14 Dodgers storylines to follow in 2014

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

After a memorable year from start to finish for the Dodgers, 2014 has the potential to be even better.

Last year was jam-packed with exciting storylines and events. But what stories might emerge in 2014? Let's take a look (these fourteen are not ranked in order of importance).

Clayton Kershaw's contract situation

In late October of this year after the World Series ends, Clayton Kershaw will be a free agent... if the Dodgers don't sign him to a contract extension before then. It's safe to say Los Angeles doesn't want to risk that happening because it could open up the flood gates when it comes to bidding for Kershaw's services. LA needs to sign arguably it's best pitcher since Sandy Koufax sooner rather than later. J.P. Hoornstra pointed out today that January 17th is another date for Dodgers' fans to keep in mind because that's when teams and players exchange salary arbitration dollar figures. If Los Angeles wants to make fans happy and not spend too much, it should probably sign Kershaw to an extension before January 17th.

Hanley Ramirez's contract situation

Clayton Kershaw isn't the only all-star currently on the Dodgers that is set to be a free agent after this season. Hanley Ramirez was acquired by LA back in 2012 and has dominated since, at least when he wasn't injured. Ramirez shouldn't cost as much as Kershaw, but due to the lack of powering hitting middle infielders in the MLB these days, locking up Ramirez to a solid extension should also be a priority for the Dodgers. Rumors have been reported that Ramirez and LA have been working on an extension this offseason, which prompted ESPN's Mark Saxon to question how much the infielder is worth.

Don Mattingly's contract situation

Don Mattingly's contract situation is the last big extension the Dodgers have to worry about this offseason. After Los Angeles clinched a spot in the NLCS, an option triggered in Mattingly's contract that made him LA's manager until at least the end of the 2014 season. But the front office can't let this situation hang around and put Mattingly in a "lame duck" position for the second season in a row. Mattingly deserves better than that after taking a team that was 12 games under .500 in July to the NLCS.

The outfield logjam

This was a big storyline to follow last year, but never really made headlines because of injuries to Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford. This year, Los Angeles might have to deal with it. Yasiel Puig isn't going anywhere, and Kemp, Crawford, and Andre Ethier should all be ready for opening day against the Diamondbacks on March 22nd in Australia. The ideal situation for the Dodgers would be to get a big return for Kemp or Ethier, but that might not happen anytime soon. If the Dodgers' want to stick with all four outfielders, they at least know they'll have protection in case one of them is injured.

Masahiro Tanaka

After a new posting system was agreed on and his Japanese team agreed to post him, Tanaka was made available to the highest bidder in the MLB. The Tanaka sweepstakes end on January 24th when the negotiation period ends and a "winner" is announced. If the Dodgers' don't sign the Japanese starter, it wouldn't be the worst thing in the world. But the one thing Los Angeles does have to worry about is inter-division rival Arizona. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, the Diamondbacks have made Tanaka their "number one priority." If the Dodgers' do land him, he might give LA the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball. If Arizona does, it might make winning the NL West a little bit harder for Los Angeles.

Alexander Guerrero

It's hard to tell how good the Cuban infielder really is. But if he is as good as the stories say, Guerrero could be the next big Cuban baseball star on the Dodgers. If he's not, he could be the next version of Kei Igawa, a starting pitcher from Japan who signed a 5-year $20 million dollar deal with the Yankees and finished with a 6.66 ERA in 71.2 innings for New York. Now that's a stretch, but Guerrero has dealt with injuries while playing winter ball and hasn't played in an organized baseball league for a while. If the 27-year-old can prove everyone wrong, he could be a lot of fun to watch alongside fellow Cuban, Yasiel Puig.

Chad Billingsley's injury issues

At the end of the 2012 season, Chad Billingsley decided to avoid Tommy John surgery. That decision looked great at the beginning of the 2013 season until the right-hander was shut down for the season in April. Billingsley might not return until halfway through the season, which shouldn't be a problem for the Dodgers if Josh Beckett and Stephen Fife can give them solid options for a fifth starter. If Billingsley, does pitch as well as he did at the end of 2012 and beginning of 2013 when he returns, he could be a solid fourth starter for Los Angeles.

Matt Kemp's injury issues

After the center-fielder finished second in the 2011 National League MVP voting, the sky looked like the limit for Matt Kemp. But after injury-plagued 2012 and 2013 seasons for the outfielder, his durability is in question. Rumors swirled that Kemp could be traded during the winter meetings, and even though Kemp wasn't traded, the rumors probably won't go away until Crawford or Ethier is traded. If Kemp does fully heal and returns to the lineup as the player he was in 2011, the Dodgers' lineup will be deadly with Kemp, Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Puig.

Dee Gordon's role in Los Angeles

The infielder's role with the Dodgers depends heavily on the success of Alexander Guerrero. If the front office doesn't think Guerrero is ready, Gordon could very well be the starting second baseman for the Dodgers. But if Guerrero is ready, Gordon could be forced into a bench role. Eric Stephen talked about this situation, and Gordon's role, at length in this piece.

David Price

The Rays' ace isn't on the Dodgers now, and might never be. However, according to multiple reports this offseason, Los Angeles is one of a couple teams interested in trading for David Price. The 2012 AL Cy Young winner isn't a free agent for two seasons, but could be traded at any moment. With Tanaka now on the market, it's likely that a Price trade won't happen until after the Japanese starter signs. At the same time, Price might not be traded this offseason at all. If the Dodgers' need more starting pitching during the middle of the season, it might not surprise too many people if Los Angeles tried to trade for Price during the middle of the season. The only issue revolves around LA's willingness to trade some of its top prospects for a season or two of Price.

Zach Lee

When Lee was drafted by the Dodgers in the first round of the 2010 MLB first year player draft, he was projected to be a front of the rotation starter. Now, Lee's future is more likely to be as a solid third or fourth starter. If the Dodgers' starting rotation struggles again with injuries and they lose out on Tanaka and don't want to trade for Price, Lee could be given a shot. Lee is behind Billingsley, Fife, and Beckett on the depth chart, but if the right-hander pitches well in the minors, he could be given a shot in the majors.

Yasiel Puig's maturity

Puig runs fast in the outfield and evidently drives fast too. The Dodgers aren't happy about it and it's easy to understand why. Puig has an extremely high ceiling and the last thing Los Angeles wants to see is for him to throw it away. At times, it looks like Puig understands this issue and works hard to fix his immaturity issues, but at other times it looks like he is still a little too immature for the MLB. If Puig can fix that and become a more mature player, he has the potential to be far and away one of the most talented five tool players in the game.

Infield depth

Nick Punto, Mark Ellis, and Skip Schumaker are all gone via free agency. That means Gordon, Justin Sellers, and Scott Van Slyke are really the only backup infielders left on the Dodgers. That needs to be fixed and most likely will be fixed before spring training begins.

The reality show featuring Hanley Ramirez, Juan Uribe, and Yasiel Puig

This stuff never gets old.

Ramirez and Uribe mentored Puig after he was called up to the Dodgers and ended up creating a semi-reality TV show in the process. The three exchanged pictures on various social media sites referring to Uribe as "King Kong", which sometimes caused bananas to appear in the Dodgers' dugout after Uribe made a big play. If one of them does well, the other two go crazy, and it's a ton of fun to watch.

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