VERO BEACH, Fla. -- Five things to know about the Los Angeles Dodgers:
1. So the Dodgers didn't sign that middle-of-the-lineup hitter they badly wanted. So Carlos Lee and Alfonso Soriano signed elsewhere. So, with center fielder Juan Pierre and shortstop Rafael Furcal atop the lineup, Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti still sees good things for an offense that ranked fourth in the NL last season with 820 runs scored. "I think we'll produce a lot of runs," Colletti says. "Offensively, I think we might be better than we were a year ago. I like the idea of Pierre and Furcal at the top. I'm not sure Jeff Kent was healthy one day last year. And the kids gained a world of experience."
2. New left fielder Luis Gonzalez is capable of making more noise offensively than many people think. No, at 39, he's not the slugger who is going to hit 45 or 50 homers a season any more. But he did rank second in the NL with 52 doubles last season, which means he remains capable of collecting key RBI or putting himself into scoring position. And staying in the NL West was smart. Gonzalez's doubles come more into play in a division with big outfields -- Coors Field, Dodger Stadium, Petco Park. He should find the gaps often, and he'll fit right in: Last year's Dodgers cracked 307 doubles, highest total in franchise history.
3. The health of Kent and Nomar Garciaparra -- among others, of course -- is no small issue. In the first half of last season, Dodgers players spent 639 days on the disabled list -- second-highest total in the majors behind Washington (846) -- according to STATS, LLC. The club was healthier in the second half (428 disabled list days) and the club's total of 1,067 DL days was the fourth-highest in the majors.
4. Sophomore slump? Given how important catcher Russell Martin and outfielder Andre Ethier are to this year's club, the Dodgers hope not. Colletti lists "how the second-year players respond" as one thing he's watching closely in camp this spring.
5. What the Dodgers mostly need to settle between now and opening day is who fills out the rotation behind Jason Schmidt, Derek Lowe, Brad Penny and Randy Wolf and how the middle relief sets up. Candidates abound for the fifth starter's job: Chad Billingsley, Mark Hendrickson, Hong-Chih Kuo, Brett Tomko, D.J. Houlton, Greg Miller and Eric Stults among them. Manager Grady Little is in no rush to name a fifth starter, saying that might not come until the end of March. "Looking at the personnel, you can see why we feel some of those decisions are going to come down to the end," the skipper says. He also wants to name a "sixth" starter -- in other words, identify someone to step in when a health issue arises with one of the five other starters -- something every team faces at some point. One point of emphasis this spring: extending the starters to 95 to 100 pitches by opening day. Last year's Dodgers threw only one complete game all season.