|LOS ANGELES DODGERS|
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Head Trainer: Stan Conte
Days Lost: 1,377
Dollars Lost: $51.1 million
Injury Cost: $42.8 million
Trend: Neutral. Conventional wisdom would suggest that the Dodgers have declined from a health standpoint over the past three seasons, and when looking at days lost, they have. But you need to consider some of the guys they’d been nursing to health that are no longer a part of the team as the organization finally made a commitment to its younger players in 2008. Gone are injury-prone players like Nomar Garciaparra, Brad Penny, Andruw Jones, Jeff Kent, and Takashi Saito. Jason Schmidt has been a disaster from the outset, and it’s a miracle that Conte and his staff even have him throwing this spring. As the personnel shifts, so do the challenges in LA. Sure, Rafael Furcal is veteran priority number one, but Conte and his staff must now focus more on the careful development of young players like Chad Billingsley, Clayton Kershaw, Russell Martin, and Jonathan Broxton, than they do on trying to keep aging players from completely falling apart.
The Shape of the Season:
The Big Question: Tony Jackson of the LA Daily News asks, “Can Jason Schmidt finally get healthy enough to land a spot in the Dodgers’ rotation?”
Schmidt hasn’t pitched in a major league game since June of 2007, and he’s entering the last year of a 3-year, $47 million contract that Ned Colletti would love to remove from his resume. At this point he’s the ultimate long shot, and now that contract may work against him. Colletti and company would love to see some kind of return on their investment, but now that he’s in the final year of his deal, is it still worth the time and resources it takes to baby Schmidt if he doesn’t show signs of life this spring? There really are no good comps for Schmidt, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum and several other issues in his shoulder in ’07, and then again in the offseason to clean up scar tissue and investigate some arthritic symptoms in his AC joint. The fact that he’s started to throw, and is even being considered for a rotation spot, is a tribute to Conte and his staff, though the results have been mixed. Schmidt still hasn’t appeared in an “official” spring training game and is being limited to bullpen sessions and intrasquad work, but he’s reportedly been pain free. That’s step one. Can he be pain free and effective? That will be a different challenge altogether, and a bet I wouldn’t be willing to make.
Fantasy Tip: For much of last season (we’ll call it AFPM-After Furcal, Pre-Manny) the Dodgers lineup was a fantasy wasteland. Looking at this lineup now, however, there are some very solid fantasy options. In fact, this is one of those rare lineups where every projected starter should be owned in almost all leagues. I loved Matt Kemp last year, and I love him to take another step forward in ’09. Knowing he’s a full-time player from day one, he might flirt with 100 RBI hitting in the middle of this lineup if he can just increase his contact rate. I find Manny Ramirez to be very intriguing; his numbers as a Dodger last year would make him a top 10 pick if expanded to a full season, and someone will likely take the bait and overpay on draft day. As for Furcal, he’s another guilty pleasure I tend to end up with every year, so yes, I like him again in ’09. If you do too, invest in a solid backup with the intention of moving one of the two at some point during the season. If you don’t mind paying for at least one solid closer, Jonathan Broxton may be the perfect guy for you. He won’t cost as much as those in the top tier, but he may out-produce several of them by year’s end.
SS Rafael Furcal: His back and leg problems are well known, and he reached his low point of just 36 games last year before undergoing surgery in July for a bulging disc in his back. There’s no way the Dodgers can count on him to stay healthy all year, right? Maybe not, but Furcal’s return in time for the postseason was a big positive, and perhaps a sign that some of the concerns over his back injury were exaggerated. As it was, he certainly had time to give his hamstrings and ankles plenty of rest last season. He’s red for a reason, but if last year represented his 70,000-mile tune-up, maybe he’ll run just fine for a while longer.
PH Delwyn Young: Does it really matter to Dodgers fans what color Young is? He probably won’t see much more time than he did a year ago, especially with Manny Ramirez back in the fold. As long as he’s not dealt, Juan Pierre (red) figures to re-assume the fourth-outfielder role, which would put him closer to a yellow, but we’ll keep him as a light red since the system tends to overweigh leg injuries to speed-based players who’ve hit their thirties.
SP Chad Billingsley: He’s the definition of a red light for a pitcher his age: he’s 24 years old, and he’s seen a big spike in his major league workload in each of the past two seasons. Billingsley is also a bit, umm… “wider” than what might be ideal, and he’s now putting that weight on his (left) landing leg; the same one that he broke after slipping on some ice in November. The bottom line, though, is that he continues to get results, and the leg injury was more of a freak thing that shouldn’t have any long-term ramifications.
SP Clayton Kershaw: He’s very young (he’ll turn 21 later this month), and the Dodgers are going to have to monitor his workload very carefully. Kershaw could help himself in that regard by improving his control, which was often an issue after his promotion to LA. Pitching Coach Rick Honeycutt says that there are “no restrictions” for Kershaw this year (that should worry LA fans a little), but it’s hard not to imagine the Dodgers keeping a close eye on his pitch counts and inning totals in his first full big-league season.
SP Jason Schmidt: See today’s Big Question.
RP Hong-Chih Kuo: Despite being as red as anyone on this list, Kuo’s story is a pretty good one. He’s had two Tommy John surgeries, and he underwent a third elbow operation in 2007, but the hard-throwing lefty put up a career year in ’08 and became a key member of the Dodgers’ bullpen. Elbow soreness limited him in September and October, and who knows how long before he blows up for good, but in the meantime, it’s nice to see a player laughing in the face of some past major injuries while getting better along the way.
SP Hiroki Kuroda: Kuroda seemed to wear down as his first season in the US progressed, and though he made a mid-season trip to the DL for shoulder tendonitis, he was solid over the final two months and into the postseason. Most Japanese pitchers seem to adjust well in year two, and perhaps Kuroda showed that he was ahead of that curve with his effectiveness at the end of ’08. As a 34-year-old dealing with some minor shoulder soreness that kept him out of the WBC and set him back slightly in his throwing this spring, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Kuroda repeat the up-and-down performance of his debut season while dealing with occasional arm troubles.
SP Randy Wolf: Given his recent history of shoulder and elbow surgeries, it’s a bit of a surprise to see Wolf staying out of the red here, but he did manage to stay healthy last year for the first time since 2003. His second time around in Los Angeles can’t be much worse than his first in 2007, when he pitched poorly and eventually had season-ending shoulder surgery.
LF Manny Ramirez: He’ll be 37 in May, and he does have a recent history of knee issues. For the most part though, Ramirez has been a very durable player throughout his career. Will playing in the outfield every day begin to take its toll at his age? Will his conditioning or dedication suffer a drop-off now that he has the contract he wanted? Has he found happiness in LA that will render these kinds of questions meaningless?
2B Orlando Hudson: Hudson has had what you might call “bad luck traumas” in recent seasons, including a broken wrist last year, and torn ligaments in his thumb in ’07. The more these events add up, the less they appear to be just bad luck. His making it through 2009 will go a long way in determining just how healthy or fragile a player he really is.
3B Casey Blake
C Russell Martin: This is one of those results that you can’t believe when the injury system spits it out, and I’m still not sure I do. Martin would certainly qualify as an overworked catcher at his age, yet he’s been able to stay relatively healthy. Even Joe Torre knows he may be tempting fate. Instead of assuming that Martin is some kind of a freak who will continue his production without ever breaking down, the Dodgers’ skipper has made it known that he’d like to limit Martin to 140 games this season.
CF Matt Kemp
RF Andre Ethier
CL Jonathan Broxton: There is always some concern when a pitcher first inherits the closer role on a full-time basis as Broxton will do in ’09, but his workload has been stable over the last three years, and there’s no reason to expect that to change now.