Sarah's Take: NL West-favorite Dodgers can improve
By Sarah D. Morris
Since the Los Angeles Dodgers have won an unprecedented four straight National League West Division titles, they still are considered the favorites in 2017.
They have re-signed all their high-profile free agents -- Rich Hill, Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen. This was good news for Dodger fans because they were valuable to the team's division-title effort in 2016. However, the team needs to do more if it wants to reach the World Series. There is about a month before the catchers and pitchers report for Spring Training. This leaves plenty of time for the front office to improve the team.
Everyone was surprised when the Dodgers traded Howie Kendrick to the Phillies early this offseason. In 2015, he was L.A.'s everyday second baseman, and he did an excellent job both offensively and defensively. In '16, the Dodgers made him a super utility player. He performed well everywhere he played, but switching positions constantly didn't make him comfortable anywhere.
Although Chase Utley wants to return to his hometown team, at 38, he isn't an everyday player anymore. The Dodgers should re-sign him as a pinch-hitter. The biggest question surrounding the Dodgers this offseason is who will play second base.
Charlie Culberson, whose home run clinched the Dodgers' fourth straight NL West championship and gave Vin Scully a dramatic last call at Dodger Stadium, was removed from the 40-man roster. He could have played second base, but he doesn't have much power. There have been reports that the Dodgers might trade for an established second baseman. But who do they have to trade?
On paper, the Dodgers look like they have a surplus of outfielders. However, they have used every available outfielder to get through the season each of the past two years. This upcoming campaign probably won't be any different.
Andre Ethier, almost 35, didn't make his 2016 debut until September due to a broken shin he sustained in Spring Training. No one knows how well he will play this season. Neither Ethier nor Joc Pederson hits well against lefties, and the Dodgers' overall inability to hit left-handed pitching was a major weakness in '16. Andrew Toles, a pleasant surprise last year, is a left-handed hitter and probably won't do well against left-handed pitching. Kiké Hernandez is coming off a tough offensive season, and the Dodgers might need him at second base.
Although some want the Dodgers to trade Yasiel Puig, the Dodgers will need him. Hamstring problems had plagued him and affected his performance the past two seasons. After a month-long demotion to Triple-A, when he worked hard on his ability to adapt to new pitch sequences and learned how to control his aggressiveness within the strike zone, he had a great September. Unless the Dodgers keep Scott Van Slyke -- who is eligible for arbitration after an injury-plagued season -- and Trayce Thompson returns from the back injury that ended his season in July, Puig is the only true right-handed outfielder that the Dodgers have. What's more, during his career, he has done satisfactorily against left-handed pitching.
Although the Dodgers have been stockpiling starting pitchers, they have a weak starting rotation. Behind Clayton Kershaw and Hill, they have a bunch of question marks. Even Kershaw and Hill have questions. Coming off a season when he missed significant amount of time with a mild herniated disk in his lower back, no one knows whether Kershaw can hold up for the entire season. During his career Hill has been plagued with injuries, including blister problems last season.
Kenta Maeda was the most durable Dodgers starter in 2016, and he usually couldn't go more than five innings in his games. Before the Dodgers signed him, he had irregularities on his elbow MRI, indicating he may need Tommy John surgery sometime in the future. The Dodgers have both Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy, but they are likely to repeat their inconsistent '16 performances. Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, and Brock Stewart are rookies who have shown great potential, but no one knows how they will do on the Major League level for an extended period. The Dodgers would benefit from signing another good starter.
The Dodgers also need to rebuild their bullpen. Last season, it was the main reason the Dodgers went to the playoffs, and its weariness kept them out of the World Series. The Dodgers must find a setup man for Jansen.
It will be intriguing to see what moves the Dodgers will make before Spring Training begins.
Sarah D. Morris can be reached at email@example.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.