As you probably know by now, I am a Boston Red Sox fan. And although they are the 2013 World Series Champions and were very intriguing this past season with their cave man beards and their winning ways, I still thought that the Los Angeles Dodgers were last season’s most interesting team and will be again heading into 2014.
If you follow baseball at all (or even if you don’t; I’m looking at you, Hermie), you know that the Los Angeles Dodgers (formerly the Brooklyn Dodgers) have a storied legacy as one of the most prestigious organizations in not only baseball, but all of sports. Six World Series titles and a slew of Hall of Famers (including Sandy Koufax and Jackie Robinson) back that claim up. But as time has passed, the organization had fallen into a rut, so to speak, during the last few years. The state of California has been under the wrath of the San Francisco Giants throughout the 2000s. Well, that is, until Magic Johnson and his cronies of Guggenheim Baseball Management showed up on the scene.
As you may recall, back in 2012 there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the McCourt family and the ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. McCourt and his wife were going through a messy, tabloid leading divorce and the Dodgers organization didn’t know whether it was coming or going. It was essentially on the edge of bankruptcy.
Los Angeles had quickly become the laughing stock of the MLB.
No one laughs at Tinseltown, not as long as Magic Johnson is around anyway.
The former superstar of the NBA’s Los Angeles Lakers (this time the NBA cross reference is innocent, I swear!) and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten stepped in and agreed to purchase the Dodgers for a record breaking $2.15 billion. That’s right, I said billion. The amount shattered the mark for a U. S. sports franchise price tag, one previously set by the Miami Dolphins in 2009 when the team was purchased for $1.1 billion.
Although the 2012 season did not go as L.A. fans might have hoped, there’s no argument the organization began moving in the right direction. Under new ownership, a change in the roster – and in roster building philosophy – went into effect almost immediately. The Dodgers loaded up on talent during the latter half of the 2012 season, first executing a trade with the Miami Marlins for shortstop Hanley Ramirez. They grabbed outfielder Shane Victorino in a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies. Then came the headline grabber: a blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox for established but underperforming stars in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford and starting pitcher Josh Beckett (one that required them to take on those players’ massive contracts as well). In the offseason, the Dodgers signed prized free agent starter Zack Grienke to pitch alongside returning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw.
The aggressive moves gave manager Don Mattingly a ton of new toys to play with heading into his third season at the helm. After building that potent offense and pitching staff, the Dodgers were ready to make a big splash in 2013 – one that ironically ended with several splashes in the Diamondbacks’ outfield pool.
Well, it’s an interesting story.
As the new season was underway, the Dodgers got off to a rocky start and it didn’t take
long for the media to vulture their way in and stir up controversy. With the roster underperforming (and crazy injured) for the first several months, Mattingly found himself on the hot seat and the organization found itself searching desperately for answers. None of us could have predicted they would find their savior in the arrival of Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig. Puig didn’t just contribute to the team’s rebound from a disastrous start; he put them on his back and led them on the best 50-game run in baseball history.
No, the Dodgers didn’t win the World Series. But that’s the only thing that could have made their 2013 season more interesting. They won the National League West with ease and reached the NLCS before falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games. Had injuries not plagued the team all season, and in the playoffs particularly, I think they could have easily made it to the World Series and came very close to doing so anyways.
As for the 2014 season, there’s plenty of interest left to be had.
I look for Clayton Kershaw to sign a contract extension making him the highest paid pitcher in baseball history with what some have speculated will be a $300 million deal.
After months of agonizing speculation about his job, Mattingly is heading into the 2014 season a brand-new, three-year contract extension. He’s going to be the man calling the shots in L.A., and with as much talent as there is on the Dodgers’ roster he better win. Otherwise things could get very. . . well, for lack of a better word, interesting.
This offseason, the Dodgers inked Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million dollar deal. Despite the fact that we’ve never seen him actually play against Major League competition, he’s already been penciled in to replace Mark Ellis as the team’s every day second baseman next year. How he performs is anybody’s guess.
Will 2014 be the season of the Los Angeles Dodgers? I think so.
With Kershaw (the best pitcher in Major League Baseball) and Zack Greinke leading their rotation, the pitching will be more than stellar. And with All-Star infielders Gonzalez and Ramirez plus a finally, all-the-way, and at the same time fully healthy outfield trio of Puig, Crawford and Matt Kemp. . . that, my friends, is a recipe for a World Series Championship.
But a championship won’t come without its own 162-game roller coaster ride.
Can Kemp and Ramirez stay healthy this year? Will second-year Korean pitcher Hyun-Jin Ryu have another successful season? Will Mattingly be on the hot seat yet again? Will Kershaw and Grienke overpower the MLB’s premiere hitters? Will Puig slow his Ferrari down to a safe driving speed? Will they bring home a title to Dodgertown?
Love or hate L.A., we will most certainly be watching them this year. Because all of this makes the Dodgers the most interesting team in the MLB. All they needed was a little bit of Magic.