Reporting from Phoenix — Who will be the Dodgers’ next owner? Will departing owner Frank McCourt refuse to sell the Dodger Stadium parking lots along with the team?
Yet for all the questions that remain about their off-the-field situation, the Dodgers are oddly stable in regard to their roster — or, to take the less charitable view, the bankrupt ballclub lacks the depth necessary to create competition.
Their 25-man roster is practically set. So is their lineup, batting order and pitching rotation. And with Matt Kemp under contract for eight years and Clayton Kershaw under club control for three more seasons, they know their two franchise players won’t be leaving them anytime soon.
As a result, the Cactus League will be less about discovery and more about fine-tuning for the Dodgers, who open their exhibition season Monday against the Chicago White Sox at Camelback Ranch.
“You hope the guys get a chance to play together and leave healthy,” Manager Don Mattingly said.
Mattingly has already named Kershaw his opening-day starter. Based on how the rotation is lined up for the spring, it appears Kershaw would be followed by Chad Billingsley, Ted Lilly, Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, in that order. (Billingsley will start the exhibition opener.)
The manager was also quick to say Kemp would bat third in his lineup. Fleet-footed second-year shortstop Dee Gordon will lead off and veteran second baseman Mark Ellis will get the first chance to bat second.
Andre Ethier will bat cleanup “for the most part,” according to Mattingly. Juan Rivera and James Loney figure to bat fifth and sixth, with Juan Uribe seventh and catcher A.J. Ellis eighth.
The order could be amended on days the Dodgers face a left-handed pitcher. On those days, Rivera could hit fourth, followed by Ethier, Uribe and Loney.
The bench is set, as Jerry Hairston Jr., Tony Gwynn Jr., Adam Kennedy and Matt Treanor all have guaranteed major league contracts. The other place on the bench is expected to go to second-year outfielder Jerry Sands.
About the only place on the opening-day roster that is open is in the bullpen. Blake Hawksworth is still recovering from a couple of minor elbow operations and won’t be ready for the start of the season.
The Dodgers could look at a young pitcher such as Josh Lindblom or Ramon Troncoso, or a veteran non-roster player such as Jamey Wright or John Grabow.
Grabow is left-handed, which could give him an edge. Scott Elbert is currently the only left-handed reliever on the Dodgers’ projected opening-day roster.
The rest of the bullpen: Javy Guerra, Kenley Jansen, Matt Guerrier, Mike MacDougal and Todd Coffey.
The increased stability extends to the manager’s office.
“It’s quiet from my end, too, because I’m more settled,” said Mattingly, a rookie manager last season.
Because of the large number of returning players, Mattingly said he has spent less time using his dry erase board to diagram defensive alignments.
And Mattingly said he has heard surprisingly little chatter in the clubhouse pertaining to the team’s ownership situation.
“There hasn’t been any talk of it,” Mattingly said.
In the absence of any major issues, Mattingly said he wants to make sure he gets enough at-bats for hitters who are heavily reliant on rhythm and timing. Chief among them is Loney.
“Most guys who are slow starters . . . are normally timing guys,” Mattingly said. “It takes them a little longer to get it.”
Mattingly said an examination of statistics revealed that the more at-bats Loney gets in the spring, the better he tends to hit at the start of the season.
“That’s my No. 1 thing, to have that feel,” Loney said.
Pitchers will be working on refine their deliveries, which is easier to do now than during the regular season.
“I’ve been working on a few things mechanically,” Billingsley said. “I’ll be taking that into the games.”
Harang, one of two newcomers to the rotation, said he is looking to get used to pitching to a different set of catchers and having a new defense behind him.
“It’s getting a feel for everything,” Harang said.
Similarly, backup catcher Treanor has to get accustomed to five new pitchers.
“It’s the first thing I want to take care of,” Treanor said.
Gordon and Ellis, who will form the new double-play combination, figure to get plenty of innings together.
Roster spots might not be available now, but they could be later, which is why Mattingly said he will be watching the top minor league prospects carefully.
Scott Van Slyke, the organization’s reigning minor league player of the year, said he wanted to leave a positive impression.
“Just doing things I need to do — having good at-bats off big league pitchers, doing I what I need to do in the outfield,” Van Slyke said. “I want to show them that if they need me, I’ll be ready.”