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September 29, 2010

Kiss'Em Goodbye

Los Angeles Dodgers

by John Perrotto, Kevin Goldstein and ESPN Insider

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Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the League Division Series, League Championship Series or World Series. It combines a broad overview of this season from Buster Olney, a take from Baseball Prospectus, a look toward an immediate 2011 move courtesy of Rumor Central and Kevin Goldstein's farm system overview. You can find all the teams on one page by going here.

Now, it's time to kiss the Los Angeles Dodgers goodbye.

The overview

The whole baseball world knew going into the last offseason that the Dodgers—an organization which has a tremendous history of success built on starting pitching—needed a couple of veteran starters to complement Clayton Kershaw and Chad Billingsley. But with owner Frank McCourt going through a divorce, the Dodgers couldn't retain Randy Wolf and couldn't pursue any of the starters who were looking for multi-year deals, so Los Angeles settled for Vicente Padilla—and big surprise, the Dodgers' pitching was a summer-long puzzle for Joe Torre. The Dodgers rank 13th in the major leagues in ERA. Closer Jonathan Broxton lost his job, Manny Ramirez didn't feel compelled to earn his salary, catcher Russell Martin had another rough season, shortstop Rafael Furcal was hampered by injuries all year, and there was constant tension between Matt Kemp and the Dodgers' field staff.

Kershaw has continued his climb into a top-flight starting pitcher, though, and Andre Ethier went from being a really good player into something even better than that. Soon enough, the McCourts' divorce case should be settled, one way or another, and a storied franchise that has been dragged through an embarrassing situation should be able to move forward. Finally.

Now that Don Mattingly has taken over the team, the Dodgers need to settle the tension between Kemp and the staff one way or the other. Either everybody has to get along or somebody needs to move on, because the front office can not let this unneeded distraction drag down the team again. The Dodgers need starting pitching again, and the expectation is that Ted Lilly is going to work out some kind of a multi-year agreement. With Ramirez gone and the McCourts' case headed toward resolution, the Dodgers should have more flexibility than they had last winter to address needs. That will be a major step forward.—Buster Olney, ESPN Insider

Baseball Prospectus' take

What went right: Kershaw took a major step towards becoming a No. 1 starter as he has a 2.91 ERA in 204.2/3 innings while allowing 7.05 hits per nine innings and striking out 9.34 per nine innings. Hong-Chih Kuo became one of the dominant left-handed relievers in the game and showed he is capable of closing as he has allowed a miniscule 4.34 hits per nine innings. Hard-throwing rookie Kenley Jansen also showed he could be a future closer just a year after being converted from a catcher in the minor leagues.

What went wrong: Aside from the McCourt issues, the offense was a major disappointment as the Dodgers are 13th in the 16-team National League in runs scored and five-tool center fielder Kemp (.268 True Average) has been a big part of the reason. His lackadaisical play drew the ire of GM Ned Colletti.

The key number: 81. Major league-leading sacrifice hits, a statistic that shows how much confidence Torre lost in his team's hitting attack. Perhaps Mattingly will turn the bats loose when he becomes manager next season.

What won't happen again: Martin having a third straight disappointing season in 2011 after posting .263 and .258 TAvs in 2009 and 2010. Martin underwent hip surgery in August and the Dodgers are unlikely to tender him a contract, allowing him to become a free agent rather than going to a potential costly arbitration hearing with the two-time All-Star.—John Perrotto, Baseball Prospectus

Rumor Central: 2011 options

The Lilly issue: Not only is Kershaw the Dodgers' best pitcher, but he is also their biggest bargain. The left-hander is not eligible for arbitration, so he will likely earn only about $500,000 next season. Kershaw and Billingsley headline Mattingly's 2011 rotation for now, and the general consensus is that both the Dodgers and Lilly want to continue their relationship. But the free agent market for starters is thin behind Cliff Lee, so there is a good chance that at least one team will be willing to overpay for Lilly. Recent history shows the Dodgers are not afraid to walk away when it comes to starting pitching—they did just that with Derek Lowe and Randy Wolf. The Dodgers will likely make a reasonable effort to re-sign Hiroki Kuroda and/or Vicente Padilla. John Ely looked like a lock for the 2011 rotation, but a late-season slide may have changed that. As for a possible bargain, why not make a pitch for Javier Vazquez, who won't be back with the Yankees and would benefit from a return to the National League?

The McCourt factor: All discussions of the Dodgers begin and end with the McCourt divorce saga. Commissioner Bud Selig is believed to be worried about the lasting damage to the image of the elite franchise and may be pressuring Frank McCourt to settle the divorce case or sell the team. With so much financial uncertainty, the Dodgers will look to deal Martin, who could make $7 million via arbitration, but the market may be thin. LA could go with A.J. Ellis and re-sign Rod Barajas as a backup. When Mattingly was named manager, Colletti said he had no plans to "tear up" the team, but that doesn't mean he won't listen to offers for Kemp or James Loney. Kemp and Torre didn't see eye-to-eye, so the Dodgers may be willing to have him start all over again with Mattingly.—Doug Mittler, ESPN Insider

Organizational future

Trayvon Robinson just might be the closest to the big leagues. A breakout player in 2009, Robinson struggled during the first half of the season while trying to hit for the kind of power that was a California League mirage last year. However, he developed true leadoff skills, hitting .308/.464/.453 during the second half while showcasing more natural gap power and turning into a walking machine. With the speed to play up the middle, Robinson was once seen as a potential good fourth outfielder, but 2010's performance has many wondering what he'd do in a starting role.—Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here
Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

Related Content:  Dodgers

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