Can Frank McCourt take a P.R. hit?
The Dodgers come into the off season stacked with good, young talent and about 80 million dollars in payroll commitments. If they want to make any improvement through the free agent market, except in a couple of areas, they're going to have to sign a star player. Since it is very difficult to bring in more than one stud, along with the fact that the Dodgers will be phasing in more and more cheap players, the Dodgers might drop from their 110 million dollar payroll next year. The question is, can Frank McCourt live with Bill Plaschke's response to a smaller payroll, or will he suggest Ned Colletti go out and spend some money for the sake of spending it?
Right now, James Loney looks like the answer at first base, but despite Plaschke's recent change of heart, the majority of the media will not be happy if Nomar walks. There's going to be some pressure to keep guys like Nomar and Lofton around, even if it's not warranted. Hopefully, Frank McCourt can live with that.
Will Takashi Saito stick around?
Takashi Saito was the biggest surprise on a team with several shocking performances. When the Dodgers signed Saito, I referred to him as the Japanese Jorge Julio, and thought he had almost no chance of making the team. Ned Colletti must have had similar thoughts, since he failed to make the team out of Spring Training. But, when Eric Gagne broke down on April 6th, Saito got the call, and effectively filled the void that was left by Gagne. As the season went on this turned out to be huge, as Saito would be the only reliable pitcher in the bullpen aside from Jonathan Broxton.
But now there are reports that Takashi Saito wants to return to Japan. If this is true, the Dodgers most reliable relief pitchers after Broxton are Elmer Dessens, who isn't that great, and Mark Alexander who has thrown 14 innings above AA. Losing Saito would leave a huge hole in the bullpen, one that would require going shopping for free agents to solve. This brings me to the next question:
Did Ned Colletti learn anything from Takashi Saito and Danys Baez?
Unless you're Mariano Rivera or Trevor Hoffman, success as a relief pitcher is fleeting. Due to how swingy the average middle reliever is, the best thing to do is stockpile as many cheap live arms as you can, then pray a few of them turn out. Hopefully, Baez's run as a Dodger hammered home how unreliable "proven closers" can be. As much as I hate it, the Dodgers need to pick up a couple middle relievers this off season, and I hope Ned doesn't overspend for "proven" guys like Joe Borowski, Chad Bradford, or Arthur Rhodes.
Takashi Saito, and the unexpected success of Joe Beimel should have been a great lesson on how variable relief pitching can be, and it should have provided a great lesson. I hope it stuck.
Can Brad Penny bounce back?
Brad Penny was the starting pitcher in the All-Star game. Brad Penny had a 6.25 ERA after the All-Star break. While there wasn't nearly as much difference between his first and second halves as it would appear (3.45 DIPS ERA pre-All Star, 4.57 afterwards), Penny still did have a notable decline in the second half. Whether it was due to injury or whatever, Penny deserved to be a solid number one start at the beginning of the season, and a fourth or fifth starter at the end.
While likely improvements from Billingsley and Kuo prevent me from saying the Dodgers need Brad Penny to get better to be successful, it would be a big help.
Is Hong-Chih Kuo for real?
At the beginning of 2006, Kuo's future with the Dodgers looked to be in the bullpen. After he walked 7.77 guys per nine in two stints with the Dodgers, Kuo's near future looked like it could be with the 51s. After 51s pitcher William Juarez got hurt, someone made the decision to move Kuo to a starting role. All of a sudden, Kuo's control problems disappeared, and he put together a 2.61 ERA in nine minor league starts. This earned him another look with the Dodgers, and he continued to excel. In the small sample size of five starts, Kuo struck out 10.75 per nine, had a five to one strikeout to walk ration, and allowed only one home run in 29.1 innings. These are "best pitcher in baseball" type numbers. While I doubt he could keep up this level of production over a full season, even a big regression would leave him as the Dodgers third or fourth best starter.
I have three concerns about Kuo. The first is those control problems. Sure, they seem to have gone away, but they're definitely going to be on my mind for a long time. Second is Kuo's injury history. He's already had two Tommy John surgeries, and having him throw 180 innings plus in a season is scary as hell. Third is the league figuring him out. Kuo has thrown 65 innings in his career, and most teams have only had one look at him. Will he be able to be as effective on his second and third times through the league?
If Kuo does anything resembling what he did in the last month, a lot of the Dodgers problems can be solved. Let's hope he can keep it up.
Bonus question for the indeterminate future: When will Paul DePodesta stop being used as a scapegoat?
You can see the influence of the last three G.M.s on the 2006 Dodgers. DePodesta provided the Dodgers with their middle of the order hitters, and the top two starters. Colletti gave the Dodgers the depth that made them a threat despite the lack of stars, and Dan Evans gave the Dodgers the young base that will help for so many years to come. But, right now whenever something goes right with the Dodgers, it's all because of Colletti. Whenever something goes wrong, it's because that dastardly DePo traded Paul Lo Duca/Shawn Green. Never mind that both would have left to free agency by now and that Russell Martin is already a better catcher than Lo Duca. Eventually, like when Lo Duca retires, this is no longer going to be a valid excuse, right?