevar were the only two who made 30-plus starts in 2012, and both had 5-plus ERAs. Twenty-eight more starts went to Will Smith (5.32 ERA) and Jonathan Sanchez (7.76 ERA).

There also is much to like about the Royals bullpen, even with Joakim Soria wearing a Rangers uniform.

The Royals finished a disappointing 12th in the AL in runs in 2012 - a drop of six spots from 2011. So a combination of Eric Hosmer's likely bounce-back, the ascending career paths of Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar, and a full season from the dynamic Salvador Perez behind the plate is needed to push the Royals' offense to middle-of-the-pack or above.

Still, thinking the Royals can challenge the Tigers is a stretch, even in a best-case scenario. But finishing above .500 needs to happen.

5. Mariano Rivera/Derek Jeter: We're not so quick here to predict the demise of the Yankees as we know them. Not when they head to camp with seven starting pitchers if Michael Pineda can make it back, and coming off an AL-leading +136 run differential.

But at 43 and coming off season-ending knee surgery, this should be Rivera's last hurrah. He says he'll be ready for Opening Day, and who's going to bet against him? Still, can he be as effective as Rafael Soriano was in 2012? That will be no easy task, even for Rivera, whose innings likely will be limited, keeping him from elite-closer status.

As for Jeter, even if he was 100 percent healthy, he would be hard-pressed to match his 2012 numbers: 216 hits were his most since 1999, and a .316 batting average, .362 OBP, .429 slugging percentage and 2.9 WAR were his highest since 2009. He's 38 and coming off a fractured ankle. So a still-very-good-but-not-2012 season seems likely.

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