Not a lot on the field...thankfully. The Dodgers are 4-5, winning series against the Giants and Padres but then getting swept by the Diamondbacks. Although Andruw Jones, Russell Martin and Juan Pierre have been dismal at the plate, there's no compelling evidence that they won't eventually produce. Nomar Garciaparra's impending return will give Joe Torre one more option off the bench, and Blake DeWitt has been a pleasant surprise at third.
The fifth starter position remains a concern, so don't be surprised if Esteban Loaiza and Chan Ho Park swap roles as starter and middle reliever until either Jason Schmidt returns (not holding our breath) or management feels comfortable easing Clayton Kershaw into the majors (breath = held).
So it's early enough to know things will improve, and too early to draw conclusions—save two:
- A healthy Rafael Furcal is essential to the Dodgers' success. And he should bat leadoff in every game.
- Takashi Saito has managed to shake off his spring training soreness and is as effective as he was last year.
Then what can we learn from nine games? We can learn from our opponents, specifically, the Diamondbacks, Rockies and Padres. Let's look at the 2008 NL West payrolls, from ESPN.com via Wikipedia:
We are doing less with more. Brandon Webb, Chris Young (tall, short; take your pick), Adrian Gonzalez, Troy Tulowitzki, Matt Holliday: These are good, young players who have had their arbitration years bought out by foresightful GMs. Meanwhile, the Dodgers have six players—Martin, Matt Kemp, James Loney, Andre Ethier, Chad Billingsley and Jonathan Broxton—potentially worthy of such treatment. All six are playing on one-year contracts.
In fairness, Ned Colletti has attempted at least one buyout. From a chat at Dodgers.com:
Thanatos: When will you sign Russell Martin to a long-term deal?
Colletti: We explored this possibility early in the offseason and the agent declined.
But making such deals is simply not a priority for a team with the Dodgers' resources, not when free agency remains a realistic option. The Dodgers can afford to wait, and they emphasize the value of veterans ("In some cases, we would rather err on the side of the veteran," summarized Colletti at Inside the Dodgers), an uneasy combination for fans of the team's younger players. (And it's no coincidence the division's two financially richest teams, the Dodgers and Giants, also have the richest histories. All that tradition can sometimes work against you.)
The Dodgers' recent Coliseum game and Opening Day ceremonies prove this is a team proud of its past, and Colletti is undoubtedly aware there is a "Dodger way" of doing things. But there are also lessons to be learned from the younger organizations in the division, lessons that don't have to contradict this Dodger way. Although the Dodgers employ one of the league's finest arbitration negotiators in Kim Ng, it would be a gesture of good faith—to both the team's young players and its fans—if our future stars had the peace of mind only a long-term contract can provide.