Dodgers retooled roster with one objective in mind
After adding high-priced talent, ownership group embraces high expectations
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The goal for the Dodgers under Guggenheim Partners ownership is simple (just not easy):
Win the World Series. Again, and again, and again.
That's why they spent like crazy last summer on marquee names, and when that didn't work, they spent like crazy some more in the winter.
W: Kershaw L: Kontos
That's why at the organization meetings last fall, chairman Mark Walter talked about "responsibility and accountability," and why manager Don Mattingly's option for 2014 hasn't been picked up yet.
At the end of the day, this season could be the end of the line for just about anybody on the baseball side if the Dodgers can't supplant the Giants as the best team in the division, in the league, in the sport.
"You've got to beat the best to be the best," said ownership partner Magic Johnson. "Expectations? Enjoy it. You want to be picked last? This city is about expectations, come on man. That's what it's all about. Have fun with it, don't run away from it. Every team wants to win the World Series. If we don't, it's not the season that we wanted."
Johnson, the on-court maestro of the Showtime Lakers, is part-owner -- and maybe more important, executive bar-setter -- of the Dodgers. He prepared, he executed and he embodied toughness as a player, and with that in mind, he will be watching to see if his employees are as committed as he was then and is now.
It's one thing to disappoint a fan base. It's something else altogether to disappoint an icon.
So, yes, the pressure's on.
"I think it's healthy for everybody," said general manager Ned Colletti. "I can't think of being in a better spot than this spot."
The Dodgers roster is like the American economy: it isn't perfect, but it's better than it was. It should be, with a $230 million payroll.
That said, talent alone doesn't win. The Dodgers need to play a better quality of baseball physically and mentally than last year and avoid the late-season collapse that cost them a postseason berth.
As an answer to the Giants, the Dodgers' starting pitching now has a pair of aces in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and a confident Korean import in Hyun-Jin Ryu to join Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett; the batting order is potentially deeper than any Dodgers team in decades; and the bullpen is versatile enough to give the manager necessary weapons with hard throwers Brandon League, Kenley Jansen and Ronald Belisario handling the late innings.
One thing the owners were taught already this spring is that money can't buy health, so the Dodgers must overcome the two-month loss of shortstop and No. 5 hitter Hanley Ramirez right out of the gate.
Ramirez wasn't going to win a Gold Glove Award, but his injury created chaos on the left side of the infield. Mattingly initially had Luis Cruz moving from third base to shortstop, then flip-flopped at short during the Freeway Series by bringing Justin Sellers back from the Minor Leagues and sending Cruz back to third base.
Whether Ramirez even returns to shortstop when he's healthy is another question to be answered.
Health also can't be rushed, so it remains to be seen whether Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford have healed enough from operations to approach their top production potential, or whether Greinke and Billingsley have overcome minor ailments to be at peak form early.
As demonstrated last year, if there is one player the Dodgers can't afford to lose it's Kemp. But at least with Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and eventually Ramirez, the run-production burden wouldn't fall on Andre Ethier.
"Coming into this season, we're a lot better off to absorb something than last year," said Mattingly. "When Matt had the hamstring last year, we survived it the first time, but not the second one. We asked [Hairston], and played him too much and he got hurt. Juan Rivera got hurt. It's hard to say we're better off without Hanley, but there are still a lot of talented guys capable of doing things."
Greinke, Crawford and Ryu aren't the only new faces. Skip Schumaker has been added as a left-handed backup for Mark Ellis at second base and Kemp in center field, while J.P. Howell was signed to be the left-hander in the bullpen after Scott Elbert needed a second elbow operation.
A.J. Ellis returns as the quarterback behind the plate and Tim Federowicz has been promoted from the Minor Leagues as his understudy.
"This team has more depth, has more talent than last year's team," Colletti said. "Last year's team, especially early, played so hard and so well. So even though this year's team has more talent, it has to play equally as well to succeed."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.