MLB.com Columnist

Tracy Ringolsby

NL West uses offseason to play catchup to Dodgers

NL West uses offseason to play catchup to Dodgers

NL West uses offseason to play catchup to Dodgers

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Don Mattingly has one year remaining on his contract as manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and he is not complaining.

"I am happy with the way everything is going," Mattingly said.

He should be.

The Dodgers have gotten the attention of the rest of the National League West. There is no debate over which team is the best in the division. The question the rest of the division faces is what it will take to upset the Dodgers in their bid to repeat as division champions in 2014.

It will not be easy.

The Dodgers return more than just a veteran lineup, one that after the get-to-know-you fumbling around that came with the late-season trade in 2012 raced up the standings in July 2013 and turned the division race into a one-team show.

Think about it. The Dodgers won the division by 11 games over the second-place D-backs last season, and that was after being in last place, 9 1/2 games out of first on June 22.

Through Tuesday, they had re-signed Brian Wilson, a late-2013 addition who showed glimpses of the brilliance from his days as the Giants' closer.

As for the rotation, it's not like the Dodgers were scuffling before this offseason.

As Arizona general manager Kevin Towers put it, "We have nobody to match up with [Zack] Greinke and [Clayton] Kershaw, but…"

But there has to be hope.

There is the memory of those final two months of 2012, after the Dodgers swung the major deal with the Red Sox that brought in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, left fielder Carl Crawford and right-hander Josh Beckett. The Dodgers were tied with San Francisco for the NL West lead on that July 30, won only 25 of their final 49 games and finished eight games out.

The Giants won not only the division, but the World Series, again -- it was San Francisco's second title in three years.

The stretch drive in 2013, however, belonged to the Dodgers. It was the rest of the division's worst fears. The free-spending ways of the new ownership group paid off, at least until the postseason, when the Dodgers were eliminated by the Cardinals in six games in the NL Championship Series.

Nevertheless, the rest of the NL West is left trying to play catchup with the Dodgers and their deep pockets.

The D-backs sent pitcher Tyler Skaggs to the Angels and center fielder Adam Eaton to the White Sox in a three-team deal on Tuesday that brought back power-hitting Mark Trumbo, who Arizona is hoping can play left field well enough that he can be the lineup protection so needed for first baseman Paul Goldschmidt.

The Giants made a pre-emptive bid to re-sign Tim Lincecum, and then signed Tim Hudson to fill the opening created by the decision not to retain Barry Zito.

San Diego brought in the left-handed bat of Seth Smith to balance the offensive part of its roster -- but at the expense of dependable reliever Luke Gregerson.

The Rockies, meanwhile, sent Drew Pomeranz to Oakland for Brett Anderson with hopes the former Athletic can stay healthy enough in 2014 to help fill that back-end void in Colorado's rotation. The Rockies were a combined 49-32 when Jorge De La Rosa, Jhoulys Chacin and Tyler Chatwood started last year but went 25-56 in the rest of their games. Anderson was the A's 2013 Opening Day starter, but he has made only 43 starts over the last four seasons after starting 30 games as a 21-year-old rookie in 2009.

And then there are the Dodgers.

"We're not looking for one big piece," Mattingly acknowledged.

Translation: The Dodgers have a roster they like. They have supplemented their rotation by signing veteran Dan Haren, and they brought back Wilson both to fill that eighth-inning role he handled down the stretch in 2013 and to provide insurance in case closer Kenley Jansen hits a rough spot.

The only question the Dodgers must answer is at third base. They are looking to re-sign Juan Uribe, who has said he would like a three-year deal.

The Dodgers, however, are not going to panic. They will have to get creative if Uribe does not return, but there is an interesting possibility of moving Hanley Ramirez over from shortstop. Ramirez has that bat to play a corner spot, and it could be less physically demanding for him, as he has played fewer than 100 games in two of the last three seasons.

Mattingly said Ramirez had been receptive to the idea when they talked about the possibility of third base at various times since Ramirez was acquired in July 2012.

"Hanley has said he will do what we want him to do," Mattingly said. "His only request has been he doesn't want to go back and forth."

And that's fine with the Dodgers. They are looking for some stability, too.

They were able to get things in order last season and get to the NLCS. Now they want to take the final step and end a 25-year absence from the World Series. It will not be easy, but the Dodgers have the pieces to solve that puzzle.

And the rest of the NL West knows it.

Tracy Ringolsby is a columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.