Dodgers' new blend could be right mix

Dodgers' blend could be right mix

VERO BEACH, Fla. -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have two things that any Major League club would want:

1. A surplus of pitching.

2. What appears to be an ideal blend of talented young players and solid veterans.

If you add these two components together you get a third commodity, which everybody also wants. That would be relative tranquility. After a tumultuous 2005 which resulted in the dismissal of both a manager and a general manager, the new GM, Ned Colletti, accomplished a rapid roster transformation that made the Dodgers good enough to win 88 games and gain the National League's Wild Card spot.

That was remarkable. What is every bit as striking now is how the Dodgers, in a matter of 16 months, have gone from being completely unsettled to being in very solid shape. They have pitching, they have the blend, and they have made what appear to be very helpful offseason acquisitions.

So the reasonable outlook is for more improvement in 2007. The Dodgers suffered a spate of injuries last year, but were not derailed because of the contributions of a wave of players from their farm system. Those players return, with more seasoning than they would have otherwise had.

The Dodgers added starting pitchers Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf. If both are healthy, the Dodgers are, given the presence of Derek Lowe and Brad Penny, truly imposing with four-fifths of their rotation. The Dodgers will settle on a No. 5 starter this spring, but the good news there is that they have a surplus of plausible candidates.

"We like the quality of pitchers that we've got here," manager Grady Little said Friday. "We've got a unique situation in that we've got about eight pitchers here in camp with us who are fully capable of starting for a lot of teams. We're going to pick five of them and go.

"But we feel good about the ones who aren't in the rotation at the outset, [that] more than likely we'll use them before the season's over in the rotation at some point or another. But we do know that they can give us a lot of good innings out of the 'pen, too.

"They're all good choices [for the No. 5 rotation spot]. We're in kind of a win-win situation there."

"We used 12 [starting pitchers] last year, so maybe we're a little bit behind," Colletti says with a smile. "It may look like a surplus on the outside, but I love the competition. Those who are in the mix, that make it, they're still going to be pushed by those who don't make it on Opening Day. Any time you have competition, it beats saying, 'All we've got is three starters, and so-and-so might be the fourth and I don't know where we're going to go for the fifth.'"

The Dodgers also added speedy center fielder Juan Pierre, one of the game's most proven performers in left fielder Luis Gonzalez and a solid veteran catcher, Mike Lieberthal.

When you consider that the young players, such as catcher Russell Martin and right fielder Andre Ethier, both 24, already established themselves with their performances in 2006, the Dodgers seem to have assembled something close to the classic blend of youth and veterans.

"I like the blend on this club," Little said. "I liked the blend that we had on this club last year. Sometimes it was brought about by injuries, but it's good to have that mix. It's good to have that mix as long as you've got the right people."

"We've set out to do it that way," Colletti says of the blend of players. "I was blessed coming in a little more than a year ago, with a real solid farm system, good player development people and a successful scouting group. I give a ton of credit to Grady and his staff, because, due to the injuries we had, the kids were the next best choice. We had seven rookies on the postseason roster, which speaks volumes. And they weren't just September callups. Most of these players made anywhere between major contributions and very big contributions to the club.

"Could last year have gone better? Sure. We could have kept [Eric] Gagne healthy all year, and [Yhency] Brazoban, and Nomar [Garciaparra] and [Kenny] Lofton and [Jeff] Kent, couple others, here and there. We could have gone deeper in the playoffs, certainly. But when you tie it all together and you look at what was accomplished last year, it was a pretty solid year.

"The young players and veteran players were the perfect cast. Last year, we were trying to get to the bridge to cross the bridge into a new generation. I don't think we've crossed the bridge. I think we're on the bridge."

Now, on the bridge as opposed to trying to reach the bridge, the Dodgers add the prominent acquisitions. Colletti says that these players are vital not only for their obvious talent, but because of their characters and their knowledge of how the game needs to be played.

"We just don't sign players to sign players," Colletti says. "Sometimes we don't get the player we want, but we don't ever sign anybody we don't want. These players are here for a reason. It's important for me, whenever possible, to have players who will go to the wall."

The 2006 Dodgers, rebuilt on the fly, were a story of stunning transformation and a story of young talent being pressed into action, performing with veteran poise and capability. Now, with that talent in place, along with crucial free-agent additions, the second chapter of the story could be even more pleasing for the new-era Dodgers than the first.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.