The Dodgers always seem to find a way, don't they?
Like those dinos-gone-wild on Jurassic Park, they'll come through with a berth even when you think they aren't engineered to do so.
It's a credit to front office honcho Andrew Friedman, who has yet to fully embrace the big-market mentality after leaving the Rays in his rear-view mirror, instead using the Dodgers' considerable resources to pile up depth. That depth played no small role in last year's success, when the Dodgers needed 15 starting pitchers to navigate the 162-game minefield.
But Friedman discovered first-hand what money can do for an organization this offseason. Facing the possibility of a fractured nucleus, he overcame his baser instincts in order to stop the bleeding before it started, handing multi-year deals to ace closer Kenley Jansen, slugging third baseman Justin Turner and curiosity Rich Hill.
"If you're always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent," he said.
Well, it's true.
And so the same Dodgers who came within two wins of the World Series return mostly intact. They're down one prospect in Jose De Leon, who they spun to fill an immediate need at second base (one big-market measure Friedman has often employed), but two of their highest-profile graduates from the last two years, Joc Pederson and Julio Urias, are both on an upward trajectory and could become a stable part of that nucleus this season. And the highest-profile of all the graduates, Corey Seager, is more than ready to claim the superstar title from Adrian Gonzalez after a near MVP-winning Rookie of the Year season, bailing out the precarious Yasiel Puig in the process.
As for the pitching staff, Clayton Kershaw represents the biggest singular advantage in the game, aside from Mike Trout, but after battling a bulging disc in the second half last year, he's not the sure thing he normally is. Hill is an even more dramatic risk/reward case. In fact, Kenta Maeda might be the one "safe" pitchers the Dodgers have, and he had trouble throwing six innings at the time.
Can we trust the Dodgers aces to stay healthy?
That's the million dollar question and what will ultimately determine whether they run away with the NL West. If Kershaw and Hill are both healthy, it's the best 1-2 punch in baseball.
The concern over Kershaw may be overstated, which is only fair when the price of admission is a first-round pick. He did, however, return to post a similar ERA and WHIP in five regular-season starts. He didn't pitch as deep into games and didn't strike out hitters at the same rate, but you could easily attribute those issues to rust, especially since he improved in both respects in the postseason.
But back injuries have been known to linger, and it's not like he had this one surgically corrected. He's probably fine, but that kernel of doubt makes him a no-go ahead of first-round caliber hitters like Manny Machado or Anthony Rizzo. Otherwise, he'd be in the conversation to go No. 1 overall.
The concern over Hill is probably overblown as well, seeing as it was a pesky blister and not something structural that kept derailing him last year, but then health isn't the only concern with him. Nothing about the first 35 years of his life would have suggested he could do what he has done in his past 24 starts, but considering it was spread over two seasons, my skepticism is waning. His advanced age also leads me to believe the Dodgers are going to ride him as hard as his epidermis allows them, making him a potential bargain outside the top 30.
Are the training wheels coming off Julio Urias?
He's only 20, so the idea of him throwing 200-plus innings is certainly far-fetched. The Dodgers did permit a near 50-inning increase in 2016, though, and if he extends himself by the same margin this year, he's at 180. That's enough for him to make a serious impact in Fantasy, especially if they accomplish it by strategically skipping him from time to time rather than just yanking him early.
Inning for inning, it's not crazy to think Urias could be Rich Hill lite. Debuting at 19, something no starting pitcher had done since Felix Hernandez in 2005, is endorsement enough of his abilities, but he was in the conversation for best pitching prospect in baseball as a high school-aged A-baller.
And we caught a glimpse of his upside over his final eight appearances (six starts) last year, when he put together a 1.34 ERA. He surrendered hits at a curiously high rate, but seeing as his strikeout rate measured up to the hype, it's probably just a case of an inexperienced pitcher learning to sequence his pitches. His upside makes it a welcome assumption in the middle rounds.
Is Yasiel Puig still worth the trouble?
The Dodgers seem to think so, giving themselves no recourse in right field after letting Josh Reddick walk. And Puig remains an anomaly, doing much of the same peripherally that made him such a standout his first two years.
After a third straight year of decline, this one getting him banished to the minors for a month, it's only natural to lose hope, but he is only 26. He made a mockery of minor-league pitching for that one month and returned to hit .281 weigh four home runs and a .900 OPS in 57 September at-bats, albeit mostly against lefties.
And again, the people who know him the best, who monitor him the closest and who have the most at stake are still fully invested in him, believing the indignity of a demotion may have been the wakeup call he needed.
"You look at what's happened year over year and there have been changes. It becomes muscle memory and it's a hard thing to untangle," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman recently told the Orange County Register. "What we saw in September was just kind of scratching the surface of that because he didn't have much time to work on it. He's been getting after it this winter, so we'll see when we get to spring training how those changes have taken hold."
Knowing the upside, what trouble is a late-round pick, really?