PHOENIX — The Yankees have had enough early injuries to raise concerns about organizational depth and if they can find their inner Urshela again.
The Astros lost Gerrit Cole and all goodwill. How will they handle the duress of being the villain in every baseball city except Houston?
Then in the superpower division there are the Dodgers. The 106-win team of last season acquired Mookie Betts, the equivalent of the 73-win Warriors adding Kevin Durant. Veteran leader Justin Turner nevertheless cautioned, “You don’t play the season on paper.”
But think about what can make the paper crumble? Injury? The Dodgers have the deepest 26- and 40-man rosters in the majors, plus a bountiful farm system to provide answers internally or via trade. Their backups would start in many places, so would the backups to the backups.
“There is depth, there is talent, there is how we go about playing the game of baseball,” manager Dave Roberts said. “For me, that is an easy bet on how this season is going to play out.”
Can complacency get them? Doubtful. This is a team tired of having to watch replays of Kirk Gibson gimp the bases to symbolize the franchise’s last championship in 1988. They have been eliminated by the eventual champion in each of the past four years, and if that were not motivating enough, they think they just might have been cheated in the 2017 World Series by the Astros and the 2018 Series by the Red Sox.
“It will not happen,” Roberts said about his team losing focus.
So can anything keep the Dodgers from winning an eighth straight NL West title? How about awkwardness?
MLB is not expected to announce findings from its illegal sign-stealing investigation into the 2018 Red Sox this week, but the plan is before the regular season. Word is that the scheme was not as systemic or widespread as that of the Astros, thus, the penalties are not expected to be as severe. Still, Betts and David Price were part of the team that beat the Dodgers in that World Series, and they are Dodgers now. And you might remember how early this spring many Dodgers went off on the Astros, including 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger saying Houston’s Jose Altuve was not the 2017 AL MVP, runner-up Aaron Judge was. Betts was the 2018 AL MVP.
The Dodgers, though, asked MLB if it should be concerned about acquiring Betts and were assured not to worry.
“I know with our front office, we do a lot of our due diligence before we make a deal,” Roberts said. “We have no questions or any concerns, none at all.”
He also said the Dodgers have no awkwardness about having Brusdar Graterol, Joc Pederson and Ross Stripling — all of whom were supposed to go elsewhere as part of the Betts trade. The Red Sox backed out on Graterol due to apprehension about the health of his shoulder, so he was redirected from Minnesota to Los Angeles.
As a way to partially counter taking on the salaries of Betts and half of Price and still stay under the $208 million luxury-tax threshold, the Dodgers were sending Pederson and Stripling to the Angels. But Angels owner Arte Moreno grew annoyed with how long a reconstructed deal to get Betts to the Dodgers was taking and pulled his team out of talks. Still, Pederson and Stripling are aware they were excess payroll for the Dodgers.
Turner said, “No, no” when asked if any of the awkwardness would impact the Dodgers. The third baseman said, “Our goal is to win a championship and everyone in the room is going to contribute to that.”
Roberts added, “It is very fair, but I do believe if you spend any extended time with our guys that question would be answered. Our guys have really come together pretty quickly.”
And in many ways, Pederson and Stripling define the Dodgers. Put them on the Angels, and maybe that helps find the extra few wins to climb from 84 to 88 and be a factor for the second wild card. For the Dodgers, they make the deepest roster even deeper.
There are no automatic bids to the postseason, but even with the Diamondbacks thickening the quality of their roster and the farm-rich Padres upgrading their bullpen, the Dodgers are the biggest lock to win a division. The judgment will come with whether they can finally prevail in October.
“It’s kind of measured by championships and winning a championship,” Roberts said. “So that is where the bar is at.”