Since GM Ned Colletti improved the Dodgers, I don't expect a collapse after the All-Star break like I saw last August and September. However, I see aspects of the Dodgers that worry me. I don't know if the Dodgers have the talent to win the division.
I do expect at least 85 wins from the Dodgers in 2008. However, the Dodgers have a big outfield problem.
The outfield is overcrowded. For some reason, Colletti likes to collect outfielders. Entering Spring Training, the Dodgers have six outfielders who could earn a starting job. Although Colletti likes to have competition among players because he feels they try harder, having six outfielders might be carrying it too far. I know the Dodgers got scared when Jason Repko tore his hamstring last spring and missed the entire season. At no time did I feel the Dodgers lacked outfielders.
On the contrary, I thought one of the Dodgers' problems was having too many outfielders. After Andre Ethier proved himself in 2006, I felt he deserved a starting job. When the Dodgers signed Luis Gonzalez to play left field, I thought the Dodgers would have a regular outfield of Gonzalez, Juan Pierre, and Ethier. However, when they lost Repko, they felt they didn't have enough right-handed hitters.
The Dodgers could have survived with this shortage because their left-handed hitters could hit left-handed pitching. But they didn't believe Matt Kemp would be ready for the Majors in 2007. I didn't agree with that. I know he had a difficult time when he came up to the Dodgers in 2006, but Kemp played winter ball and did well.
When Repko went down, the Dodgers brought Kemp up because he was a right-handed hitter. At 22, Kemp couldn't sit on the bench and couldn't be used sparingly. Ethier, at 25, could, so he did.
When Kemp established himself as the everyday right fielder, Ethier shared playing time with Gonzalez, and this caused problems.
This spring, the Dodgers will have Andruw Jones in center. A team doesn't pay a yearly Gold Glove center fielder $14 million a season to sit on the bench. Pierre, another high-priced outfielder, won't sit on the bench, and he has a consecutive game streak going. After Kemp hit .342 in 98 games during the 2007 season, he is not sitting anywhere.
Although Ethier doesn't have the incredible eye-popping talent that Kemp has, Ethier can play a vital role on a winning team. He has a steady presence in the outfield. Kemp has spectacular baseball skills, but Ethier is the better defensive outfielder. Though Ethier doesn't hit over .330 or have as much power as Kemp does, he has a good eye for the strike zone.
Ethier is not the only extra outfielder who deserves better than he is going to get. If Repko is healthy, he could be an asset to the Dodgers. He has fearless defensive play, climbing fences and diving after balls. This has caused him to be injured at times. His throwing arm is the strongest on the Dodgers. Although Repko hasn't shown good offensive production, he has the ability to hit for average and power.
At 25, Delwyn Young should have an opportunity to earn a starting job. Originally he was a second baseman, but his defensive play didn't impress the Dodgers. They made him an outfielder. Although it is doubtful that he will win a Gold Glove, I didn't see anything wrong with his defense. He can hit! In limited time with the Dodgers, Young hit .382. This offensive production should have earned an opportunity to show what he can do at the Major League level.
Though all Major League teams want depth, having six outfielders is a bit much. I know Dodger fans praise Colletti for not trading a young player, but an outfielder must go to keep harmony in the clubhouse. Watching the Dodgers outfield situation during Spring Training will be interesting.