I have admired the Dodgers for being patient with their young players. I know Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti could have gotten many superstars if he traded those players. This offseason, Colletti might have gotten Jake Peavy if he gave the San Diego Padres Clayton Kershaw or Chad Billingsley with others. The Dodgers could have used Peavy, who won the Cy Young Award in 2007, but they would have missed whichever players were shipped away to lure the Padres ace.
In 2008, the Dodgers and their fans saw evidence that their patience was starting to be rewarded. Billingsley became the ace of the pitching staff until the playoffs, where Derek Lowe shined. Kershaw gained more experience with every start. During the playoffs, when Kershaw received an opportunity to pitch, he did a fantastic job, and I expect to see him reach his potential in 2009. James McDonald, who just came to the Major Leagues in September, did an excellent job in the playoffs, and everyone expects to see him compete for a spot in the starting rotation this spring.
In 2008, Jonathan Broxton continued to mature as a pitcher. He was one of the best setup men in baseball before Takashi Saito injured his elbow, and then Broxton became the closer. During the playoffs, Broxton appeared to find another level, but in the second-to-the-last game against the Philadelphia Phillies, Broxton blew a save. I hope this letdown doesn't affect his confidence for the upcoming season. He will anchor an extremely young Dodgers bullpen. To me, Broxton is the key to the Dodgers' season.
Russell Martin continued to grow as a catcher. Before the All-Star break, he was the Dodgers' best hitter. Then, he tired and his hitting deteriorated. With more rest, Martin will be a complete player.
James Loney began the 2008 season slowly, but then he became one of the best Dodgers hitters. His defensive ability prevented many runs from scoring. Loney hasn't begun to show power, but Joe Torre believes he will this season. Loney was the 2008 Roy Campanella Award recipient. During the playoffs, Loney had many important hits, including a come-from-behind grand slam. I expect great things from Loney, maybe a batting championship.
Matt Kemp became the Dodgers' center fielder. Though he was playing a new position, he made many excellent plays. The opposition learned that they shouldn't run on Kemp's arm. Offensively, Kemp matured when he stopped swinging at balls out of the strike zone. I expect to see more power from Kemp in 2009.
The 2008 season was a breakout season for Andre Ethier. Since he came to the Dodgers in 2006, he has been an offensive force. He is a great left fielder, but in 2008, he showed that he was a better right fielder. Former manager Grady Little, who is a mediocre judge of baseball talent, disliked Ethier and tried to limit his playing time.
From the beginning of Spring Training, Ethier showed a different attitude. He displayed new power, and Joe Torre immediately liked him. The Dodgers had an overcrowded outfield, so Torre didn't play Ethier every day at the beginning of the season, but as the season went on, Ethier had more opportunity to play and finished with 20 home runs. Undoubtedly, Ethier will play a valuable role with the Dodgers in 2009.
Since Colletti hasn't signed Manny Ramirez or any other corner outfielder, the Dodgers might be forced to play Jason Repko. Repko is an enthusiastic player who has been injury prone. He has good baseball skills, a strong throwing arm, incredible speed and some power potential. Repko was a star of a poor Dodgers team in 2005. Since then, he has missed time with serious injuries and played in the Minor Leagues.
The Dodgers still have Juan Pierre, who wanted to be traded this offseason, and I think he will be a reserve. Everyone likes Pierre, an extremely hard worker, but he's struggled at times since joining the Dodgers and lacks the power they seek. I feel if the Dodgers can obtain another outfielder and find a team who will pay some of Pierre's enormous salary, the Dodgers will grant Pierre his wish.
The upcoming season will be a challenge for the Dodgers. I believe they are up to it. Baseball is never easy. If it were, I wouldn't watch it in fascination year after year.
Thursday, Jeff Kent officially retired from baseball after playing 17 seasons. Kent played hard and tried to win. He respected the game, as he became the most powerful second baseman in baseball history.
Four years ago, Kent accomplished a childhood dream when he signed with the Dodgers, the team that his dad took him to see. If anyone asked me then if Kent belonged in the Baseball Hall of Fame, I would have said, "Maybe." Now I say, "Most definitely!" Kent won't work in baseball, except for Little League. He knows he will miss the sport, but spending more time with his family is more important. I admire him for this, and I wish him well in his future endeavors.