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Dodgers Features: Artist Recreates Baseball Moments In Lithographs

Stephen Burkett is an artist from Michigan, who created this lithograph, reproducing Clayton Kershaw's no-hitter on June 18. Courtesy: ABS Sketch Cards & Lithographs

Stephen Burkett is an artist from Michigan, who created this lithograph, reproducing Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter on June 18. You can purchase yours for $30 plus shipping at ABSSportsArt.com. Courtesy: ABS Sketch Cards & Lithographs

1952_MantleBy now you have seen a few different reproductions of Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter from June 18 against the Rockies, but have you gotten to see the above lithograph which was produced by Stephen Burkett of ABS Sketch Cards & Lithographics.

DodgersOD.com was granted the opportunity to speak with Burkett about his artwork.

First off, he’s 32, and from Wyandotte, Michigan, 14.5 miles away from Detroit, or the equivalent of Downey to Dodger Stadium.

His Beginnings

Art has been in Burkett’s life from the very beginning, and it all started with a 1952 Topps Mickey Mantle Rookie Card.

It hooked him to continue a dedication to art.

Although in high school, after his freshman year, he decided to take some time away from it, after his art teacher didn’t like his work.

“I would be drawing everyone else’s final assignments, and they would get better grades than what I received. So I stopped making art,” Burkett said.

Once he got to college at Wayne State University though, he decided to pursue it anew.

See more:
http://www.dodgersod.com/artist-recreates-dodgers-moments/

 

Odds That Dodgers Players Get Into The All Star Game

Jun 25, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) is congratulated in the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 25, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers right fielder Yasiel Puig (66) is congratulated in the dugout after scoring in the third inning against the Kansas City Royals at Kauffman Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

On last night’s edition of Dodger Talk, which followed the Dodgers’ 3-1 loss to the Cardinals, Jorge Jarrin was asked to name his Dodgers All-Stars. He named the usual suspects – Yasiel Puig, Clayton Kershaw and Dee Gordon. But, the fourth name on his list? Brandon League.

Yeah, League’s name was brought up before Hanley Ramirez, Zack Greinke or Josh Beckett. Heck, maybe even J.P. Howell should be the “bullpen guy” over League.

(Before I continue, you should know that I don’t care too much about All-Star selections. And, I hate that it counts toward anything that may help decide who wins the World Series. Let’s take a look Derek Jeter and the American League All-Star team’s situation this year. Sure, fans may want to honor Jeter’s final year. If the teams are decided by fan voting, that’s absolutely the way it should be. But, he is not the best shortstop in the AL. Considering that the AL is actually trying to win this to secure home field, he may not be the best option at short. Oh, and don’t get me started on the “every team is represented in the game” rule. So, I still root for Dodgers to get in, but I generally ignore it.)

That topic made me wonder, who will actually represent the Dodgers at Target Field? Because, y’know, this time it counts.

Read more:
http://www.dodgersod.com/dodgers-odds-all-star-game/

Dodgers Looking To Regain Bullpen Advantage?

Jun 20, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Brian Wilson pitches during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 20, 2014; San Diego, CA, USA; Los Angeles Dodgers relief pitcher Brian Wilson pitches during the eighth inning against the San Diego Padres at Petco Park. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

A need to improve the Dodgers’ bullpen was expressed by general manager Ned Colletti with the MLB’s non-waiver trade deadline just over a month away.

Colletti talked with the Los Angeles Times, telling it that the bullpen scenario was one that the team felt was one of its key strengths, and he needs to make it better collectively.

When the team signed Chris Perez in the offseason and re-signed Brian Wilson, most figured that the team was adding two former, legitimate closers to compliment the team’s stopper, Kenley Jansen.

Instead, they have disappointed.

See more:
http://www.dodgersod.com/dodgers-looking-regain-bullpen-advantage/

Are The Angels Still Seeking Relief Help?

Jun 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Scott Downs (37) walks to the dugout in the seventh inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jun 3, 2014; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Chicago White Sox relief pitcher Scott Downs (37) walks to the dugout in the seventh inning of the game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

Jason Grilli was acquired in an effort to stabilize a shaky Los Angeles Angels bullpen Friday, but they might not be done, as the team’s general manager called it a “first step” in his relief corps.

He would allegedly like to add a situational left-handed pitcher and another option for the ninth inning, allowing for manager Mike Scioscia to use current closer, Joe Smith, in a more versatile role, according to Alden Gonzalez of MLB.com.

Candidates

Scott Downs could find himself back in Anaheim after being designated for assignment on Thursday by the White Sox. He posted a 9-7 record and 2.10 ERA in three seasons with the Angels before moving on with the Braves and White Sox.

In the two seasons since his departure he is 2-3 with a 5.32 ERA, mostly due in part to his hits/9 spiking up from an average of 7.6 while with the Angels, to 12.2 with the Braves in 2013, and 9.1 with the White Sox this season.

His FIP of 3.69 is indicative that he is a good candidate to improve upon his season.

Then there’s Huston Street, the best reliever said to be available on the market. But for the price he’s said to be worth, the Angels are likely to pass. And that package could start with Kole Calhoun or C.J. Cron, and the Angels could do better on that front.

Another candidate could be Tony Sipp, whose 0.67 WHIP since joining the Astros could make him an attractive target on the cheap. He’s not eligible to be a free agent until 2016.

Prediction

Look for Downs to go back to Anaheim. He flourished there and could do so again for a struggling Angels bullpen that is letting a contending team down.

Moneyball 2.0 : Billy Beane and The Fly Ball

Coco_jpg_630x426_q85Coco Crisp will be playing in Oakland for the foreseeable future after agreeing to a two year extension worth $22.75 million in guaranteed money with an option for $13 million in 2017. He isn’t complaining, of course; he’s a 34 year old plus-defense, five-tool center-fielder that only recently has flashed the pop. And yet extending his contract was the perfect move for A’s General Manager Billy Beane.

Indeed, Billy Beane is into his magical budget bag again, and perhaps surprisingly, with his most impressive work to date.  In fact, that is really why the A’s, like in the early 2000’s when they splashed the cash to acquire Johnny Damon and Jermaine Dye to complement an already talented young core, have again flashed the purse in recent years with the unprecedented acquisition of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes, the free agent signing of pitcher Scott Kazmir and now this extension for Crisp. Cespedes’ own extension is right around the corner, too.  After all, when opportunity knocks, you don’t have long before it’s no longer standing at your.

Two years ago, Beane made the uncharacteristic move of pursuing Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes and making a four year offer, with the caveat that they wouldn’t offer arbitration after the deal expired which is stunningly short for a guarantee. Only it fits perfectly in Beane’s style: when you don’t have a lot of money to work with, you have to make sure that if you are going to pay star money, the player must really be one and Cespedes certainly has all the makings of one. The gamble here was that while risking that Cespedes could walk when he tested the free agent market after the four years were up, two years in, Cespedes wouldn’t necessarily want to leave Oakland; especially if all of Beane’s other projects worked out. Such as extending an integral cog like Crisp so that every A’s player except new closer Jim Johnson, shortstop Jed Lowrie, newly signed reliever Luke Gregerson and Alberto Callaspo are signed for the next two years. A two year extension for Cespedes doesn’t just make sense, it would be shocking if he didn’t accept it considering how good the A’s have been and how much stronger they look to become. This is a core that will compete through at least 2016.

However it isn’t just a business savvy mind that’s made Beane’s mastery of small market budgets effective and the reason why the A’s are back to back defending AL West Champions in a division with bloated, heavy spenders Texas and Los Angeles. They’re employing a new statistical machination, now that everybody else in MLB is hype to the sabermetrics that made Moneyball so widely popular: fly-ball rate. Most interesting about this shift in philosophy is that Beane is capitalizing on a trend towards ground-ball pitchers across baseball for the past few years by going completely against it, stocking up instead on fly-ball hitters like Brandon Inge, Jonny Gomes, Brandon Moss, Jed Lowrie, Josh Reddick and Seth Smith just to name a few. All of the afore-mentioned hitters had above-average fly ball rates when Beane acquired them.  Not surprisingly then, the A’s led the league in percentage of plate appearances by fly batters in 2013 at 60% and no team in the past decade has come even close.

The knock on fly-ball hitters is typically that they pop up a lot which is of course theoretically problematic playing half of every season at the Oakland Coliseum. This is true of the A’s who led the league in fly-outs and pop ups by a large margin. However, fly-ball hitters also hit a lot of line drives and the A’s were among the very best at hitting quality line drives which is probably the more relevant correlation as those often result in runs whether by way of extra base hits or homeruns. Fly ball hitters also make for very patient hitters and so the A’s were also among the top teams in walks while putting up gaudy team homerun numbers. Makes sense, then, why Coco Crisp, who hits lots of line drives and fly balls at the top of the order, was a priority for Beane this offseason. He fits the system perfectly.

There’s a lot to like about the A’s moving forward. With a strong rotation, possibly the toughest bullpen in all of baseball and a lineup of stat-defying fly-ball hitters, all on the fifth lowest payroll in the game, there’s plenty of optimism to go around that Billy Beane has done it yet again.

2014 American League West Preview: Moneyball Reloaded

The other day I took a look at the senior circuit.  Now it’s time for our AL West preview.  Despite one of the lowest payrolls in baseball the Oakland A’s have won the division two years in a row.  One of the most historically frugal franchises actually spent some money this offseason acquiring a couple of arms to strengthen their already incredibly deep pitching staff.

The AL West was one of the busiest divisions in the offseason.  In addition to Oakland’s surprising moves, the Texas Rangers made one of the biggest moves of the offseason acquiring Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for long-time second baseman Ian Kinsler.  The Angels traded slugger Mark Trumbo to the Arizona Diamondbacks for young, unproven pitchers Tyler Skaggs and Hector Santiago.  The long dormant Seattle Mariners also made major noise by claiming the biggest free agent of the offseason, former Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano.  The Mariners signed Cano to a 10-year/$240 million contract.  Although Cano’s arrival doesn’t turn the Mariners into immediate contenders, it does raise their stock in the division and puts the entire league on notice that Seattle is not messing around anymore.  Even the hapless Houston Astros made moves this offseason.  Let’s take a look at the AL West.

1. A’s

Last year (96-66, 1st place)

Key additions: Scott Kazmir, Jim Johnson, Nick Punto

Key losses: Bartolo Colon, Grant Balfour, Chris Young

The A’s were a Cinderella story in 2012, in 2013 they were a machine.  Despite fielding the third lowest payroll in all of baseball last year, the A’s still managed to send out a team with virtually no weaknesses.  They will attempt to do the same this year, imbued with new money that GM Billy Beane has never had at his disposal.  The A’s don’t really have any superstars, however, most baseball people will point to the fact that they don’t have any holes in the lineup or anyone who sucks.  The have tons of infield depth with emerging star Josh Donaldson and solid players like Brandon Moss and Jed Lowrie, not flashy, but highly capable guys.  The starting pitching lost some depth with the departure of Bartolo Colon and the injury to Jarrod Parker.  The A’s have the arms, but they lack an elite, front-line starter to intimidate opposing teams.  The starting lineup remains virtually the same revolving around Donaldson, Coco Crisp, Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes.  The bullpen remains one of Oakland’s strengths, although they essentially swapped out Grant Balfour for Jim Johnson in the closer roles.  So long as Oakland’s young pitching staff can hold their own in the friendly confines of Oakland Coliseum, the team should be able to contend for a playoff spot, if anyone misses a beat, we’ll see what happens.

2. RANGERS

Last year (91-72, 2nd place)

Key additions:  Prince Fielder, Shin-Soo Choo, J.P. Arencibia, Tommy Hunter

Key losses: Ian Kinsler, Nelson Cruz, Joe Nathan

After making the World Series in consecutive seasons in 2010-11 and winning the Wild Card in 2012, the Rangers failed to make the playoffs in 2013.  Despite winning their final seven games, they lost a play-in game to the Tampa Bay Rays.  The Rangers addressed their loss of power bats over the offseason by acquiring Prince Fielder from the Detroit Tigers for long time second baseman Ian Kinsler.  They also signed coveted free agent and hitting guru Shin-Soo Choo during the offseason.  Both Fielder and Choo should thrive in Arlington.  Trading away Kinsler also paves the way for wunderkind Jurickson Profar, giving the Rangers one of the sweetest double play combos in the game with Elvis Andrus.  Yu Darvish has emerged as one of the premiere starters in the game, and the Rangers continue to trot out quality arms including Matt Harrison, Alexi Ogando, and Derek Holland (when he returns from injury).  The Rangers will score a bevy of runs, and they appear to have enough in the starting pitching department to contend.  The Rangers one weakness could be in the bullpen where they lost closer Joe Nathan (just turned 39 in November) to free agency.  Joakim Soria will take over closer duties, and Neftali Feliz waits in the wings as well.  After two years of disappointment, the Rangers are reloaded as well.  There’s no doubt they will trot out one of the elite offenses in the game yet again, but, they lack the pitching depth behind Yu Darvish to truly contend for a title.

3. ANGELS

Last year (78-84, 3rd place)

Key additions: David Freese, Hector Santiago, Joe Smith, Raul Ibanez, Tyler Skaggs

Key losses: Mark Trumbo, Peter Bourjos, Jason Vargas

Ah, the old adage, money can’t buy happiness.  This is no truer than with the Angels.  The Angels have the consensus best player in all of baseball in Mike Trout and they’re not even close to sniffing the playoffs.  The Angels have the sixth highest payroll in all of baseball, and in terms of baseball savvy they’ve been well outdone by division rivals Oakland and Texas.  As far as what they’ve got on the field, Angels’ GM Jerry DiPoto did his best tryin  g to acquire young, cheap, pitching talent with upside (Skaggs and Santiago), since they just don’t have the money to shell out for premier pitchers in free agency.  Skaggs and Santiago will be a nice upgrade.  Hard throwing Garrett Richards should also crack the rotation.  This is a huge upgrade over the 33 starts of sheer dung they got from Joe Blanton and Tommy Hanson (5.82 ERA combined).  Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton should each rebound from the worst seasons of their professional careers.  There’s no doubt that the Angels will do better than they have over the past couple of years, but they still lack the pitching depth to get to the postseason.  At this point, Yu Darvish is far superior to both Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson.  Texas is trotting out a solid guy 1-5 every night, Oakland is too, the Angels just don’t have that guarantee.  Look for the Angels to contend for a Wild Card spot at best, but I would anticipate them coming up short again in 2014.

4. MARINERS

Last year (71-91, 4th place)

Key additions: Robinson Cano, Logan Morrison, Fernando Rodney, Corey Hart, Manager Lloyd McClendon

Key losses: Manager Eric Wedge, Aaron Harang, Joe Saunders, Kendrys Morales, Brendan Ryan, Jason Bay (lol)

The Mariners were one of the most aggressive teams in free agency this offseason.  They made the splash of the offseason by signing Robinson Cano to a 10 year/$240 million deal.  They also picked up other possible contributors in Corey Hart and Logan Morrison, instantly upgrading one of the AL’s worst offenses (AL worst .237 team batting average).  Kudos to the Mariners for spending some money, and why not.  Seattle hasn’t made the playoffs since 2001, and before last year, the Mariners finished in last place in the AL West four of the previous five years.  The Mariners have some solid young talent on the squad (Dustin Ackley, Kyle Seager, Mike Zunino), as well as two of the best arms in the game in Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma (out with a finger injury).  Even with the addition of Cano, it’s tough to view the Mariners as any type of a threat in the division.  They have one of the youngest lineups in the league (the only projected starters over 30 are Cano and Hart).  Behind Hernandez and Iwakuma, the rotation is also very young and untested.  Fernando Rodney is an upgrade at closer, but they Mariners don’t have the same bullpen depth of the Rangers, A’s, or even Angels in this case.  The Mariners should finish a lot closer to .500 this year, but that won’t be enough to end their postseason drought.

5. ASTROS

Last year (51-111, 5th place)

Key additions: Dexter Fowler, Scott Feldman, Chad Qualls, Jesse Crain

Key losses:  none

The Astros were beyond horrible last year.  They epitomized suck in such a way that one of the lasting images of their season is Jonathan Villar sliding into Brandon Phillips’ butt.  But this has all been for a purpose, the Astros are essentially conducting the MLB equivalent of what the Philadelphia 76ers are doing.  They have had three straight number one picks and they are letting their young talent sink and swim together.  After three straight 100-loss seasons (not a typo), the Astros have finally invested in some veteran players.  They acquired Dexter Fowler from the Colorado Rockies, and greatly improved their pitching (major league worst 4.79 team ERA) with the acquisition of veteran starter Feldman and some experienced arms for the bullpen.  This team is incredibly young, and they are so overmatched against the rest of the division that it’s not even funny.  However, this might be the first year the Astros improve, say 90-95 losses this year.  Help is on the way, Houston, just not in 2014.

 

2014 National League West Preview: In Blue We Trust

The 2014 MLB season is almost upon us.  The Los Angeles Dodgers will start the season this Saturday as they take on the Arizona Diamondbacks in a two game series in Sydney, Australia.  The rest of MLB will get underway on March 30, when the Dodgers will head to San Diego to take on the Padres.  Anticipation for the Dodgers has been high this year, the team fell two victories short of a World Series berth, and fans were left wondering what-if all offseason long after Hanley Ramirez’s broken rib in the NLCS.

The Dodgers will return mostly the same lineup in 2014 that took a sledgehammer to the rest of the division.  The Diamondbacks figure to be Los Angeles’s biggest competition, much like last year, and it will be curious to see if there’s any animosity between the two teams rears its head over the course of the season.  It’s an even number year, so, you know what that means, the Giants will also be back in the fold (World Series champs in 2010 and 2012, combined .500 record in 2011 and 2013).  Colorado and San Diego will also be vastly improved from last year, so let’s take a look at how things should work out in the NL West.

1. DODGERS

Last year (92-70, 1st place)

Key additions: Dan Haren, Paul Maholm, Justin Turner, Chris Perez

Key losses: Mark Ellis, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Chris Capuano

Who says money can’t buy happiness?  Thanks in part to the star power afforded by their $234 million payroll, the Dodgers enter 2014 as the clear cut favorites to win the West.  The Dodgers won the division by 11 games, thanks to an insane stretch in July and August where they won 37 of 45 games.  The Dodgers have the best, deepest starting pitching in the division, (exhibit A, Clayton Kershaw’s new 7-year $215 million deal).  They have a dominant back end of the rotation that they strengthened by adding former Cleveland closer Chris Perez.  Oh, and the lineup.  The only real question mark is at second base where the Dodgers will miss the solid veteran presence of Mark Ellis, who signed with St. Louis during the offseason.  It looks as though Dee Gordon will start the season at second base.  Gordon had a solid spring hitting .286 with four triples, and nine stolen bases in 18 games this spring.  The team signed Cuban defector Alex Guerrero to a four year/$28 million deal this offseason, but it appears he will start the season in the minors after the Australia trip.  Health will be key for the Dodgers; barring any serious injuries, there’s no reason this team won’t run away with the division, especially if Matt Kemp can finally return healthy and be an impact player again.  If injuries rear their ugly head, things could go south as they did in the playoffs.

2. GIANTS

Last year (76-86, T-3rd place)

Key additions: Tim Hudson, Michael Morse

Key losses: none (Barry Zito doesn’t count)

Feel the pain, Giants fans!  2013 was a rough year for a team that had just won the World Series the previous October.  Most baseball pundits attribute the Giants down year to fatigue and some down years from members of the pitching staff.  Matt Cain had a 4.00 ERA, well off his career 3.35 ERA, and his worst since his rookie season in 2006.  Tim Lincecum posted a 4.37 ERA, which was an improvement on 2012 when he had a career worst 5.18 ERA, both well of his career 3.46 mark.  Lincecum did throw a no-hitter and he’s still a great pitcher who racks up a ton of strikeouts (8.8 K’s/9), but it seems the guy who won back-to-back Cy Youngs in 2008 and 2009 is not coming back.  Ryan Vogelsong looked more like the guy who’s been a career journeyman in 2013 than the guy who contributed to a World Series in 2012 before suffering a broken hands.  Adding Tim Hudson will help.  Like the Dodgers, the Giants have virtually no questions in the starting lineup.  Buster Posey will continue to be a force, and Pablo Sandoval reported to Spring Training in much slimmer shape than he’s ever been.  This is not the team that won the 2012 World Series, but it’s certainly not the team that finished 10 games under .500 last year either.  Look for the Giants to finish somewhere in between that this year.

3. DIAMONDBACKS

Last year (81-81, 2nd place)

Key additions: Mark Trumbo, Bronson Arroyo

Key losses: Adam Eaton

I had the D’Backs finishing higher before the news broke that their young ace Patrick Corbin had a torn UCL in his elbow, and is likely headed toward Tommy John surgery.  Arizona is now dangerously thin in the starting pitching department, a necessity in the NL West to keep up with the Dodgers and San Francisco.  Arizona added Bronson Arroyo in the offseason, and now he might be their ace to start the season with Corbin sidelined.  They have arms in the bullpen, but no one who’s really lights out.  The combo of J.J. Putz and Brad Ziegler just doesn’t strike as much fear into opponents as Jansen and Wilson or Romo and Casilla.  Arizona has a bona fide superstar in NL MVP runner-up Paul Goldschmidt, and now he has another bat to back him up with the addition of Mark Trumbo.  They could combine for 80 homeruns in hitter friendly Chase Field, but teams will pitch around Goldschmidt to get to Trumbo, who power aside, is not exactly the best situational hitter (career .250 BA, .299 OBP), and the thought of Trumbo traversing that spacious left field is downright scary.  Gerardo Parra is a whiz with the glove, but you’ve got to hit more than 10 home runs if you’re going to strike out 100 times.  Martin Prado and Aaron Hill are solid, and the D’Backs have two wunderkinds they can trot out at shortstop between Didi Gregorius and Chris Owings.  The D’Backs will score some runs and win some games, but without the pitching, it’s unrealistic to view the D’Backs as a true contender.

4. ROCKIES

Last year (74-88, 5th place)

Key additions: Brett Anderson, Drew Stubbs, Justin Morneau

Key losses: Todd Helton, Dexter Fowler

It was pretty much rock bottom for Colorado last year, so there’s really nowhere for them to go but up.  The Rockies still might have the best 1-2 offensive punch in the division.  Troy Tulowitzki put up a line of .312/.391/.540 with 25 HR and 82 RBI despite only playing in 126 games.  Carlos Gonzalez’s season was even more cruel, .302/.367/.591 with 26 HR and 70 RBI in only 110 games, holy s**t.  Imagine if they’d stayed healthy.  The offense is solid and the Rockies have a nice mix of veteran (Michael Cuddyer, Justin Morneau) and young (Nolan Arenado, Wilin Rosario) players.  However, as any baseball fan knows, the Rockies problem is always pitching.  The Rockies pitching staff had a 4.44 ERA, worst in the NL, and third worst in all of baseball.  The Rockies actually have two front line starters in Jorge De La Rosa and Jhoulys Chacin, but everything after that last year, was a mess.  Last year the Rockies got 34 starts of sheer incineration from an injured Drew Pomeranz, the remains of Jon Garland and Roy Oswalt, and some dude named Jeff Manship.  Dang.  They traded for the promising, but oft-injured Brett Anderson, from the A’s, so he should help, a healthy Tyler Chatwood will help too.  The Rockies will be a fun team to watch, but they just don’t have the battalion of arms necessary to win the division.

5. PADRES

Last year (76-86, T-3rd place)

Key additions: Seth Smith, Josh Johnson, Joaquin Benoit

Key losses: none

Hope for Padres fans?  Eh, not really.  The Padres return in 2014 virtually unchanged from last year, which usually doesn’t happen, as the Padres work on a budget.  As usual, they’ve developed some nice young arms, who many baseball pundits are picking to take the next step this year (Andrew Cashner, Tyson Ross).  San Diego will need all they can get from those guys, there’s not much else behind them.  Eric Stults is solid, but he is who he is at this point, and it’s shocking to think that Ian Kennedy is only two seasons removed from finishing fourth in Cy Young voting (4.64 ERA since).  PETCO Park remains a wasteland for offense.  The Padres played much better after the all-star break, but .500 play won’t be good enough to win this tough division.  Stay classy, San Diego.

Dodgers Spring Training: Points of Interest

Alexander+GuerreroThe Los Angeles Dodgers head into Spring Training with very high hopes this year. The team came within two games of making the World Series in 2013, and they ran away with the NL West, winning the division by 11 games. The Dodgers are heavily favored to win the division again in 2014. Most of the lineup is set, but let’s take at look at some points of interest for the Dodgers as they prepare to open the season in Australia on March 22.

The only change in the Dodgers’ starting lineup will be at second base. The team signed Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero to a 4-year, $28 million contract during the offseason. He will replace the departed Mark Ellis, who signed a 1-year, $5.25 million deal with the St. Louis Cardinals. All of the scouting reports say Guerrero is a right handed power hitter, and provided he’s ready for the major leagues his bat is a major upgrade over the 36-year old Ellis, who is a career .265 hitter. Ellis hit 13 home runs in two seasons as the Dodgers everyday second baseman. Guerrero figures to surpass that mark in a whole season.

The Dodgers will miss Ellis’s superior glove at second base. Despite never having won a gold glove, Ellis is an elite defensive second baseman with a career fielding percentage of .991. In 229 games over two seasons with Los Angeles, Ellis committed only nine errors. Wow! Not only will they miss his glove, the Dodgers no longer have as much depth in the infield. Veteran utility-men Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, and Jerry Hariston, Jr. are gone. In their place, the team will likely have Dee Gordon, Justin Turner and either Brendan Harris or Chone Figgins. Neither Gordon nor Turner will provide the versatility that Schumaker and Punto provided. However, if Gordon can get on base, he’s capable of being a game changer with his speed on the basepaths. Turner doesn’t have the pedigree of Punto or Schumaker, but the potential infielders definitely give the team a much younger look than in 2013.

Over on the pitching side, the biggest move the Dodgers’ made this offseason was signing Clayton Kershaw to a well-deserved 7-year, $215 million contract, making Kershaw the highest paid pitcher in MLB history. The top of the Dodgers’ rotation is second-to-none, with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, however, the back end of the rotation became a liability in the postseason.

The front office remedied that by signing Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million deal during the offseason, and added former Braves’ starter Paul Maholm for a bargain one year, $1.5 million deal. Haren appears set in the number four spot, however, the number five-spot is up for grabs between Maholm and Josh Beckett. Beckett will make $17 million this year in the final year of a 4-year deal he signed with the Boston Red Sox. Beckett is coming off surgery to remove a rib to relieve nerve pressure. However, it appears he is ready to go heading into Spring Training. Beckett went 0-5 with a 5.89 ERA in eight starts last year, but obviously, he was not healthy. Maholm is a work horse (30 or more starts in five of the last eight seasons), but based on the salary, Beckett will get the chance to start. Barring injuries, Maholm may have to start the season out in the bullpen.

The bullpen will also be a position of strength for the team, they added former Indians’ closer Chris Perez and veteran reliever Jamey Wright during the offseason. Along with a full season from Brian Wilson, the Dodgers bullpen will be stacked. The back end of games should not be an issue in 2014 for Los Angeles.

The Dodgers don’t have many question marks heading into spring, which puts them far ahead lots of other MLB teams at this early stage. Barring any major injuries, it’s tough to see the Dodgers failing to make another deep playoff run in 2014.

News: Dodgers Close To Signing Cuban Erisbel Arruebarruena

Whether you’re an English or Spanish-speaking fan, one thing has become clarified by Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes, and it’s that the Los Angeles Dodgers are close to signing Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena.

He announced it on Twitter in both languages:

Erisbel-ArruebarruenaArruebarruena, 24 in May, defected from Cuba in November and worked out for MLB teams in December.

One scout that was in attendance says that he’s a very good defensive player, with a glove that is close to being Major League ready. He’s a bottom-half-of-the-lineup type of guy and is likely to play shortstop.

Arruebarruena played four seasons (2008-12) for the Cienfuegos team in the Cuban National Series and was a member of the Cuban national baseball team in the 2011 Pan American games, 2012 Haarlem Baseball Week, 2013 World Port Tournament and 2013 World Baseball Classic.

He carries a slash line of .279/.331/.758 with 28 home runs and 178 RBIs and stole 41 of 69 bases in 463 games. He also played some second and third base.

He will not count against the Dodgers’ international spending limit.

His last name (13 letters) falls one letter short of Marlins catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia (14 letters) for being the longest in the Major Leagues.

News: Dodgers And Kenley Jansen Avoid Arbitration With 1-Year Deal

The Los Angeles Dodgers and closer Kenley Jansen have avoided arbitration, agreeing on a $4.3 million contract for the 2014 season as reported by FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal on Twitter.

8219590Jansen, 25, comes off his best season as a Dodger, one that saw him go 4-3 with a 1.88 ERA and save 28 games in 75 appearances, posting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 6.17.

He made just $512,000 last season and is arbitration-eligible until the 2017 season.

The Dodgers are expected to open the 2014 season with Jansen as their closer, behind set-up guy Brian Wilson and seventh-inning pitcher Chris Perez, giving the team one of the most solid bullpens in the Major Leagues.

Here is a video of Jansen pitching two scoreless innings of relief against the Arizona Diamondbacks last July:

Jansen asked for $5.05 million in arbitration.