Just about everything the Guggenheim Baseball Management wanted to do in taking ownership of the Dodgers in 2012, and cleansing the stench left by the previous regime of Frank McCourt, it has done.
Guggenheim remade the team a perennial contender, first through trades and the highest payroll in baseball until reinvigorating the farm system that has produced back-to-back National League Rookies of the Year in Corey Seager (2016) and Cody Bellinger (2017).
Bellinger hit a NL rookie record 39 homers and also led the Dodgers in RBIs (97) despite playing his first 18 games in the minors. He was a super-catalyst in 2017: the Dodgers were an imposing 89-38 with him in their starting lineup, either at first base or the outfield.
The season will start with some early drama. Third baseman Justin Turner, the team’s most consistent hitter last season and a clubhouse presence, will miss probably the first month due to a displaced fracture in his left wrist after being hit by a pitch during a spring game.
That makes the seemingly afterthought acquisition of Matt Kemp now seem prescient. This is Kemp’s second rodeo with the Dodgers, having played here from 2006-2014. He was traded to San Diego in 2015, who eventually traded him to Atlanta, to whom the Dodgers dealt four players (including Adrian Gonzalez) to get Kemp back.
At first it looked like a swapping of bloated, expiring contracts — and Kemp is still owed $43 million — but he came into spring training 40 pounds lighter and swinging a productive bat, slowing efforts to move him.
Even with having the NL’s sixth best offense last season, pitching remains the Dodgers strongest hand. They have two of the game’s best: Clayton Kershaw atop the rotation, and closer Kenley Jansen. The rest of the proposed starting rotation — Rich Hill, Kent Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Alex Wood — is seasoned but also brittle. Remember the names Walker Buehler and Brock Stewart. Both will start the year in Triple-A, but will be hustled up to the majors if one of the starters gets hurt.
There are other concerns. Besides waiting for Turner to mend, the Dodgers have to monitor Seager’s troublesome right elbow from overuse at shortstop, get a better (and healthier) year from infielder Logan Forsythe and learn if the rest of the league has figured out how to pitch to Bellinger as well as Houston did in the World Series, holding him to a .143 average.