12/31/11 12:02 PM EST
New year to bring changes on, off field in LA
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
The starting rotation has been bolstered by the addition of Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to offset the loss of Hiroki Kuroda, and Mark Ellis arrives at second base.
The second-half offensive improvement after the bargain addition of RBI machine Juan Rivera has convinced management that jumping a few slots in the standings is doable, especially after watching Arizona go from worst to first. There was no big-bat addition of Prince Fielder -- at least not yet. Who knows what changes a new owner could make possible? Even though the magnitude of winter changes was muted, there is excitement about the improvements that should soon be possible.
Here are the 10 questions Dodgers fans seem most interested in asking:
1. Who will be the next owner?
Magic Johnson/Stan Kasten? Dennis Gilbert? Peter O'Malley? Mark Cuban? Ron Burkle? Rick Caruso/Alan Casden? Tom Golisano? Steve Garvey/Orel Hershiser? Time-Warner? FOX Sports? And those are just the potential bidders we know about. There are more than 1,000 billionaires in the world, so the pool of candidates is quite a bit larger than the most-often mentioned names. As long as the lawyers don't get in the way, the answer could come by the end of April. So if the Dodgers can stay afloat with their pieced-together roster, there should be plenty of financial resources for mid-season reinforcements.
2. If Prince Fielder is still available in January, will the Dodgers find the money to sign him?
From all indications, the Dodgers haven't been in on Fielder, although it's a pretty easy case to make that they should be. Whatever contract they would give him, the bulk of it would be paid by the next owner. He is the one player on the market who could sell tickets, and anybody who visited Dodger Stadium last September knows how badly that's needed. And what pitcher would want to face Andre Ethier/Matt Kemp/Fielder back-to-back-to-back? The Dodgers waited out Manny Ramirez three winters ago. Who's to say it won't happen again?
3. Which Juan Uribe shows up?
After signing a three-year, $21 million to provide a professional presence in the lineup, Uribe never looked the part. He struggled offensively and couldn't stay healthy. That doughboy body, which never prevented him from being a clutch run producer in the past, broke down. General manager Ned Colletti met up with Uribe in the Dominican Republic recently and Uribe insisted he'll be ready to redeem himself come Spring Training. The Dodgers are counting on him at third base, where they hope there will be fewer physical demands than at second base.
4. Which James Loney shows up?
Even before his bizarre game of bumper cars, Loney was a roll of the dice. The Dodgers can only hope he repeats a jaw-dropping comeback from the second half of 2011 and not the disaster he encountered from the middle of 2010 to the middle of 2011. The problem is, nobody's adequately explained what went wrong or what's changed, including Loney. His turnaround coincided with the midseason promotion of Dave Hansen as hitting coach, so maybe that's the answer. In a strange way, Loney's resurgence might have prevented a run at Prince Fielder. Without it, Loney likely would have been a non-tender, with his $6 million salary redirected.
5. Can Clayton Kershaw and Kemp do it again?
They are the faces of the franchise, the defending National League Cy Young winner and the MVP that arguably should have been. It's likely they haven't reached their ceiling and 2012 will be a good year to prove that. Kershaw can continue to live up to the comparisons to Sandy Koufax, while Kemp is already being paid like one of the rare talents in the game. Both showed leadership skills as well in 2011, an impressive trait considering that the team's journey was a rocky one.
6. Will Javy Guerra and Kenley Jansen repeat their rookie bullpen success?
Jonathan Broxton is gone and even if Hong-Chih Kuo returns, not much will be expected from him. The baton has been passed to Guerra and Jansen, either of which could emerge as the closer. Guerra has more pitching savvy and ninth-inning experience having taken over for Broxton in 2011, while Jansen has the stuff to have already become a record-breaking strikeout machine. In the Minor Leagues, Shawn Tolleson could be right behind them.
7. Can Dee Gordon repeat his September for a full season?
He still can't fill out his uniform, but the replacement to Rafael Furcal as shortstop and leadoff hitter showed the aptitude that often comes with big-league bloodlines. Tom Gordon's son hit .372 with 12 stolen bases and 21 runs in September alone. He can be spectacular on defense, but also erratic on routine plays and he'll need to learn to take a walk if he's ever going to have the on-base percentage expected from a leadoff hitter. That said, he also could steal 100 bases and score 100 runs.
8. Will Andre Ethier stay healthy?
Ethier played with a healing broken finger in 2010 and a knee that needed surgery in 2011 and posted decent numbers, but he was a star when healthy in 2009. The Dodgers need a return to that clutch, dangerous hitter in 2012, as does Ethier, who will be eligible for free agency and seems to be looking forward to it. He's still in his prime with motivation off the charts, all signs that Kemp could have competition for MVP from a teammate.
9. Can Chad Billingsley regain his All-Star form?
Billingsley's problem is expectations. He's won in double-digits each of the past five seasons, yet is considered by many an inconsistent underachiever. He's durable enough to average 195 innings the last four seasons, but the Dodgers need more and he has shown it in stretches. Manager Don Mattingly has asked Billingsley to "step up" and be more like Kershaw and less like a .500 pitcher.
10. Now that A.J. Ellis gets his chance, will he make the most of it?
Ellis has never had more than 128 plate appearances in a big league season, but the starting catching job is his to lose and Mattingly said if Ellis' defense is as good as he's already shown, the club will take whatever offense comes with it. The pitchers love him as a receiver and he has a sharp eye at the plate that translates into a lot of walks. Matt Treanor was brought in exclusively as a backup, not to compete with Ellis. The heir apparent actually is Tim Federowicz, who is expected to open the season at Triple-A.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.