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Ten Questions For The 2007 Dodgers, Part One

Is Matt Kemp ready to contribute at a major league level? If he isn't, when will he be?

While Kemp is no longer technically a prospect thanks to the 154 at bats he took this year for the Dodgers, he remains the Dodgers most promising young player. If he lives up to his promise, Kemp can be the power hitter that the Dodgers desperately need. However, Kemp seemed to be unable to adjust once the league figured him out. After Kemp hit his seventh home run, he hit only .201/.236/.275  in 105 at bats. Matt Kemp certainly is a big part of the Dodger's future plans, but when will he be ready? I don't think you can expect him to be the starting centerfielder in 2007, so the Dodgers will need to find a temporary solution in center. The question is when will the Dodgers be willing to hand Kemp a starting job? Waiting for someone to get hurt worked out well for the Dodgers this year, but what if Kemp's proxy doesn't go down? When do you start to give Matt Kemp the majority of starts?

What do we do with Andre Ethier?

In March 2006, Andre Ethier looked like a solid bat of the bench in 2007 and beyond. In July 2006, Ethier looked like the left fielder of the future. Now in October of 2006, I have no clue what is role is on the team. Getting benched for Marlon Anderson certainly isn't a ringing endorsement. Right now, management is saying that Ethier is the starting left fielder, but what happens if he has a bad spring training and Marlon Anderson is great? How about if Ethier is hitting .220 in April? As nice as Anderson's September was, it was a giant fluke. Prior to his time on the Dodgers, where he OPSed 1.243, Anderson OPSed .886 in the best month of his career. I'm very concerned that Grady will fall into the same trap that Jim Tracy fell into with Cesar Izturis, and continue giving him opportunities based on one good month.

Even if Ethier does keep the left field job, is he the answer? Much was made about how lucky he was on balls in play this season, but he still would have been a solid player even without that luck. The Dodgers have a need for a big home run hitter, and left field looks to be the position with the best free agents this offseason. The Dodgers maybe well served by trading Ethier to a team that needs someone who can get on base, in order to free a spot for someone like Carlos Lee.

What pitcher fills out the starting rotation?

Barring a trade, the Dodgers come into the off season with four starting pitchers: Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley, and Hong Chih Kuo. That leaves one opening in the starting rotation. There are some options currently under contract like Brett Tomko and Mark Hendrickson, but I'd rather not use those guys as a first option. While it's easy to say, let's go get Barry Zito/Jason Schmidt, it might not be so simple in practice. Every team in baseball with an 85 million dollar payroll or more, except the Angels, needs a strong starter. It may be possible to get Schmidt or Zito, but it's going to involve out bidding the Yankees, Red Sox, and every other powerhouse team, and this means over paying.

If you can't get Zito or Schmidt, what do you do? There's several pitchers out there like Greg Maddux, Ted Lilly or Doug Davis that are better than Tomko, but certainly aren't "dominant". This leaves trade as the way to solidify the rotation, which brings me to the next question...

Can Ned Colletti make a bold move?

No matter what you think of the end results of Ned Colletti's moves, you have to agree that they would be characterized as "safe". With the exceptions of Antonio Perez and Chuck Tiffany, throw ins in bigger deals, every player that Ned Colletti dealt had fallen well past their peak performance. Odalis Perez, Joel Guzman, Willy Aybar, et al had seen their stocks take a huge hit before they got dealt. Problem is, selling low will never produce the type of trade that you look back on a few years down the line and say "what the heck were the [team] thinking?"  Selling low will almost never result in getting the great talent the Dodgers need. We have more above average talent than possibly any team in the league, yet no star talent. If Ned Colletti wants to improve the team through trade, he's going to have to make a deal that some people might not like. Sadly, the first thing I picture him doing this off-season is trading Brad Penny, since it fits right in with his pattern of selling low. Please, prove me wrong Ned.

Will Jeff Kent continue to produce at age 39?

After a terrible April, Jeff Kent pretty much had a Jeff Kent year this year, finishing the season with a .862 OPS, slightly below what he'd done the last few years, but still very good for a second baseman. However, some warning signs have shown up. First is Kent's declining defense. While his rate2 was amazing, his zone rating was the worst of his career and near the bottom of the league, and Marc Normandin's numbers place him near the bottom. The most distressing thing about Normandin's system is that these numbers are from the end of July, before Kent's last set of injuries that made him near immobile.  As Kent gets older, those injuries are more likely to pile up and hurt his defense beyond the point where he is a useful second baseman, if he can stay healthy at all.

There is also the issue of players at Kent's age collapsing. It's not a guarantee by any means, PECOTA predicts Kent to put up almost the same numbers in 2007 as he did in 2006, but sometimes players just become terrible at Kent's age. The way the Dodgers are built, they need all of their players to be healthy to compete. The Dodgers need Jeff Kent to be productive at 39 years old, and that is far from guaranteed.