SAN DIEGO -- The votes are in, and the Los Angeles Dodgers were picked by more folks at ESPN than any other team to win the World Series; 38 of the 44 ESPN experts who cast ballots chose the Dodgers to win the NL West. Las Vegas is picking them as well, by a solid margin.
Those facts are understandable. When you attend a Dodgers workout, it’s like watching batting practice the day before the All-Star Game, with big names all over the place. Heck, even their coaches -- Don Mattingly, Davey Lopes, Mark McGwire, John Valentin, Tim Wallach and Rick Honeycutt -- are former stars.
The Dodgers have baseball’s highest payroll, and so for the first time in 15 years, some team other than the New York Yankees will have that title. The Yankees can testify to the Dodgers that this is the blessing and the curse of having a high payroll, and L.A.’s payroll dwarfs that of its division rivals:
Los Angeles: $235 million
San Francisco: $154 million
Arizona: $112 million
Colorado: $95 million
San Diego: $90 million
The Diamondbacks and Padres stretched their payrolls this year in their effort to break into the postseason, and yet both teams will spend less than half of what the Dodgers will spend. And presumably, the Dodgers will have more room for in-season growth in deals than any of the other NL West teams.
I voted with the majority: I picked the Dodgers to win the NL West because their talent reflects their payroll; they are absolutely stacked. Their pitching staff is the deepest in the National League, with a bunch of former closers serving as setup men for Kenley Jansen at top dollar. As soon as Matt Kemp returns, Mattingly will have to decide which of his four star outfielders he will have to bench out of Yasiel Puig, Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford.
But let’s try to imagine the plausible scenarios in which the Dodgers don't win the NL West.
Kershaw will start the season on the disabled list, but the Dodgers don’t believe his injury is serious. Ramirez is healthy, which is a good thing, because the Dodgers are much less of a team when he’s not on the field, as we saw last season. As he’s gotten older and has missed a lot of games:
Games missed by Hanley Ramirez
The Dodgers could lose any of their four outfielders and they would probably be fine, given their depth at that position. They have good defensive catchers behind A.J. Ellis. They would miss Adrian Gonzalez, but have some alternatives.
But if Ramirez goes down, it’s a huge problem for the Dodgers, who are thin in middle infielders. If Kershaw goes down, well, it'd be like the 1962 to '66 Dodgers losing Sandy Koufax.