Dodgers 2020 spring training preview: Did they find their difference-maker?

August 26, 2020

first_img Dodgers hit seven home runs, sweep Colorado Rockies One of the biggest baseball trades in recent history – one of the biggest in Dodgers’ franchise history – finally became official Monday afternoon.How did the centerpiece of that deal react?“I was actually hitting in the cage when it became official,” said Mookie Betts, sporting a Dodgers jersey for the first time in a press conference at his new home stadium on Wednesday afternoon. “So I took a little break, put my phone inside and finished up business.”The Dodgers begin reporting to camp Thursday with unfinished business for … well, the 32nd consecutive spring. The road ahead is a familiar one – lined with “World Series or Bust” signs. “I think a big part of that was as we started the offseason we felt we had a real talented and deep team,” Friedman said. “So for us, our mindset was either to make some upside plays (players like Alex Wood, Jimmy Nelson and Blake Treinen) and beyond that the only way to improve our roster in our mind was to get an elite talent.”They did that while sacrificing almost nothing (Alex Verdugo’s injury-shortened contributions) from a lineup that led the National League in runs scored, home runs and OPS last season. David Price came along, a former Cy Young Award winner who will at least partially offset the losses of Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda and Rich Hill from the rotation.“Definitely expectations are high now, especially from the outside,” Betts said. “But it’s important internally for us to know what we’re made of and go out and compete each and every day.“All eyes will be here. You gotta embrace it.”The Dodgers hope Betts does embrace the “Hollywood lifestyle.” By trading for him now, they have an entire season to convince him to make Los Angeles his long-term home, a nine-month headstart on any other teams that might be thinking of meeting his asking price as a free agent.“Right now I just got here,” Betts said. “I’m still trying to find a house and all those type of things. I’m not even really thinking about that. I’m just focused on staying with 2020 and going from there.”During his nine years running the small-market Tampa Bay Rays and five years of putting the Dodgers’ financial house in order, Friedman has never negotiated a contract worth more than $100 million. He side-stepped questions about his readiness to quadruple that with Betts.“My mindset is that we couldn’t be more excited to have Mookie in 2020,” Friedman said. “We obviously know his team control is up after 2020. We’re hoping he falls in love with the team, the city, the fans and wants to be here for a long time.“Right now, we’re just really happy to have those guys and get camp started on the right foot and see where that takes us.”As spring training begins, the most significant questions facing the Dodgers are:HOW WILL BETTS AND PRICE FIT IN?It will almost certainly be a smooth transition, adding an air of excitement to a spring camp that could have been “same ol’, same ol’” with so many familiar faces still in place. The arrival of Betts and Price should cut down on the questions about last fall’s early playoff exit and the winter’s revelations surrounding the Astros’ sign-stealing scandal.WILL IT BE AWKWARD FOR JOC PEDERSON AND ROSS STRIPLING?The two spent a week in baseball’s ‘transfer portal’ before returning to the Dodgers when a trade with the Angels was scuttled. Stripling’s feelings are known – he posted a GIF of a double fist-pump on Twitter when the trade fell through (then quickly deleted it). But Pederson has to absorb the double indignity of losing an arbitration hearing while waiting to see which team he would play for in 2020.WHO BREAKS CAMP IN THE STARTING ROTATION?The first three spots seem set – Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw and Price. Indications over the winter make it likely Julio Urias takes a fourth spot. That leaves Alex Wood, Jimmy Nelson, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Stripling to jockey for the last spot. Wood or Nelson should have the inside track if they prove healthy and regain their pre-injury forms. May and Gonsolin showed last year, however, that they are big-league ready – in some role.HOW DO THEY BUILD THE BULLPEN?Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and Friedman have expressed their confidence in closer Kenley Jansen whenever the topic came up this winter. They hope to support him more tangibly with an assortment of setup men – Blake Treinen (an All-Star closer in 2018), Joe Kelly (promising more consistency in 2020), the unsinkable Pedro Baez and newly-acquired hard-throwing right-hander Brusdar Graterol. The anticipated spillover from the starting rotation could create a traffic jam for the rest of the spots.CAN A.J. POLLOCK HAVE A BOUNCE-BACK SEASON?A fluke elbow injury – okay, maybe not that ‘fluke’ given his history – and a disastrous playoff performance (he was 0 for 13 with 11 strikeouts in the five-game NLDS loss to the Nationals) made for an ugly debut season as a Dodger. But Pollock did hit .288 with an .885 OPS after his return in July. He deserves a chance to re-establish his value. But he’ll likely get it as a platoon partner with Pederson in the non-MVP wing of the Dodgers’ outfield.Staff writer Gilbert Manzano contributed to this story.Related Articles Dodgers’ Max Muncy trying to work his way out of slow start How Dodgers pitcher Ross Stripling topped the baseball podcast empire Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error Cody Bellinger homer gives Dodgers their first walkoff win of season Fire danger is on Dave Roberts’ mind as Dodgers head to San Francisco This part is not familiar, though. Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has taken a gamble – possibly a one-year gamble – on Betts being the difference-maker who can put the Dodgers over the top.“He’s elite in every facet of the game,” Friedman said Wednesday. “The way he can impact the game on the bases, defensively, in the batter’s box. He’s one of the best players in all of baseball and he’s a complete player in every respect. So adding him to an otherwise talented group of position players is going to make us that much deeper.“These players don’t get traded very often. I feel confident in not only saying he’s the best player I’ve ever traded for, he’s the best player I ever will trade for.”Somewhere, Manny Machado winced at that.Presented with the challenge of improving a 106-win team this winter, however, Friedman aimed high. At the Winter Meetings in early December, he acknowledged that he had a list of only about a dozen targets – elite talents who could impact the Dodgers at the “top of the roster.”last_img

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