Dodgers’ big question: What’s Manny got left? – LA Times

By Dylan Hernandez
Los Angeles Times
 
Los Angeles Times staff writer Dylan Hernandez takes a look at the Dodgers heading into spring training.


Who’s new


OF Reed Johnson, UT Jamey Carroll.


Who’s gone


P Randy Wolf, 2B Orlando Hudson, OF Juan Pierre, UT Juan Castro, UT Mark Loretta, P Guillermo Mota, P Jon Garland, P Will Ohman, PH Jim Thome, P Jason Schmidt, P Eric Milton.


Biggest question


How much does Manny Ramirez have left? From the time Ramirez was acquired by the Dodgers through the first month of last season, he could do no wrong. But everything changed when he was suspended in May for 50 games for violating baseball’s drug policy. Whether it was because of the two-month layoff, psychological problems resulting from the controversy or a fastball that struck him in the wrist in July, Ramirez looked uncharacteristically impotent at the plate down the final stretch of the season. From July 16 onward, Ramirez hit .255 with 10 home runs and 34 runs batted in 68 regular-season games. He hit .263 and drove in two runs in five postseason games. If Ramirez can regain the form that earned him his two-year, $45-million contract a couple of winters ago and Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier remain healthy, the middle of the Dodgers’ lineup could be one of the scariest in baseball.


Job seekers


Three serviceable but unspectacular candidates are vying for the only everyday job up for grabs: second base. The sentimental favorite is Blake DeWitt, a homegrown prospect who was in line to start a year ago until the Dodgers signed the since-departed Orlando Hudson. With 24-year-old DeWitt short on experience — he has started 107 games in his career, 82 of them at third base — the Dodgers signed veteran Jamey Carroll to a two-year deal this off-season. Ronnie Belliard, who started in place of Hudson in the playoffs last year, became the final entrant in the three-man race when the Dodgers were able to re-sign him at a bargain deal worth $850,000.


Keep your eye on


Rafael Furcal and Russell Martin. Only a season removed from back surgery, Furcal was not himself for most of last year, as he batted .255 through August. The Dodgers’ $30-million leadoff hitter finally found his rhythm in September, batting .330 and scoring 21 runs. Torre has said that Furcal is the one who makes the Dodgers’ offense go. With Ramirez, Kemp and Ethier hitting behind him, he figures to be a safe bet to score well over 100 runs if he regains his form and stays healthy. Martin, a two-time All-Star heading into last year, was dismal on offense — his .250 average, seven home runs and 53 RBIs in 2009 were career lows. Martin, who focused on improving his flexibility last off-season, went back to his old strength-based training program this winter.


Reasons to be excited


Kemp and Ethier have developed into All-Star-caliber players and James Loney could be on the verge of the kind of breakout season they enjoyed. The veteran cast of Ramirez, Furcal and Casey Blake provides the lineup with a measure of stability. The bullpen had the best earned-run average in baseball last season and returns all of its key parts, including closer Jonathan Broxton, setup man George Sherrill, and middle relievers Hong-Chih Kuo, Ronald Belisario and Ramon Troncoso.


Reasons to be worried


The rotation is full of question marks, starting with the fact that it lacks a proven ace. Chad Billingsley was that top-of-the-rotation arm in the first half of last season, only to lose his form and almost finding himself excluded from the postseason roster. Clayton Kershaw has the stuff and mind-set of an ace, but is still 21 years old. Vicente Padilla was superb in his short stint with the Dodgers last season, but his history as a troublemaker raises the question of whether he can perform that way over an entire year. Hiroki Kuroda is coming off an injury-plagued season and turned 35 this month. The Dodgers will probably be forced to try out a number of different pitchers in the fifth spot, among them Eric Stults, James McDonald and Charlie Haeger.


February 19, 2010