This week, the Tigers will make their first trip to Dodger Stadium since 2011. A lot has changed for the Los Angeles Dodgers since then, including a new ownership group that is spending enough money to make the guys in The Wolf of Wall Street blush. To give us some insight into the MLB's newest payroll kings, we exchanged questions with David Lauterbach of True Blue LA.
1. The Dodgers had a relatively quiet offseason, shoring up a few holes in the back of the rotation and the bullpen. Which new addition will have the biggest impact in 2014?
This is a tough one because as you said, they had a relatively quiet offseason. But if I had to pick someone I would go with Chris Perez. He struggled with the Indians on and off the field last year, but I have a good feeling about him this year (knock on wood). Part of the reason why is he'll rarely be pitching in a save situation in the 8th or 9th inning because of Brian Wilson and Kenley Jansen. At the same time, one could argue he's behind Paco Rodriguez on the depth chart. But only time will tell if it's the old Chris Perez that dominated in Cleveland or the one from last year.
2. The Dodgers have a few contract extensions due up in the next couple years, but one that stands out is shortstop Hanley Ramirez. Were you hoping to see a deal get done last offseason, or are you comfortable with the Dodgers' ability to retain him if he tests the waters of free agency?
To be completely honest I was stunned he wasn't signed to an extension this offseason. I think it's going to be very tough for the Dodgers to retain him this offseason unless they win it all and he somehow gets even closer with Juan Uribe and Yasiel Puig. The reason why is a certain team in the AL East will have a hole at shortstop and they have a history of spending a lot of money on players. Hint: it's the Yankees. At the same time I could see someone like Seattle making a run at him because they need offense and could use him. So in short, I'm very worried because he's talented and if he can have a big season, he'll cost a lot of money and I'm not sure the front office wants to commit a lot of money to him for a long time. But I do have faith in their ability to sign him this season, especially if he keeps struggling early on. If they do get that opportunity, I wouldn't be surprised to see them lock him up. However, if it gets to mid-July or early August and he's not re-signed yet, he'll definitely get to free agency.
3. I promised myself that the first question would not be about Yasiel Puig, but I have to ask: are the concerns about his makeup and focus being overblown by the media, or is this a legitimate concern for the Dodgers moving forward?
Completely overblown. Take a look at Dan Le Batard's piece on the issue over at ESPN. The issue is being completely overblown. He's young and aggressive. And you know what, sometimes he makes careless mistakes. But I really think that being in the majors for a year will help a lot. A lot of other major leaguers went through this kind of stuff and they got over it. Look at Hanley Ramirez. He messed up a lot in Miami and made young careless mistakes and when he moved to the right situation in LA he was fine. I think Puig's version of that will just be a full season in LA. So yes, they're being overblown.
4. We will have to wait until October for the Justin Verlander-Clayton Kershaw matchup that the world so desperately needs, as Verlander pitched Sunday and Kershaw is on the disabled list. Is Kershaw's health a serious issue, or are the Dodgers simply playing it safe with their superstar?
I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's kinda serious. I forget who, but someone on ESPN pointed out that his back issue is similar to Jurickson Profar and he's out for a while. The part that doesn't scare me is the fact that Kershaw's character will prevent him from returning too early. He's so dedicated to success that as badly as he wants to come back as soon as possible, he knows that he can't rush his rehab because he could hurt it even more. Plus, I'm comfortable saying Kershaw is not the kind of guy that signs a huge deal, gets injured, and doesn't try hard after that. As for the matchup the world so desperately needs, I completely agree. The world needs a Puig/Hanley vs. Verlander and Miguel Cabrera vs. Kershaw matchup.
5. Will we ever see the 2011 version of Matt Kemp again?
Maybe. Adrian Gonzalez had a similar shoulder surgery a couple years ago and still hasn't gotten back to the days of 40 homers and 110 RBIs like he had in San Diego. But while I don't think the offensive Kemp will ever return in full force, I think defensive and base running Kemp will return. That's basically because his shoulder will probably prevent him from 30/100 in future seasons. But because he's ankle should get better (knock on wood again), his base running and fielding should be fine over time. So in a sense, I could see him being a gold glove outfield possibly again and maybe even a 20-30 stolen based. As for hitting production, maybe 20 homers and 100 RBIs like Gonzalez.
6. Same questions for you for these next five: who is your early pick for Dodgers' rookie of the year?
This is a tough one because they don't really have any true rookies. If Dee Gordon struggles at the plate early on and it forces the Dodgers to call up Alexander Guerrero simply for his bat, I think it'll be him. But if that situation doesn't happen them I honestly have no idea. But my best guess would be someone like Zach Lee if he's called up and has to make some spot starts due to injuries after the all star break. Not the best answer but that's what happens when you don't really have a ton of rookies on the roster or close to making the roster.
7. Cy Young?
If he doesn't miss most of April and May, Kershaw that's easy. He's the ace and has gotten better every year. But if he does miss that much time I'll take Hyun-Jin Ryu. Most people would probably take Zack Greinke but I think Ryu has a lot of potential. He got a lot better as the season went on last year and even though he struggled against San Diego, he should be fine. He had a flat 3.00 ERA last year so if he gave up one fewer run at some point he would've had an ERA under 3. Which is pretty impressive for someone in their first year in the majors.
Hanley Ramirez. As good as Puig was last year I honestly think Hanley was the Dodgers' best offensive player last year (Kershaw was the team's MVP). He tore the cover off the ball nearly every at bat and should benefit from a full healthy season (knock on wood - I say that a lot because I'm superstitious. That's what happens when you watch too much baseball I guess). Additionally a guy like him in a contract year should make him try even harder especially because there will be so many teams after him.
9. How far will the Dodgers go this season (playoffs included)?
I'm not going to say win the World Series because I'm superstitious, like I've said a ton of times already, but I do think they'll face the Tigers or Rays in the World Series. If they stay healthy, and that's a big if for everyone in the league, they're built for the World Series. They're biggest competition is the Cardinals, but lets not forget the impact losing Hanley had on this team. With him an the stacked bullpen, they should be a bigger favorite than last year. As for the AL, the Rays are really good since they somehow kept Price, but if they trade him it'll definitely be the Tigers. With him, it's a toss up between the two.
10. Tigers series prediction?
I think they'll split. Not sure who will win, which game but I think they'll split. At the same time, I wouldn't be stunned if the Dodgers swept only because I love the combination of Ryu and Haren even though Ryu will be facing Scherzer. That's of course assuming Ryu and Haren are the two starters (Ed.: Looks like Haren-Scherzer and Beckett-Sanchez). But in the end it should be a fantastic series. It's too bad that it a only two games.
Once again, thank you to David for taking the time to answer our questions. You can see my answers to his Tigers-centric questions here. Be sure to check out True Blue LA this season for all the Dodgers news and analysis you could ever need.