There is a reunion in Los Angeles and the Dodgers are quietly forming into a contender. After hiring former Red Sox manager Grady Little to fill their skipper role and replace Jim Tracy, the Los Angeles Dodgers already looked better on paper.
Little, with a record of 188-136 in two seasons with the Red Sox, is a players’ manager, a guy that keeps things on course and consistently rights a bobbing ship. Upon arrival in Los Angeles, Grady Little saw the reasons the Dodgers struggled so much last year: injuries and lack of experience.
The Dodgers made major changes in the off-season following a 92-70 finish and a playoff appearance in 2004. They also suffered a devastating loss when Eric Gagne discovered he needed surgery on his pitching elbow. This forced the Dodgers to use Duaner Sanchez and Giovanni Carrara much more in late inning situations, departing from their original strategy to use Yhency Brazoban and Eric Gagne as their late inning go-to pitchers. Brazoban found himself in the closing role, and struggled immensely, losing ten games while compiling a 5.33 ERA.
Pitching, however, was the least of the 2005 Dodgers’ concerns. Los Angeles traded Paul Lo Duca and Juan Encarnacion to the Marlins while moving Dave Roberts to the Red Sox in July 2004. In the off-season, the Dodgers lost bidding wars for Shawn Green, Adrian Beltre and Steve Finley. Former general manager Paul DePodesta then found himself forced to start the Dodgers youth movement.
The 2005 Dodgers competed with unproven Jason Phillips behind the plate, wet-behind-the-ears Jason Werth and Ricky Ledee (oh no…) in leftfield, while JD Drew and Milton Bradley only played a combined 147 games. Jeff Kent was the only Dodger to play more than 140 games. Only one player with more than 100 at-bats hit over .300. Adding fuel to the fire, Milton Bradley told the media that Jeff Kent was racist. Unfortunately, Kent did nothing to rectify his relationship, at least publicly, with the Dodgers centerfielder and Bradley was traded to Oakland.
With Grady Little running the show, quarrels like the Kent-Bradley fight would never find their way to the media. He runs his teams fairly and steadily, avoiding major fiascos that would distract his club. In Boston, Manny Ramirez often complained or found himself wanting some new scenery. Instead of jumping into a rash trade, Little allowed Manny to sit out a game or two, relax and collect himself, and get back on the field with that old Manny zest that Boston loves.
The Dodgers needed a general manager capable of finding players to Little’s liking, someone with the same mindset. So, after the departure of DePodesta, the Dodgers hired Ned Colletti, former Giants’ assistant GM with a stellar record. Colletti immediately made moves to improve the Dodgers, sending the disgruntled Bradley with 25-year-old prospect Antonio Perez to Oakland for Andre Either, the Texas League Player of the Year. Colletti then effectively used free agency, collecting Bill Mueller to play third, Nomar Garciaparra to play first, and Rafael Furcal to play shortstop. The infield has become infinitely better with Garciaparra, Kent, Furcal and Mueller while Mueller and Garciaparra reunite with old teammate Derek Lowe and old manager Grady Little to form an old Boston boys club.
The outfield also received a quality upgrade, landing Kenny Lofton for a year, as a kind of bandaid until Andre Either is big league-ready. The outfield now features Lofton and JD Drew, with leftfield remaining the weak spot in the Dodgers depth chart. But don’t be discouraged, True Blue fans, for the Dodgers possess a crop of quality outfielders that can competently fill the leftfield void.
Jayson Werth, a 26-year-old corner outfielder, should get the most reps in leftfield at the outset of the 2006 season. Werth is a solid power threat with some speed. He will keep leftfield warm until hot prospect Jason Repko is ready to take over. Werth will not be tossed to the curb, however, as he is a capable utility player and still young.
Odalis Perez and Derek Lowe prominently head a strong rotation for the Dodgers. If Brad Penny stays healthy and Edwin Jackson fully blossoms into a big-time flame thrower, the Dodgers will have a mean front four. With Gagne back, Yhency Brazoban will move back to his more comfortable spot as a setup man. A strong crop of middle relievers will fully complement their dynamite closer and setup man.
The pitching is in place for a competitive season in Los Angeles. With a very good infield, strong outfield and a reliable group of starters and relievers, Grady Little should enjoy a reasonably exciting first season with the Dodgers. Chemistry always helps a club improve and Grady Little has a nice cast of professionals and young talent to form a good clubhouse bond. So, barring any colossal judgment failures come late season in terms of pitch count (ahem, Pedro), the Dodgers have a good chance of winning the division. In a division lacking much firepower, we will see the old rivalry heat up between the Dodgers and Giants in a battle for the NL West.