Only a few people need to park. This is the founding principle on which parking lots are built. When you rent an apartment, the goal for the landlord is to extract an amount greater than their costs from the renter, resulting in a profit. For parking lots, the costs of ownership can be much lower – land doesn’t need to be fully developed to be a useful parking surface – and profits can be higher. For former Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, coming from the parking and development industry, this was how he saw the team – a profit generator that could be run by extracting higher margins on a less developed product. It didn’t work and the resulting sale of the team to Guggenheim Baseball Management (including Magic Johnson, remember when he was the face of this arrangement?) gave baseball it’s biggest target since George Steinbrenner was in his prime.

The Los Angeles Dodgers entering the 2015 season are a different beast:  a vast machine that is putting every resource to work with the goal of championships as a the only measure of success. Additions like Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi to the front office have given the proud franchise additional tools to take on the baseball world. And while the Washington Nationals may be the best team, the Dodgers are likely baseball’s most feared: they seemingly have no limits.

The video game Portal ends with a song by Jonathan Coulton called “Still Alive” that is sung by the nemesis in the game, a robotic mastermind named GLaDOS. This preview is written with excerpts of that song in mind, as the Dodgers baseball machine prepares to make its move against all other teams.

This was a triumph.

I’m making a note here:

HUGE SUCCESS.

It’s hard to overstate my satisfaction.

In any other market, at almost any other time, 94 wins would be considered a strong sign that the team is in good shape and needs tweaking in the front office, roster, or management, rather than rethinking. LA is no other market. Two straight division titles, a trip to the NLCS followed by one to the NLDS resulted in a new team president and general manager…as well as a roster overhaul.

Offense

jocWhen the Dodgers began their season on March 22, 2014 against the Arizona Diamondbacks they ran out Yasiel Puig (RF), Justin Turner (2B), Hanley Ramirez (SS), Adrian Gonzalez (1B), Scott Van Slyke (LF), Juan Uribe (3B), Andre Ethier (CF), and A.J. Ellis (C). Clayton Kershaw of course started. Matt Kemp didn’t play in this game, but played in 150 games splitting his time among left, right, and center. A year later and Puig is the only starting outfielder to remain a starter, both middle infielders were acquired via trade, and a young catcher-of-the-future has arrived.

From left to right, Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig are expected to patrol the outfield. Crawford (33) is coming off a bounce back season and his best performance since leaving Tampa Bay hitting .300/.339/.429 with 8 homers and 23 steals. His health is an issue, playing in just 116 and 105 games in the last two seasons, but he’s settling in as a consistent player, even if the contract doesn’t make the most sense. Joc Pederson’s (22) presence allowed the Dodgers to move Matt Kemp to San Diego and upgrade the defense. His first taste of major league baseball last summer was rough, but after dominating Triple A with a 30-30 season, the Dodgers might be about to get a vintage Matt Kemp-type season from the rookie with the glove and the bat. Puig (24) has set the bar high for himself and his impact has even caused the market for other Cuban players to explode.

Juan Uribe (35) returns at third base and has hit well enough at third base during his time with the Dodgers. He might soon have to adjust to a utility role, but more out of the Dodgers’ riches than a need for a demotion. Jimmy Rollins (36) and Howie Kendrick (31) were traded before the final year of their contracts. A lifelong Philly, Rollins is still hitting – coming off a 17 homer, 28 steal season. Kendrick has never achieve the batting title contender status some projected for him as a prospect but he’s a career .292/.332/.424 hitter who’s averaged 12 homers and 14 steals per season. Selling high on Dee Gordon’s 2014 for consistency rather than 70-steal potential should help the lineup. Adrian Gonzalez (32) put up his highest home run total (27) since 2011 but doesn’t seem destined for the 30-40 homer seasons his days in San Diego, pre-shoulder injury, showed him capable of, but a gold glove and consistent bat will keep his value on the field high.

A.J. Ellis has done a fine job over the last few years holding down the catching responsibilities but is ticketed for a part-time or platoon role with the acquisition of Yasmani Grandal. Just 26 and coming off a 15 homer .225/.327/.401 campaign, Grandal could hold down the job for the foreseeable future.

Rotation

There’s really nothing left to say about Clayton Kershaw: back-to-back Cy Young awards (he has three total and came in second place the other year – so almost four in a row!) and sub-2.00 ERAs and he won the NL MVP in 2014 too. Keep driving dump trucks full of money to his house. Zack Greinke is the number two who would be the ace of just about every other team. Unfortunately it gets a little uncertain after this point. Hyun-jin Ryu has been shut down with shoulder trouble this spring and he’s followed in the rotation by Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson. McCarthy has largely shed his injury-riddled past since leaving Texas, making 25, 18, 22, and 32 starts over the last four seasons. Anderson though? He hasn’t pitched more than 44 innings since 2011 and more than 100 since 2010. While it seems like he’s been around forever, the lefty is still just 26 so there’s still time to put it all together.

Bullpen

Closer Kenley Jansen will miss the start of the season with foot surgery but he’ll return to his dominant self soon enough. Striking out nearly 40% of batters every year, the end of games is almost automatic once he’s back. Past Jansen, the Dodgers have stockpiled relievers with Juan Nicasio, Joel Peralta, Paco Rodriguez, and J.P. Howell.

We do what we must because we can.

Andrew Friedman and the Rays might have had to watch every dollar but the Dodgers, at least right now, don’t. This is why franchise player Matt Kemp could be traded along with $32 million to acquire their catcher of the future. And this is why Dan Haren was sent to the Marlins (along with Dee Gordon), salary included. Of course adding Freddy Garcia to get some rotation depth looks a little less appetizing than simply following the principle of “these things sort themselves out” and waiting for Ryu to get injured, opening up the spot for Haren.

The Dodgers missed out on Yoan Moncada but unexpectedly signed 25-year-old pitcher Pablo Millan Fernandez for $8 million to a minor league deal and then dropped the hammer by picking up Hector Olivera for six years and $62.2 million. Even with concerns about Olivera’s elbow the Dodgers had the money to make it happen. Of course, Olivera isn’t a teenager like Moncada or his his 20s – he’ll be 30 in April and is starting his career stateside more like a star from Japan than Cuba. Olivera’s presence could move Uribe off third base this year or possibly replace Kendrick next year, but either way, he’s going to be an extra guy forcing his way onto the roster sooner rather than later.

But there’s no sense crying over every mistake.

You just keep on trying till you run out of cake.

Leave it to Urban Dictionary to supply the definition you want for a word, regardless of what that definition is. The second definition for the third entry on Cake:“Money, as in what pays the billz.” Thanks L Dizzle, whoever you are.

It wasn’t even three years ago that Andre Ethier was a core part of the Dodgers plan and worthy of a five-year $85 million contract extension. Now, inferior to Puig and Crawford in the corners and unable to play center, he’s an extra part. Like Kemp, Ethier is a holdover from another era of Dodgers baseball and the no-holds methods the team is using now probably signal the end of his time in LA with the signing of another check sooner or later.

Let’s not forget that Howie Kendrick and Dee Gordon before him weren’t even supposed to be options at second base at all. In October 2013 the Dodgers signed Alex Guerrero to play second or shortstop, depending on what they did with Hanley Ramirez. Now, like Either, he seems slated for bench duty or a trade.

Now these points of data make a beautiful line.

And we’re out of beta, we’re releasing on time.

When all the pieces are assembled, the Dodgers are a force to be reckoned with, but a fragile one. Losing Kershaw or Greinke would raise serious doubts about the rotation. Losing Jansen for an extended time could uncover a bullpen without quality arms. The lineup could be amazing and has a bench that includes guys who could start, even if they are flawed, like Ethier’s platoon splits and limited defensive value. Justin Turner had a good 2014 but with a BABIP that could crater. With Uribe and Olivera as possible options for the bench or starting time in addition to the starters, there might not be enough time for Turner to regress, anyway.

Can the Dodgers win the NL West? Certainly. Will they? Probably. The Rockies and Diamondbacks aren’t doing themselves any favors this year, the Giants are defending champs but need some things to go right given their losses over the winter, and the Padres…well, it’s a heck of a rebuild for one winter.

And so far none of this includes possible contributions by Corey Seager (shortstop of the future) or Julio Urias (future ace), an 18-year-old who might actually appear in the majors in 2015. It’s not likely, but it could happen. Pederson was the first to arrive, but this group could be the next Kemp, Ethier, and Kershaw – the late 2010s core to lead the Dodgers for the next decade.

I’m going to be bold and assume that the Dodgers will continue to add during the season if they need to – Cole Hamels is out there after all. 97 wins. First place. World Series…appearance.

And believe me I am still alive…

I feel FANTASTIC and I’m still alive.

Still alive…still alive


Statistics courtesy of Fangraphs and Baseball Reference

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