The Dodgers rarely had their Opening Day lineup on the field throughout the entirety of last season. This was due, of course, to a confluence of major injury problems to several star players (Matt Kemp, Hanley Ramirez), as well as the emergence of perhaps the starriest player in Yasiel Puig. Add in the regular rest needed by Carl Crawford, and the pure force of will it must take to rest Puig, and it’s easy to see why that Opening Day lineup rarely materialized.
They’ll give it a go once more, in 2014, as they hope to avoid the injury bug that bit them so often last year. Still, given their outfield depth, there are going to be plenty of lineups that don’t resemble the Opening Day one, although they hope to have more stability at second and third base this season. The team is teeming with fantasy goodness, with power, speed, counting stats, and even the unknowns (Kemp, Guerrero) in the lineup, paired with dominance at the top of the rotation and quality innings in the middle of it. And let’s not ignore the top-three fantasy closer at the back end of the bullpen with another valuable piece in Wilson if your league counts holds. If you’re not a Dodgers fan already, there’s a good chance you will be during fantasy season, as you’re likely to roster at least a couple of their players.
There’s not a lot for me to tell you about these guys that you don’t already know. Hanley is a monster with health questions. Kemp could be a monster but also has health questions. Crawford should produce similar to 2013, with the off chance that his rate stats improve if he gets benched versus lefties, though that would take a toll on his counting stats. Same goes for Ethier, who appears to be the most likely of the quartet of outfielders to get moved. Gonzalez is probably getting overlooked because while his skillset is deteriorating, it’s not going that fast, and he’s in the middle of a very good lineup that will feature a lot of men on base in front of him. The biggest non-health question mark is Puig, of course. There was the great start, the rocky second act (which was still good, by the way), and then the adjustment. The league will adjust back, but that he’s shown the ability to adjust (if not to cut off men, then at the plate) is a huge mark in his favor. The odds are against him being a 1.000 OPS guy, but that goes for just about anyone. He’s a dynamic player who has the ability to affect all facets of the game, both real and fantasy, and he’s one of my top 10 outfielders as of now.
The bottom third of the lineup is where things get murky. We don’t really know what Guerrero is but he appears to be in line to get all the second base at-bats. While there’s obviously a chance he’s more than this, he should be treated as a low-end 2B option until we know more. Uribe and Ellis are serviceable in a pinch but shouldn’t be counted on for any sort of legitimate contribution.
The bench’s value is propped up by having a legitimate starter being forced there. In this situation it’s Ethier, though I imagine a rotation being used until someone gets hurt. Outside of him, Dee Gordon still tantalizes those who haven’t learned better with his speed, and that he’s the only backup middle infielder speaks to either the Dodgers trust in him or their utter lack of a viable alternative. If he is the backup MI, he stands to steal some bases, but they’d mostly come as a pinch runner, limiting his fantasy usefulness. Van Slyke could be interesting if he comes into decent playing time. He’s got enough pop to be worth your while, though he’s going to struggle mostly everywhere else. Unless two outfielders get hurt or one gets traded, neither he nor Baxter is going to be worth your while.
You know what to do with the top of this rotation. There remains the potential that Masahiro Tanaka lands in the middle of it, which would be a good place for him fantasy-wise, as Dodger Stadium is pitcher friendly and the lineup should net him a healthy amount of wins. Ryu was as good as advertised last year, if not better and while I think anticipating another sub 3.00 ERA is setting yourself up for a letdown, he’s going to get a bunch of wins and provide steady peripherals. He’s as good a mid-rotation fantasy starter as he is a real life one. Haren should find the confines of Chavez Ravine to his liking. He still misses bats and doesn’t walk anyone, the latter of which might be to his detriment. His stuff isn’t what it used to be and he’s around the plate so much that he gives up a ton of home runs. Again, the home stadium should help that, but it’s not as if Nationals Park is Coors Field. He’s someone who is both worth owning, but also worth benching in games at Coors Field or Chase Field. I have Rosin in as the fifth starter even though that’s not going to happen. He’s a Rule Five pick and must be on the roster until he is returned, and the other current options are Josh Beckett or Chad Billingsley, neither of which is healthy. Beckett is likely toast at this point, and Billingsley has a chance to come back and frustrate us once more, though a June/July return is the most likely scenario given his April 2013 Tommy John surgery. In redraft leagues, Billingsley is someone I’d pick up in the week or so prior to his return, but wouldn’t make a point of stashing prior to that.
The Dodgers bullpen is loaded with veteran arms, ranging from Jamey Wright to Chris Perez to the two names above. While Perez has closing experience, he’s been a fairly underwhelming pitcher the last few seasons. Perhaps not on the scale of Brandon League but then again, that’s a high bar to clear. Jansen is one of the best relievers in baseball and ranks well with Craig Kimbrel and Greg Holland when it comes to bat-missing, elite closers. There’s no reason he shouldn’t hold on to this job for the foreseeable future, with his biggest previous issue being a since corrected irregular heartbeat. Wilson is the backup closer and frontline set up man, who showed what he could do in a shortened season last year. If forced into the closers role he would once again be a top-tier closer, even if the nastiness of his stuff no longer compares with the nastiness of his beard.
Position Battle: Left-Handed-Hitting Outfielder: Andre Ethier vs. Carl Crawford
Everything is pretty much set when it comes to the Dodgers lineup with the exception of their four outfielders for three positions. Puig seems to be the only sure thing in this situation, as Kemp has health woes, on top of questions about whether he can still produce. In his favor though is that he’s probably the best center fielder on the roster, which might say more about the Dodgers’ roster than it does his ability, but that’s neither here nor there.
Kemp and Puig are two of the more dynamic players in baseball, when right, and that could leave Ethier battling Crawford for playing time. Crawford offers a top-of-the-lineup skillset that the Dodgers otherwise lack, while Ethier is more of a middle-of-the-lineup type. Los Angeles can solve this by moving Kemp and Puig to the top of the lineup, but, while Mattingly has shown a willingness to move players around, he also appears to prefer a standard lineup dynamic. It’s hard to imagine all the Dodgers outfielders remaining healthy, but it’s also hard to conceive of them consistently sitting one of these guys. If I had to gamble on one, it would be Crawford just due to how he fits the lineup, but even with the rest most of these players require, a trade seems likely at some point. I don’t think one of these two “winning out” will drastically affect the other nearly as much as an injury or trade will.
Player to Target: Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
As I alluded to above, there’s a lot of potential for Gonzalez to be undervalued. His power totals have cratered compared to their previous highs, and people are always looking for the next big thing, not the previous big thing. But A-Gon is as steady as they come. He’s going to play in a lot of games, he’s going to hit 20-plus home runs and get plenty of doubles, and he’s going to do it in the middle of a dynamic lineup. That means lots of RBI, and even a healthy number of runs scored considering how slow a runner he is. As long as Don Mattingly doesn’t double-switch him with Dee Gordon again, Gonzalez should be a very safe option, with reasonable upside as well.
Player to Avoid: Alexander Guerrero, 2B
It’s somewhat obvious given the excitement that builds over the unknown combined with the relatively mild reports on Guerrero thus far. There’s obviously a lot of temptation, and it’s easy to see how one can get behind the logic of “he’s at worst an everyday second baseman in a strong lineup, and there’s got to be some upside if the Dodgers sunk $28 million into him.” Of course, the very premise is wrong because at worst he’s a $28 million sunk cost and won’t hit or field enough for the position, meaning Dee Gordon would play every day, and “Dee Gordon, everyday player” is what I use to cure my hiccoughs.
There is upside of course. Very few saw Puig as the type of impact player he turned out to be when he signed, and the same could be true of Guerrero. I don’t want to dismiss Guerrero’s talent, but I’m not sure the risk is worth the reward for a player who had to take so much time off, and then returned and got hurt. There’s likely to be an acclimation process, and while Puig was able to acclimate in the minors, (relatively) out of the spotlight, it seems as if Guerrero is going to get a trial by fire. He might well turn out to be a good buy-low candidate by May, but I’d let someone else deal with his growing pains.
Deep Sleeper: Zach Lee, SP
There aren’t that many deep sleepers in this Dodgers system that have a chance to contribute at the major-league (and thus, fantasy) level. It’s a very top-heavy minor-league system with several of the major players residing in the lower minors. Which means it was basically down to Joc Pederson or Lee when it came to deciding on a deep sleeper, unless middle relievers are your kind of thing. Lee hasn’t gotten a ton of play as a rotation option, despite throwing over 200 innings at Double-A and being billed as a relatively polished pitcher. At 23 years old, they’re not exactly holding him back from the major leagues, but with 131 strikeouts against 35 walks in 142 2/3 innings last year, he might be ready for a new challenge.
Lee is not the dynamic front of the rotation arm that he might have been billed as after signing a $5.25 million dollar deal out of the draft in 2010. That said, he appears to have a high floor as a back-of-the-rotation type, featuring a nice mix of pitches without a dominant strikeout pitch, though his slider comes closest to that label. Again, it’s not the sexiest of profiles, but it should play at the major league level and he is at a position that tends to see its depth tested. If he gets a chance to start, I think he keeps the job.