By Scott Bordow
It’s hard to call the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2016 season a failure, given that they reached the National League Championship Series, where they lost to the Chicago Cubs.
But it’s hard to call it a success, too, because after four straight National League West titles and a payroll that’s the envy of every major league club, nothing but a World Series appearance would suffice.
So call it what it was: a good season that ended, once again, in disappointment.
CACTUS LEAGUE: Coverage from azcentral sports and ASU’s Cronkite School
Clayton Kershaw is still the best pitcher in baseball but this could be the spring that left-hander Julio Urias emerges as the star everyone expected him to be since he was named the game’s top pitching prospect as recently as January 2016. Urias had a solid rookie season, going 5-2 with a 3.39 ERA and striking out 84 batters in 77 innings. Urias will again be on an innings limit but don’t be surprised if by midseason he’s the Dodgers’ No. 2 starter behind Kershaw.
This is one of those problems managers like to have: The Dodgers have too many options in the outfield. The lone certainty is that Joc Pederson will start in center, even after a 2016 campaign in which he hit just .246 and struck out 130 times in 406 at-bats. It’s the corner outfield spots that need to be worked out next month.
Andrew Toles may have the inside track in left field, given his impressive and somewhat surprising performance last year as a midseason call-up. He hit .314 in the regular season and followed that up by hitting .364 in the NLCS against the Cubs. If Toles does win the job in left, either Yasiel Puig or Andre Ethier would be the option in right. The Dodgers could trade the mercurial Puig but that would mean all three outfielders bat left-handed and Los Angeles was horrific against left-handed pitching last year. Ethier, who’s 34, is owed $35 million for the next two seasons and missed all of last year with a broken leg, so it’s unlikely Los Angeles could find a trade partner willing to take on his contract.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez still has two years left on the seven-year, $154 million deal he signed in 2012 so he’s not going anywhere any time soon, but the Dodgers could have a ready-made replacement, Cody Bellinger, a fourth-round draft pick in 2013. Bellinger, 21, led the Class-A California league last year in runs (97) and RBIs (103) and finished second in homers (30).
For a potential contributor this year, keep an eye on right-hander Brock Stewart, who posted a 1.79 ERA at three minor-league levels last season. Stewart, a sixth-round pick in 2014, projects as a starter but could factor into the Dodgers’ bullpen.
Manager: Dave Roberts.
2016 record: 91-71.
Big changes: For a team with a seemingly unlimited payroll, the Dodgers’ offseason moves had more to do with keeping the core together than bringing in any big-name free agents. To that end, Los Angeles re-signed closer Kenley Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and starter Rich Hill to contracts totaling a combined $192 million. The goal, of course: win a fifth consecutive NL West title and go a step further than they did last season.