MLB.com Columnist

Richard Justice

Deep Dodgers favorites to capture NL West

Front office retained core and added key pieces in productive offseason

Deep Dodgers favorites to capture NL West

PHOENIX -- When last season ended and the Los Angeles Dodgers had some time to sort through the whole thing, this is what they decided: They had a good thing going.

"I've been around a lot of really good teams, and you get to the end of the year and look back and critically assess it as you look ahead, and feel you need to make some changes," Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "As we got to the end of last year, we felt really strongly that the group we had, if we could retain it and augment around it, was what was in our best interests."

That wouldn't be as simple as it sounded. Three prominent Dodgers -- closer Kenley Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and left-hander Rich Hill -- were entering free agency.

The club had the money to sign them, but when players test the market -- and all three did -- there's a degree of uncertainty. In the end, all three re-signed with the Dodgers for contracts totaling $192 million.

When Los Angeles also re-signed infielder Chase Utley and added reliever Sergio Romo and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, the offseason bill was a few dollars short of $200 million, tops in the Major Leagues.

Utley's two-run double

And now the Dodgers are solid favorites to win a fifth straight National League West title. They're built around baseball's best pitcher, Clayton Kershaw, and one of its five or six best position players, shortstop Corey Seager, the 2016 NL Rookie of the Year Award winner.

Los Angeles may have baseball's deepest rotation and an everyday lineup that gives manager Dave Roberts all sorts of options. This flexibility is the byproduct of a season in which the Dodgers overcame a ridiculous number of injuries to get back to the playoffs and push the Cubs to Game 6 of the NL Championship Series.

The Dodgers tied a franchise record by using 55 players, including 31 pitchers (15 starters). They played without Kershaw for two months, and 28 players spent time on the disabled list, the most for any club in the past 30 seasons. Rookie pitchers started 70 games and won 30.

Seven rookies were on their postseason roster, including two pitchers -- Brock Stewart and Grant Dayton -- who started the season in Double-A, and an outfielder -- Andrew Toles -- who began in Class A Advanced.

Top Prospects: Toles, LAD

"It was a tremendous organizational accomplishment," Friedman said. "The number of fingerprints on the success of our team spanned virtually every department."

This is how all that depth is manifesting itself this spring: Five starting pitchers are competing for two spots behind Kershaw, Hill and Kenta Maeda, and at least six outfielders are in the mix for playing time. There's also Cody Bellinger, L.A.'s top prospect according to MLB Pipeline, who may force his way onto the roster in some kind of super-utility role.

Bellinger's go-ahead solo homer

Depth is an odd thing. Every team craves it and tries to acquire it. But when there's too much, it can create headaches. This is why the Dodgers are effusive in their praise of Roberts and his ability to get players focused on the big picture.

"Even though we've got some guys with incredible resumes, everybody's pulling for each other," Hill said. "It's a real team atmosphere, a family atmosphere, and it starts at the top with Dave. The way he has been able to communicate with every single player in this locker room is incredible. Then that passes on to the guys in the clubhouse."

"[Roberts is] a serial optimist," Friedman said. "Even as we were going through some adversity, he never let that leak into our clubhouse. Also, our veteran players did a tremendous job welcoming our young players and helping to provide a soft landing spot."

For his part, Roberts pointed toward his veteran players, saying, "I think it was more of a collective understanding of what's best for all of us, what's best for the Dodgers."

Utley added, "It is a close group. They make fun of another, which is a healthy part of having a team. It's a good atmosphere. Guys come up here, and they immediately feel like they're part of the team."

The Dodgers haven't been to the World Series since 1988, so, yes, there's some unfinished business. But as Friedman said, "Our goal every year is to win the World Series. But I never want to minimize winning a division title. Everyone in and around the game knows how difficult that is. I feel very confident that if we continue to accomplish our regular-season goal, that we will accomplish our ultimate goal."

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. You can follow him on Twitter @richardjustice. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.