Big money equals big expectations for Dodgers
As Hollywood makeovers go, the Dodgers’ transformation has been
a doozy. From more than $200 million spent on upgrading the roster
to another $100 million invested in their aging stadium, the team
has transformed itself into one of baseball’s heavyweights with
sky-high expectations to match.
That’s uncharted territory for a storied franchise that hasn’t
been to the World Series since winning the title in 1988 and was in
bankruptcy a year ago under former owner Frank McCourt.
”We’re a great team. There’s no debate about that,” ace
Clayton Kershaw said. ”We’ve got all the parts now. We’ve got the
ownership group. Now we’ve got to go out and win games. It’s only
then that we’ll really know.”
Led by Mark Walter and retired Lakers star Magic Johnson, the
Guggenheim group that spent a record $2 billion to buy the team
begins its first full season of ownership on April 1, when the
Dodgers host the World Series champion San Francisco Giants on
”We’ve seen what the Giants have done in the last few years,
winning a couple of World Series,” Kershaw said. ”That’s the team
we’re trying to catch. We’ve got to win the West.”
The flurry of moves made by the new owners – adding free agent
pitching star Zack Greinke and Korean left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu in
the winter after trading for Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Adrian
Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in midseason – pushed the Dodgers’
payroll to more than $200 million, into luxury-tax range.
”This city is about expectations,” Johnson said. ”I love it
because it reminds me of the old Dodgers and when I was with the
Lakers. Yeah, I want a successful season. I want to go all the way,
but that’s just me.”
Big bucks don’t always guarantee success, though.
”We hear the big expectations,” Gonzalez said. ”But you can’t
be big if you don’t do it on the field. Simple as that.”
The lineup has already taken a huge hit, with Ramirez expected
to be sidelined for eight weeks after having right thumb surgery
last Friday. Luis Cruz is expected to replace him at shortstop on
Matt Kemp (shoulder) and Carl Crawford (wrist and elbow) are
coming off serious surgeries and the Dodgers are counting on their
return to form, along with an improved season by Andre Ethier, to
solidify the outfield.
Ethier spent all spring working with new hitting coach Mark
McGwire on how to improve his .222 average against left-handers
last season. Against right-handers, Mattingly plans to bat Ethier
fifth until Ramirez is ready to play, then Ethier will move to
”The mechanics are there. It’s the mental side of things.
That’s been my focus,” Ethier said. ”Mostly, it’s about doing the
scouting report, knowing what you can expect to face that day. They
know what your strengths and weaknesses are. I’ve got to do that
kind of homework.”
Kershaw and Greinke anchor a rotation that has the depth it
lacked in recent years, with Chad Billlingsley, Ryu and Beckett
rounding things out.
”I don’t set goals. I just try to go out and win every start,”
said Kershaw, who is 35-14 over the past two seasons. ”It’s
probably not so much about adding something new (to my pitches). I
just try to be more consistent.”
Brandon League will open the season as the closer, and he’ll be
backed up by hard-throwing Kenley Jansen and Javy Guerra.
A.J. Ellis returns as catcher after hitting .270 with 13 home
runs and a .374 on-base percentage.
The Dodgers spent more than $100 million renovating their
51-year-old stadium, third-oldest in the major leagues. The project
included new scoreboards, a new sound system, an improved Wi-Fi and
cell antenna system, wider concourses, new food stands and menus,
expanded home and visitor clubhouses, a larger weight room and
batting cages under the stands.
”There’s a big target on us because of how we look, how our
payroll looks,” Ethier said. ”If we succeed, it’s something we’re
supposed to do. If we don’t, then we’re failures for not fulfilling
those expectations. There’s more pressure now, but that’s the way
it should be.”