Fresh outlook has Dodgers pumped for 2012

Fresh outlook has Dodgers pumped for 2012

Fresh outlook has Dodgers pumped for 2012
LOS ANGELES -- Adam Kennedy has lived through a baseball ownership transfer, and based on the way the last one played out, he can't wait for this one to play out.

"The one thing that I can say is similar," said the new Dodgers infielder who was an Angel when Arte Moreno bought the team from Disney, "is that both previous owners had run their course. You knew that the owners coming in had more pride in taking over than you can imagine."

Kennedy owns a World Series ring as evidence that the Angels' transition year of 2003 turned into a beautiful thing.

He's not predicting a replay with Frank McCourt selling the Dodgers for a record $2.15 billion to Guggenheim Partners, Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, et al, but he already senses the cloud of uncertainty lifting.

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"You always hope the players play the same every day regardless of the situation upstairs -- the field is one place where you can do what you do best -- but the fact of the matter is, it does have an effect on us as players."

So the Dodgers -- who showed up at Spring Training with the defending National League Cy Young Award winner, an MVP-worthy run producer and a payroll slashed through bankruptcy -- are buoyed by the imminent arrival of a front-office team that knows Los Angeles, knows baseball and knows how to make money.

Whether that translates into the first World Series championship in 24 years, that's a lot to ask, but at least nobody is worried anymore about whether payroll will be met. Incoming controlling partner Mark Walter said there is money left for players.

An extension for Andre Ethier is a likely early priority, since he's up for free agency in November and there's really nobody else that can do what he has done when healthy, as he showed with an extra-base fest in Spring Training.

Presumably, the Dodgers will be sufficiently capitalized that they won't need to throw in a top prospect to avoid paying the salary of a deadline acquisition, as they did in giving away Carlos Santana so the Indians would pay Casey Blake's paycheck.

General manager Ned Colletti also had to patch together the current roster with financial hands tied. He added veterans Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano to the starting rotation, which is headed 2011 NL Cy Young Award winner and Opening Day starter Clayton Kershaw. But after falling short in a run at free-agent slugger Prince Fielder, the only addition to the batting order was No. 2 hitter Mark Ellis, known more for his defense at second base.

The offensive load will be carried by Matt Kemp, rewarded for his monster 2011 season with a monster $160 million, eight-year contract. The Dodgers hope he leaves his frightening Spring Training strikeout rate in Arizona.

Run production picked up in the second half last year, and the team made a late run to finish with a winning record. As if a switch was flipped, Juan Rivera was claimed at the All-Star break and became an RBI machine, while James Loney suddenly found his stroke again.

It didn't hurt having Dee Gordon terrorizing opposing pitchers with his game-changing speed, and now the Dodgers have him from Opening Day, confident his slight frame is ready for the rigors of the dual role of shortstop and offensive catalyst.

While hope is not a strategy, that's where the Dodgers are at third base, hoping Juan Uribe isn't Andruw Jones revisited. He's only asked to be a seventh hitter in a lineup that includes new catcher A.J. Ellis, a human walk machine who has shown improved hitting when he thinks contact.

The bullpen was rebuilt on the fly last season, with Javy Guerra the closer, Kenley Jansen the closer-in-training and Jonathan Broxton in Kansas City. Hong-Chih Kuo also is gone, with Scott Elbert maturing into a left-handed setup man. There should be enough veteran middle relievers -- Mike MacDougal, Matt Guerrier, Todd Coffey, Jamey Wright -- to keep any of them from suffering the workload that was heaped on Guerrier early last season.

Versatile Jerry Hairston, Kennedy and backup catcher Matt Treanor have been added to bolster the bench.

While the focus has been -- and will continue to be -- the refreshing change upstairs, it's still up to the players on the field to prevent the Dodgers from yet one more notable blemish. If they don't finish first or second this year, it will be the first time they've missed a top-two finish for three consecutive seasons since the Daffy Dodgers years of 1925-38.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.