Saturday, April 1, 2023

2023 Pre-Season Profile: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers made news this offseason for not making much news.  Can they contend for a title in 2023 with their current roster?

#2 - 1st in NL West, lose in World Series
MIH - Cody Bellinger
MIP - Julio Urias
PTW - Michael Busch

2022 Results
#5 - 111-51, 1st in NL West, lost in NLDS
Highest WAR (Position) - Mookie Betts
Highest WAR (Pitcher) - Julio Urias
The Dodgers are consistently one of the best regular season teams year after year, winning over 100 games for the 4th time in 5 seasons (excluding the COVID-shortened 2020 season).  However, outside of the COVID-shortened 2020 season, the regular season success hasn't produced any postseason results.  Adding insult to injury, they were eliminated from the playoffs by divisional rival San Diego in 2022.  Is it possible Dave Roberts is on the hot seat even with all that success?

Additions / Subtractions
The Dodgers had a very strange offseason for them in that they didn't make a splash.  While every other big market team was adding huge contracts and superstars to their payroll, the Dodgers instead watched Trea Turner, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner, Joey Gallo, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, and Craig Kimbrel walk away while Gavin Lux and Walker Buehler will miss the season with injuries.  With that kind of star power leaving, most of them were replaced internally or with short term deals.  New Dodgers include starter Noah Syndergaard, infielder Miguel Rojas, outfielder Jason Heyward, and DH J.D. Martinez.  Many speculate that the Dodgers didn't spend this offseason so they can offer a half a billion dollars to Shohei Ohtani next winter.

Most Important Hitter
Max Muncy
The Dodgers still have Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman at the heart of their lineup, but a lineup is more than two players (just ask the Angels).  Max Muncy is one of those players that the Dodgers are really counting on to provide that depth.  The Dodgers unlocked something in Muncy when he joined the team in 2018 as he hit over 35 home runs in 2018, 2019, and 2021 while making the All Star team twice.  However, in 2022 Muncy took a step back, only hitting 21 home runs with an OPS+ of 97.  With Justin Turner's departure, Muncy is now the everyday third baseman, especially with second base not really an option anymore with the new shift ban.  If he returns to his 2021 form, that will go a long way in keeping the Dodger lineup moving.

Most Important Pitcher
Dustin May
Julio Urias emerged as an ace last season, and Clayton Kershaw is still around, however the biggest X-factor in the Dodger rotation is Dustin May.  At one point, May was one of the most promising prospects in all of baseball, but injuries have made it difficult for him to reach his potential.  He will have every opportunity in 2023 to show what he can do.  His stuff is still filthy so as long as he can stay healthy, May may be a prime breakout candidate this season.

Prospect to Watch
Miguel Vargas
The miracle of this run the Dodgers are on is they have been able to make the blockbuster trades and sign the big free agents while maintaining one of the best farm systems in all of baseball.  Ranked either 1st or 2nd (to the Orioles), the Dodgers currently have 7 prospects in the Top 100.  This organizational depth is going to be leaned on this season to help replace some of the departing star power, with several rookies getting Opening Day starts.  One of those is Miguel Vargas.  Ranked 37th in the Top 100, the 23 year old Cuban can play anywhere on the field, but will be looked to as the everyday second baseman this season.  Vargas is a pretty elite hitter so as long as he hits, the Dodgers will find a role for him.

2023 Prediction
1st in NL West, win World Series
There you have it!  My World Series pick!  I love what the Dodgers did (or didn't do) to get ready for this year.  There's something to the consistency and trusting the talent you have, especially finally allowing the young talent to truly get a chance to thrive at the big league level.  The sneakiest move of the whole offseason might be the trade for Miguel Rojas, especially after Gavin Lux's injury.  I don't see the Dodgers winning 111 games again this season.  In fact, I have them picked to have the worst record among the division champs and having to play through the Wild Card Round.  However, it just makes too much sense that the year no one is paying attention to them is the year they go all the way.  Also, can you imagine a Yankees/Dodgers World Series?  It's a marketing dream!

Fearless Prediction
Clayton Kershaw retires after this season.
Clayton Kershaw is one of the best pitchers of this generation.  He is a 9 time All Star, a former MVP, won the pitching Triple Crown and 3 Cy Youngs.  He is also in his age 35 season and has been making a habit of signing 1 year contracts recently.  There have been rumblings that he has started questioning when it's time to call it a career each offseason.  I would imagine a full season World Series championship will be the perfect opportunity for Kershaw to ride off into the Cooperstown sunset.