Normally a manager with three straight National League West titles on his resume gets a raise, not a pink slip. But the Los Angeles Dodgers aren't your typical franchise, and when you have the highest payroll in league history, more is expected than just a division flag.
The Dodgers did win the West for a third straight season in 2015 with a 92-70 record, eight games ahead of second-place San Francisco. They were the NL pennant favorites entering the postseason, as any team with Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke should be. However, Kershaw lost Game 1 of the NLDS at home to the Mets, and Greinke took the defeat in the clinching Game 5 at Dodger Stadium. The Dodgers have now gone nine postseason appearances without a trip to the World Series, tying the all-time mark (Athletics and Braves).
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Yet another season short of a World Series, which the Dodgers haven't played in since winning in 1988, was the final straw for the front office. So Manager Don Mattingly was let go. His regular-season record was great, but the Dodgers won just one postseason series under him. They were 8-11 overall in the playoffs under Mattingly.
Instead of going the big-name route to replace Mattingly, the team gave former big-league outfielder Dave Roberts his first managerial job in a minor surprise over favorite Gabe Kapler. Roberts is the first minority manager of the team that broke baseball's color barrier. One allure of Roberts reportedly was the belief he would instill more of a business-like atmosphere in the clubhouse like the Yankees used to have with Joe Torre. Roberts is the son of a U.S. Marine, so he knows all about rules.
Los Angeles opens the season April 4 at San Diego.
Dodgers 2016 Projected Lineup
When the Rookie of the Year odds come out, the heavy National League favorite will be Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager, who will lead off. He's the No. 1 prospect in baseball and hit .337 with four homers and 17 RBIs in 98 late-season at-bats in 2015. The Dodgers got very little production from that position last year with Jimmy Rollins, who's now gone.
Otherwise, the every-day lineup should look the same, although L.A. still has a problem of too many outfielders. It was thought that second baseman Howie Kendrick was going to leave as a free agent, but he didn't find much out there and re-signed in late January. He batted .295 with nine home runs and 54 RBIs in 2015 and will hit second.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez (.275, 28 HRs, 90 RBIs) is Mr. Consistent and bats third. He's followed by underrated third baseman Justin Turner (.294, 16 HRs, 60 RBIs) and left fielder Andre Either (.294, 14 HRs, 53 RBIs). Carl Crawford is still around and he will also play left at times but appears to be the odd man out for now. The Dodgers would still love to trade Ethier or Crawford, but they'd have to eat too much salary.
The key to the lineup is likely mercurial Yasiel Puig, who is in right field and slotted for sixth. He was limited to 79 games last year and hit just .255 with 11 homers. Puig apparently isn't liked much in the clubhouse, either. He could also be facing a suspension because he was involved in a fight with a bouncer at a Miami bar after an argument with his sister in November. If Puig can get his head on straight, he could be an MVP candidate.
Catcher Yasmani Grandal (.234, 16 HRs, 47 RBIs) and center fielder Joc Pederson (.210, 26 HRs, 54 RBIs) round things out. Pederson was the NL Rookie of the Year favorite even over Kris Bryant at last season's All-Star break but then fell off a cliff in the second half.
Dodgers 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
L.A. was fifth in the majors in ERA last season thanks in large part to the best 1-2 rotation punch in MLB in Kershaw and Greinke. L.A. wanted to re-sign Greinke after he opted out of his deal, but the Diamondbacks swooped in with crazy money. Greinke was the Cy Young runner-up after going 19-3 with league-best 1.66 ERA.
Obviously, there's no replacing Greinke, but the Dodgers still have the incomparable Kershaw atop the rotation. He was 16-7 with a 2.13 ERA and MLB and career-high 301 strikeouts. It was the first 300-strikeout season by anyone since 2002. The Dodgers also bring back lefties Brett Anderson (10-9, 3.69 ERA) and midseason trade acquisition Alex Wood (12-12, 3.84). Anderson is always an injury worry and Wood was disappointing after coming over from Atlanta in trade at the deadline.
To fill Greinke's shoes, the team went with depth, inking lefty Scott Kazmir (7-11, 3.10) and Japanese right-hander Kenta Maeda. The latter got an unusual eight-year deal that limits the Dodgers' liability because it's a near certainty that he will need Tommy John surgery at some point due to some irregularities in his right elbow. Maeda, 28, was 97-67 with a 2.39 ERA in eight seasons in Japan's top league. He's not seen as an ace like Yu Darvish but a mid-rotation guy. The Dodgers are also hoping Korean lefty Hyun-Jin Ryu can be ready by late April or early May off shoulder surgery that cost him all of 2015.
The bullpen might have been the best in the majors this season, but a deal for Cincinnati's Aroldis Chapman fell through because of his legal issues. Kenley Jensen (36 saves, 2.41 ERA) retains the closing spot.
Dodgers Futures Odds & 2015 Trends
At Bovada , Los Angeles is +1000 to win the World Series, +550 to win the NL pennant and a +150 second-favorite in the NL West. The Dodgers have an "over/under" wins total of 90.5, with both at -115. Pederson is +6600 to lead the majors in homers, Puig is +10000 and Gonzalez is +20000. Kershaw is the +150 Cy Young favorite. L.A. was 73-89 against the spread last season and 78-79-5 O/U.
Dodgers 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Los Angeles to finish 91-71 and win the NL West by six games over San Francisco. I know a lot of people are on the Giants' bandwagon with their offseason moves, but I believe the Dodgers will win the West again -- barring injury to Kershaw. There are really no glaring holes on the team, especially once Ryu is healthy. And you know the team will spend money to add help if need be. Go over the wins but no pennant.
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Read more articles by Alan Matthews
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