It seems like every article I read about the upcoming season focuses on a few specific questions about the team. I just read 2 more, one about "quick hits," the other about Joe Torre. In a nutshell, here's what the Dodgers are facing as the pitchers and catchers report in less than a week:
1) Who will be the odd man out, Juan Pierre or Andre Ethier?
It's been talked about to death, with no clear-cut answer as of yet. Andruw Jones occupies center and Matt Kemp (99% sure) will be in right. For Pierre, it's speed. For Ethier, it's decent power and solid defense. I think they'll both see decent amount of time.
2) Who will be the fifth starter, Jason Schmidt or Esteban Loaiza?
Schmidt was the "mega free agent star" signed last year to be the ace of the team. Instead, he sucked. Hard. Of course, being hurt totally threw off his season, and quite possibly his career if he can't turn things around. Loaiza wasn't any better, as he battled injuries as well. I would think Schmidt has the better stuff, but Loaiza did win 21 games in 2003, so he shouldn't be counted out as well. My guess is that Loaiza will get the nod to start the season because Schmidt won't be 100%.
3) Will Andruw Jones regain his form and be a true slugger?
Like I just said, they signed Schmidt last season to save the universe, and that flopped miserably. I've read that Jones had a bad elbow last year that really messed with his mechanics, and that's all over with now. He still is one of the most gifted players in the Bigs with his power numbers and slick defense. The Dodgers REALLY need him to step up and produce.
4) Will Chad Billingsley put together the type of solid season people think he can?
I just picked up the 2008 Rotowire Fantasy Baseball Guide, and they have Bills as the 18th ranked pitcher and 96 overall. I was amazed at how much they were praising him. Don't get me wrong, I know he can be that good. But I've also seen him walk everybody and their mother too many times, and in my mind, he needs to prove he has the control problems under wraps before he makes a big jump.
5) Can Russell Martin repeat his spectacular 2007?
There's no reason to think he can't. Granted, he was overplayed (151 games) last year, but he was awesome. He started the All-Star game, won the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards, and is one of the top ranked catchers in the game. I just hope the offense doesn't suck so much this year and he won't have to play in every game.
6) Who will win the 3rd base job, Andy LaRoche or Nomar Garciaparra?
Much like the battles for the outfield job and starting pitcher, the 3rd base job is anybody's guess. We all saw how much Nomar struggled last year, and it got painful to watch at times. LaRoche had chances, but didn't impress. From all I've read, LaRoche just needs a chance to be given the job and get enough at-bats to strut his stuff. I love Nomar (it's hard not to), but LaRoche will hopefully win this one. Who knows how high a ceiling he has.
7) Can James Loney and Matt Kemp continue building on their promising careers?
I think there's more confidence in Loney than Kemp right now. Loney not only showed he could hit (.331 AVG), but his defense was fantastic. It's good to see that he's being left alone at 1st base. Kemp has been dangled in all of those trade rumors (Santana, Haren, Bedard) until Ned Colletti finally went on record saying he was going nowhere. He's been praised for his tools, but his mental breakdowns are a real pain in the ass at times. At only 23, he's allowed mistakes for now, and will hopefully learn from them. These 2 guys could really make a big impact this year if all goes well.
I'm sure more questions will emerge as time goes on, but those are the biggest ones in my mind for now. Let's just enjoy the fact that with football over, baseball is about to make a splash again.