Star-studded Dodgers prepare for high expectations
Greinke, Ryu join already loaded roster to boost stakes; all eyes on Kemp's recovery
LOS ANGELES -- Magic Johnson, a five-time NBA champion who is now the face of another Southland franchise, says 2013 won't be a successful season if the Dodgers aren't in the World Series.
Chairman Mark Walter, whose Guggenheim Partners has bankrolled the most stunning financial reset in baseball history, tells an organizational meeting it's time for "responsibility and accountability."
Manager Don Mattingly is in the final year of his contract and was rejected when he asked to have his 2014 option picked up.
Spring Training opens for the Dodgers with a loaded roster and expectations to go with it. The built-in excuses of bankruptcy, TMZ-style ownership drama and shorthanded talent no longer apply.
It's winning time, or else.
Zack Greinke joins Clayton Kershaw to give the rotation a righty-lefty Cy Young tandem and Korean sensation Hyun-Jin Ryu has joined the fray, too. Carl Crawford makes his long-awaited debut to go along with last summer's other big-name additions -- Hanley Ramiez, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett.
Despite a $220 million payroll, they have a dozen players coming off some sort of injury, led by Matt Kemp and his repaired left shoulder, which is still recovering. Usually, as Kemp goes, so go the Dodgers.
And so it goes for a team that hasn't won a championship in 25 years.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Dodgers vs. White Sox, Feb. 23, 12:05 p.m. PT.
Dodgers vs. Giants, Apr. 1, 1:10 p.m. PT.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Will Matt Kemp rebound from shoulder surgery?
The Dodgers tend to win when he's sound and lose when he isn't, so his recovery from significant shoulder labrum surgery is the key from the dozen of players coming back from injuries. Nobody should be expecting any miracles -- it's a serious injury and his power is likely to return slowly and progressively.
2. Can Don Mattingly manage?
Mattingly didn't have a full deck his first two seasons, but he'll have no such explanation in the final season of his contract. He's already said it will be a failure if the Dodgers don't win. He'll have Spring Training to develop chemistry and get everybody on the same page, but ownership demonstrated that he has something to prove by not guaranteeing his 2014 option year.
3. Can Crawford, Ramirez, Gonzalez and Beckett play anywhere near as well as they'll be paid?
Combined, they've made 14 All-Star teams and will receive $75 million in 2013. But Crawford has had two serious injuries since signing a $142 million contract with Boston; Ramirez, a former batting champ, has been a .252 hitter the past two years while swinging for the fences and hasn't played defense like an All-Star shortstop; Gonzalez's power decline is troubling; and Beckett went 7-14 last year.
86-76 (.531), second in NL West
Projected batting order
1. LF Carl Crawford:
.282 BA, .306 OBP, .479 SLG, 3 HR, 19 RBI in 2012
2. 2B Mark Ellis:
.258 BA, .333 OBP, .364 SLG, 7 HR, 31 RBI in 2012
3. CF Matt Kemp:
.303 BA, .367 OBP, .538 SLG, 23 HR, 69 RBI in 2012
4. 1B Adrian Gonzalez:
.299 BA, .344 OBP, .463 SLG, 18 HR, 108 RBI in 2012
5. SS Hanley Ramirez:
.257 BA, .322 OBP, .437 SLG, 24 HR, 92 RBI in 2012
6. RF Andre Ethier:
.284 BA, .351 OBP, .460 SLG, 20 HR, 89 RBI in 2012
7. 3B Luis Cruz:
.297 BA, .322 OBP, .431 SLG, 6 HR, 40 RBI in 2012
8. C A.J. Ellis:
.270 BA, .373 OBP, .414 SLG, 13 HR, 52 RBI in 2012
1. Clayton Kershaw, 14-9, 2.53 ERA in 2012
2. Zack Greinke, 15-5, 3.48 ERA in 2012
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu, 9-9, 2.62 ERA in 2012 (Korea)
4. Chad Billingsley, 10-9, 3.55 ERA in 2012
5. Josh Beckett, 7-14, 4.65 ERA in 2012
The new guys
RHP Greinke: He has the No. 1 contract in history for a right-hander ($147 million), but he'll be No. 2 in the Dodgers rotation behind Clayton Kershaw in the latest iteration of a Koufax-Drysdale, Valenzuela-Hershiser lefty-righty Cy Young tandem of aces. Like Kershaw, his intellect is right there with his talented arm. He's no-nonsense in the clubhouse and a fierce competitor out of it.
LHP Ryu: Making up for being on the international sidelines in recent years, the Dodgers committed $62 million for the Korean left-hander -- and he's in the rotation, ready or not for the big leagues. He dominated in Korea, for whatever that's worth, and seems eager for the challenge of trying the same here. His fastball and change-up are said to be solid, but his bulky frame is impossible to ignore.
LHP Howell: His was a panic signing after the Dodgers learned that Scott Elbert needed a second elbow operation. Unlike the hard-throwing Elbert, Howell is a relative soft-tosser. Lefties hit only .200 against him last year with Tampa Bay, but he also walked a lot of them.
OF Skip Schumaker: With the encouragement of new hitting coach Mark McGwire, the Dodgers traded for Schumaker because they wanted an extra outfielder that could play center field behind Kemp and provide more left-handed offense than Tony Gwynn. He can also play second base if Mark Ellis needs a rest against a right-handed pitcher.
Prospects to watch
LHP Paco Rodriguez: He was as big of a surprise as any Dodger last year, the first player from the 2012 Draft to reach the Major Leagues. He isn't overpowering, but he isn't scared either. He has a deceptive delivery, plenty of weapons in the arsenal and could easily emerge as the primary lefty out of the bullpen.
C Tim Federowicz: No sense in another year at Triple-A, so Federowicz comes into camp as the tentative backup to starting catcher A.J. Ellis. Dodgers management considered Federowicz better than Ellis when it acquired him from Boston. Ellis has shown a big league bat, while Federowicz still has to prove his offense is good enough to supplant Ellis.
RHP Josh Wall: In an organization that didn't sign $200 million worth of free agent pitchers, Wall might be vying for an Opening Day roster spot. Chances of that don't look so good with the Dodgers' loaded staff, but they like him and kept him last year when they were trading a dozen other prospects.
OF/INF Alex Castellanos: Hard to see where he fits with the acquisition of Schumaker, who also can play the outfield and second base. Castellanos has a live bat looking for a position, so it will be interesting to see how he's handled in Spring Training. Most likely he returns to Triple-A, where he hit .328 last year.
RHP Stephen Fife: He actually pitched better for the Dodgers in five emergency starts than he did in the Minor Leagues, proving he's valuable insurance should another wave of injuries hit the pitching staff.
OF Yasiel Puig: He's not ready for the big leagues going into the season, but that $42 million contract also included a Major League roster spot, so it won't be a surprise to see him in Los Angeles by September, maybe earlier if his game and approach matures.
RHP Matt Magill: Magill pitched better at Double-A last year than at Single-A the year before, and he has the added benefit of having been signed by Chuck Crim, who is now the big league bullpen coach.
On the rebound
OF Kemp: Torn shoulder labrum is nearly as serious for a hitter as a pitcher. While Kemp said his recovery is "ahead of schedule," he also said he still has "bad days." He will be babied during Spring Training and it's likely that his power returns slowly and gradually as the season progresses. His patience and discipline will again be tested as he plays at less than 100 percent.
OF Crawford: In Boston, he wasn't even close to being the Crawford of Tampa Bay. Even before the elbow blew out, he had a wrist injury that could prove more troublesome than the elbow. He's remained planted in Houston over the winter while many of his teammates, even injured ones like Kemp, have been actively working in the Los Angeles community and working out at the team's Arizona facility. He appears to be the biggest question mark of the bunch.
RHP Billingsley: He could have chosen Tommy John surgery for a torn elbow ligament, which would have wiped out the 2013 season. Instead he chose platelet-rich plasma injections, knowing that if they don't work he'd need the surgery and miss the season anyway. The Dodgers are hopeful the elbow holds together, but not confident or they wouldn't have signed Greinke and Ryu.
SS Dee Gordon: It's not even clear he'll make the Opening Day roster with Ramirez penciled in at shortstop, and some believe he's destined to move to center field. Regardless, Gordon needs to stay healthy and make up for being rushed last year by refining all aspects of his game. All that said, if Ramirez doesn't look good at short in the Spring, Gordon could get the position back with Hanley moving to third.
RHP Jansen: He's cleared for all activities after recovering from surgery to fix an irregular heartbeat. He's also lost about 20 pounds and improved his diet. A converted catcher who was rushed to the Major Leagues, Jansen is already dominant, and his upside could be immense once he actually learns what he's doing. He's a real nice fallback if closer Brandon League struggles.
INF Jerry Hairston: He played very well during heavy use over the first half when the Dodgers were winning. But a torn hip labrum ultimately ended his season with surgery. When he's right, he gives the manager versatility and clubhouse leadership. He said he will have no limitations in Spring Training.
LHP Ted Lilly: Easily forgotten is that Lilly was off to the best start of his career when his shoulder went bad last year and needed surgery. There doesn't seem to be a place in the rotation if he's healthy and he doesn't profile as a reliever, so it's unclear how he'll fit in.
INF Juan Uribe: He makes the list again in an attempt to avoid a complete three-year bust. Management no longer expects him to be an everyday third baseman, but hopes that upcoming free agency will inspire him to remember how to hit. At his best, he would be a candidate to back up both corner infield spots.
RHP Javy Guerra: First knee surgery, then a strained oblique and finally shoulder surgery, so he's got some physical question marks. But only a year ago he came into the season as the closer. He no longer must live up to such expectations, but he still has the stuff to fill a middle role. He also has options.
RHP Matt Guerrier: He avoided surgery for an elbow flexor tendon with platelet-rich plasma injections and he said he's throwing without pain, but the jury will be out throughout Spring Training until he shows he can handle repeated use.
INF Justin Sellers: His kamikaze style of play resulted in back disk surgery and the acquisition of Nick Punto to replace him. Sellers didn't do himself any favors recently when he was arrested for reckless driving on a motorcycle.
SS Ramirez: The Dodgers told Ramirez when last year ended that they wanted him to work on his shortstop defense. But he hurt his shoulder during winter ball and became a designated hitter. With Team Dominican Republic, he's expected to share third base with Adrian Beltre and not shortstop with Jose Reyes. Not exactly what club officials had in mind. He'll open Spring Training at shortstop, but will be moved to third if his defense hasn't improved.
1B Adrian Gonzalez: This will be his third Classic for Team Mexico, and it hasn't seemed to negatively impact his play once those other two seasons started, so the biggest concern is missing that Spring Training bonding during cutoff and relay practice.
3B Luis Cruz: This will also be his third Classic, but Cruz is hardly a fixture like Gonzalez. In fact, he needs to show management that last year's second half was no fluke. A red flag was added when Cruz had a bad stint in Mexican winter ball, with club officials blaming it on illness. That said, he's the incumbent third baseman.
RHP Ronald Belisario: After one of the great comebacks of all comebacks, Belisario wants to represent the country that wouldn't let him leave for Spring Training in 2011. Belisario already has shown up in Arizona early for a second consecutive Spring Training.
LHP Paco Rodriguez: He has a chance to make an Opening Day roster only months after being drafted out of college, so leaving Spring Training is an odd way of doing it. But Rodriguez wants to represent Team Spain. With Scott Elbert out from two elbow operations, Rodriguez still can make the club.
INF Nick Punto: He's on Team Italy and as a veteran grinder, it's not like he'll be missing fundamentals crucial to his development.
RHP Joe Blanton: He moved down the I-5 to Anaheim after serving as a hired gun for the Dodgers down the stretch when Billingsley went down. The Dodgers won five of his last six starts, even though his ERA was a tick below 5.00.
OF Shane Victorino: Maybe he was pressing with free agency on the horizon, but Victorino was brought in to provide offense, and, other than 15 stolen bases, it didn't happen. He still wound up with a three-year, $39 million contract from Boston.
OF Juan Rivera: He showed added value when he was able to handle first base while James Loney struggled, but Rivera's bat seems to have lost the punch needed from an everyday corner player.
LHP Randy Choate: He really struggled to throw strikes after the Dodgers acquired him from Miami in the Ramirez trade. Lefties still have trouble hitting him.
C Matt Treanor: His playing time was extremely limited with A.J. Ellis emerging, so it was hard to judge Treanor, whose offense was well below his career numbers.
INF Adam Kennedy: Had a horrible start to the season as a bench player, then when his bat got hot his body broke down.
RHP Jamey Wright: A real pro who did exactly what was asked, serving as a long man and compiling a 3.72 ERA in 66 games. He was particularly effective down the stretch at age 37.
RHP Todd Coffey: He was acquired just before Spring Training to take the place of Blake Hawksworth, who had elbow surgery, only for Coffey to blow out early in the season and need elbow surgery of his own.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.