New season gives Dodgers renewed optimism

New season gives Dodgers renewed optimism

LOS ANGELES -- Among the offseason acquisitions of the Dodgers are an owner to be named later and the optimism of a new beginning.

That might have to hold them, as there were no such dramatic additions to the roster, which already boasts Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw and MVP runner-up Matt Kemp.

Having made a failed run at Prince Fielder, the Dodgers look to improve upon last year's 82-79 record by loading up on pitching, improved defense and hope.

General manager Ned Colletti signed Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to replace Hiroki Kuroda and Mark Ellis to upgrade the defense at second base.

Offensively, Colletti has his fingers crossed. He needs Juan Uribe to rebound from a disastrous first season in Los Angeles, Juan Rivera to continue driving in runs batting behind Kemp, Andre Ethier to regain that 31-homer form and James Loney to have a full season similar to the final two months of 2011. Ethier and Loney have the added incentive of being in their free-agent seasons.

Another key to the club will be young shortstop Dee Gordon, who has the double duty of leading off the batting order with his game-changing speed.

Pitchers and catchers report

Feb. 21

Full squad reports

Feb. 27

First Spring Training game

Dodgers vs. White Sox, March 5, 12:05 p.m. (PT)

Opening Day

Dodgers vs. Padres, April 5, 4:05 p.m. (PT)

Triple play: Three questions that need answers

1. What impact can a new owner make this season?
If the Dodgers batting order was as loaded as the lineup of bidders for the club, they'd already be printing World Series tickets. Whoever wins the bidding will be financially solvent and well aware that the franchise has been run on the cheap, could use a big bat and a revamping of its approach to international signings. As for 2012, if the club is in the race at the Trade Deadline, picking up salary shouldn't be an issue.

2. Can Clayton Kershaw and Matt Kemp do it again?
Granted, spectacular seasons from the pair weren't enough to put the Dodgers in the postseason, but it's not a bad place to start. This year the expectations will be even greater, and Kemp will have the additional burden of proving worthy of a fresh $160 million contract. It should be remembered that Kemp's worst season in 2010 came immediately after he signed his first multi-year deal. Kershaw, on the other hand, hasn't had the chance to show any such flaws yet.

3. Will there be enough offense?
Isn't that the same question asked a year ago? It's hard to look at the offseason moves and conclude that the Dodgers offense will be any better than it was last year. To be fair, Rivera will be there from the start this time, and his addition at the All-Star break made a difference. Gordon has blazing speed at the top of the order, but will his .304 average project over a full season? With limited cash, the Dodgers rebuilt their starting rotation and are essentially counting on rebound seasons offensively from Uribe, Ethier and a full season from Loney the way he hit in the second half.

2011 record
82-79, third in the NL West

Projected batting order
1. SS Dee Gordon:
  .304 BA, .325 OBP, .362 SLG, 0 HR, 11 RBI in 2011
2. 2B Mark Ellis:
  .248 BA, .288 OBP, .346 SLG, 7 HR, 41 RBI in 2011
3. RF Andre Ethier:
  .292 BA, .368 OBP, .421 SLG, 11 HR, 62 RBI in 2011
4. CF Matt Kemp:
  .324 BA, .399 OBP, .586 SLG, 39 HR, 126 RBI in 2011
5. LF Juan Rivera:
  .258 BA, .319 OBP, .382 SLG, 11 HR, 74 RBI in 2011
6. 1B James Loney:
  .288 BA, .339 OBP, .416 SLG, 12 HR, 65 RBI in 2011
7. 3B Juan Uribe:
  .204 BA, .264 OBP, .293 SLG, 4 HR, 28 RBI in 2011
8. C A.J. Ellis:
  .271 BA, .392 OBP, .376 SLG, 2 HR, 11 RBI in 2011

Projected rotation
1. Clayton Kershaw, 21-5, 2.28 ERA in 2011
2. Chad Billingsley, 11-11, 4.21 ERA in 2011
3. Ted Lilly, 12-14, 3.97 ERA in 2011
4. Aaron Harang, 14-7, 3.64 ERA in 2011
5. Chris Capuano, 11-12, 4.55 ERA in 2011

Projected bullpen
Closer: Javy Guerra, 21/23 saves, 2.31 ERA in 2011
RH setup man: Kenley Jansen, 2.85 ERA in 2011
LH setup man: Scott Elbert, 2.43 ERA in 2011

The new guys
LHP Chris Capuano: Capuano gives the Dodgers three left-handers in the starting rotation, along with Kershaw and Lilly. He's coming off a decent season with the Mets, but two Tommy John surgeries cost him 2008-09, and his best season was back in 2005. That said, he's only being asked to be the fifth starter.

RHP Todd Coffey: Coffey was a late signing as Colletti wants plenty of bullpen arms. Coffey is a ground-ball thrower who projects to be a multiple, middle-innings type for the Dodgers, handling long relief as well as a fill-in for setting up if the club runs into injury issues. He slots into a role handled by Blake Hawksworth, whose availability is in question after January elbow surgery.

2B Mark Ellis: One of the club's stated goals was to improve defense at second base, which is why Ellis was signed quickly. Offensively, he figures to be a No. 2 hitter behind Gordon and in front of Ethier, but he's coming off a down year. His history of injuries is a red flag, as well as a dreadful first half last year before a trade to Colorado rejuvenated his game.

INF Jerry Hairston: Hairston will bring a lot of gloves to Spring Training. He's insurance if Uribe doesn't rebound at third base, he'll back up Gordon at shortstop if Justin Sellers doesn't make the club and he's a solid outfield defender. Offensively, he'll add a veteran right-handed bat, which was one of Colletti's offseason priorities.

RHP Aaron Harang: After three consecutive down seasons, Harang is coming off a 14-7 bounce-back year despite playing on the last-place Padres. The Dodgers have been trying to get him for several years. He'll be asked to take over for Kuroda in the middle of the rotation, although he hasn't pitched 200 innings in a season since 2007. Harang was especially effective in spacious Petco Park, so the Dodgers are hoping that pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium will also suit him. The 265-pounder missed a month in 2011 with a stress fracture of his foot.

INF Adam Kennedy: Kennedy replaces Aaron Miles as a left-handed bat that can spell Ellis at second base, with a versatile enough glove to also handle the corner infield spots. He got off to a hot start with the Mariners last year, but tailed off the last four months.

C Matt Treanor: A catch-and-throw specialist, Treanor figures to watch a lot as A.J. Ellis gets the bulk of the playing time early to prove he deserves the job. Although Treanor has the Major League contract, Josh Bard will be in Major League camp on a Minor League contract and he could challenge for the backup job as well.

Prospects to watch
LHP Michael Antonini: The Dodgers acquired Antonini from the Mets after the 2010 season for infielder Chin-lung Hu. Although he's been a starter, he should get a look as a second lefty reliever. If that doesn't pan out, he's likely to be starter insurance at Triple-A.

OF Alex Castellanos: Management is optimistic that Castellanos will prove to be a legit return from St. Louis for Rafael Furcal. Primarily an outfielder, Castellanos has played enough infield that the Dodgers are thinking of moving him to second base. He has power and basestealing ability, but needs to cut down on the strikeouts. And he's already 25.

INF Ivan De Jesus: Having been passed by Sellers, De Jesus -- despite three big league stints -- didn't get a September callup. But manager Don Mattingly thinks De Jesus has a Major League bat, so he still could play a role.

RHP Rubby De La Rosa: De La Rosa isn't expected back from Tommy John surgery until after the All-Star break, and there will be no more rushing of this talent, so we might not see him in a game that matters all season. But he shouldn't be forgotten after the flashes of brilliance he showed in 10 starts last year.

RHP Nathan Eovaldi: Eovaldi came out of Double-A at age 21 and stepped in for the injured De La Rosa with a high-90s fastball and poise beyond his years. After watching De La Rosa blow out, however, the Dodgers didn't want to rush Eovaldi into the 2012 rotation, as they signed Harang and Capuano to afford Eovaldi more seasoning.

C Tim Federowicz: When acquired from the Red Sox in the Trayvon Robinson trade, there were thoughts Federowicz might be a 2012 starter. But during a September callup, he looked like he needed more seasoning. From his Minor League history, he should be a fine catch-and-throw backstop; the question will be his bat.

OF Jerry Sands: If management was convinced that Sands could be the everyday left fielder, Juan Rivera wouldn't have been re-signed. That said, Sands rebounded from a disastrous debut stint in the big leagues to hit .342 during a September promotion, which included a 14-game hitting streak.

OF Alfredo Silverio: An early signee (age 16) and a late bloomer (seven seasons below Double-A), Silverio broke through last year at Double-A enough for management to finally protect him. He can play all three outfield spots and doesn't have a glaring weakness. Eighteen triples last season catch the eye.

RHP Shawn Tolleson: Kershaw said that Tolleson was the better prospect when they were Dallas preps, until Tolleson blew out his elbow as a high school senior. He is catching up, though, after two lights-out Minor League seasons as a closer and being named last year's organization Minor League pitcher of the year.

OF Scott Van Slyke: Van Slyke was a Double-A batting champ with power and the organization Minor League position player of the year, but he's also 25 already. He has the bloodlines as Andy Van Slyke's son and could be groomed as the next first baseman, with Loney a free agent after this season.

RHP Allen Webster: He's been passing more highly touted prospects and he's likely to get some visibility this spring if the Dodgers need an arm from the Minor League camp. He's a converted shortstop and a $20,000 bargain signing.

RHP Chris Withrow: For a first-round pick, it hasn't been a smooth journey, as Withrow has been at Double-A three consecutive seasons. That said, the Dodgers added him to the roster because they didn't want to risk losing him in the Rule 5 Draft. Maybe it will click and he'll find that elusive consistency.

RHP Josh Lindblom: Pretty nice debut for the right-hander during three bullpen callups. He's got the durability for multiple innings, but left-handers hit .370 off him. Management wasn't sold off of that red flag, so Todd Coffey and Jamey Wright (non-roster) were signed. Lindblom has options, so he could be in for a repeat of a shuttle season.

On the rebound
RHP Ronald Belisario: This could be one of the comebacks of all comebacks. Of course, even in a best case it starts 25 games late, the length of Belisario's suspension for violating MLB's drug policy. But he's already in Arizona, which is something that never happened last year. Belisario hasn't pitched in the Major Leagues since 2010 and has been battling demons for nobody knows how long. But when he was right in 2009, he was nasty and valuable. His absence the last two years was a big handicap, but a return to his 2009 form would be huge addition to a bullpen counting on kids.

RF Andre Ethier: A year ago, Ethier was the club's best outfielder and the jury was out on Matt Kemp. Now Kemp has a $160 million contract and Ethier has the potential windfall of free agency if only he can rebound from knee surgery and return to his 31-homer form. The dropoff in power last year can be explained by the bum knee. If that's the case, he should bounce back to form a potent duo with Kemp and set himself up for a huge payday.

RHP Matt Guerrier: With Belisario missing, Jonathan Broxton inconsistent and Vicente Padilla hurt, a lot was asked of Guerrier in 2011. He admitted to Mattingly that he tried too hard to justify his $4 million salary, which his numbers didn't do. Management is hoping that Coffey creates the depth to allow Guerrier to be a middle innings piece with less pressure and better results.

3B Juan Uribe: The success or failure of the offense could hinge on Uribe, whose unique body type couldn't stay healthy in his first season with the Dodgers, and he wasn't productive even when he could play. Uribe promised Colletti he would show up fit and ready, but even with a guaranteed contract through next year he will be on a short leash.

Long gone
C Rod Barajas: He did everything asked, but management went young and cheap behind the plate with Ellis, Treanor, Bard and Federowicz. The $4 million Barajas would have received went to rebuild the starting rotation.

3B Casey Blake: The Dodgers will miss Blake's presence in the clubhouse, but the veteran couldn't stay healthy and didn't project to be a starter any longer. Whether the club gets more from Uribe at third base is a big unknown.

RHP Jonathan Broxton: Maybe Broxton will bounce back to his All-Star form after elbow surgery, but with Guerra and Jansen barely above minimum wage, the frugal Dodgers didn't need to take the chance. Broxton's girth and the dropoff in velocity have been red flags for a while.

INF Jamey Carroll: Of all the players that left this winter, Carroll might be missed more than anyone other than Kuroda. He flies under the radar because he's not a run producer, but Carroll plays hard, is versatile enough to handle shortstop and was a stabilizer in the clubhouse.

RHP Jon Garland: Garland had been a workhorse until 2011, but he made up for that with two injuries -- a strained oblique, then a torn shoulder labrum that required season-ending surgery.

LHP Hong-Chih Kuo: Kuo's demise is one of the more unfortunate Dodgers stories in recent years. After a decade of arm ailments, he made the All-Star team in 2010 only to encounter anxiety disorder and finished 2011 with his fifth elbow operation.

RHP Hiroki Kuroda: The Dodgers signed two pitchers (Harang and Capuano) for the salary needed to re-sign Kuroda, but they've lost a reliable innings-eater and solid citizen. Kuroda was a silent leader and role model for the younger pitchers.

INF Aaron Miles: Not bringing Miles back was a bit puzzling, as he was a clutch switch-hitting bat off the bench (7-for-16 pinch-hitting) who could fill in at second and third. But as his workload mounted in the second half, his offense tailed off.

RHP Vicente Padilla: A real disappointment, Padilla needed operations on his forearm and neck and was limited to only 8 2/3 innings in 2011 after being re-signed as a swingman who could do anything from spot start to close.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.