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

opening day.

”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

opening day.

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

sixth.

”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.”