Most of the kids have moved up, and to help them grow up, the Los Angeles Dodgers brought in one of baseball’s oldest and most respected managers, 67-year-old Joe Torre.
The Dodgers stumbled down the stretch last year, finishing 82-80 and fourth in the National League West. The offseason was a time for change, and the Dodgers expect their metamorphosis to make them much better.
But not everyone is swept up in the hype.
“I don’t know that I’m that high on the Dodgers. There are some holes in that team,” handicapper Dave Cokin said. “I don’t think they’re going to be a real good team.”
The Las Vegas Hilton sports book has posted the Dodgers’ regular-season win total at 87, which Cokin said is a “shade high.” He expects them to be closer to an 81-81 team.
A major factor in the Dodgers’ success or lack of it, Cokin said, will be center fielder Andruw Jones, who left the Atlanta Braves as a free agent to sign a two-year, $36 million deal.
Jones, a 10-time Gold Glove winner, hit just .222 with 26 home runs last season. He hit a total of 92 homers the previous two seasons.
The Dodgers’ outfield includes Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, both of whom starred for the Triple-A Las Vegas 51s. Kemp will start in right, but Torre might use a platoon situation in left with Ethier and veteran Juan Pierre. Cokin (jimfeist.com) said it would be the “wrong move” to play Pierre ahead of Ethier.
“It will be interesting to see what Torre does, and if he’s going to play the best lineup,” Cokin said.
Two other former 51s, first baseman James Loney and catcher Russell Martin, will be regulars in a Dodgers lineup that lacked power last season. Third base could be a problem spot for Torre with veteran Nomar Garciaparra and prospect Andy LaRoche already injured.
The starting rotation of Brad Penny, Derek Lowe, Chad Billingsley and Japanese import Hiroki Kuroda appears solid, but the depth of the pitching staff is a question mark.
Cokin said he still ranks the Dodgers behind Arizona and Colorado in the NL West. The Rockies eliminated the Diamondbacks to reach the World Series. “The Diamondbacks could be the best team in the league,” he said.
The San Diego Padres are in the equation with Jake Peavy, Chris Young and Las Vegan Greg Maddux leading the rotation, but Cokin said he has doubts about the Padres’ bullpen and offense.
“Peavy is a stud, and Maddux is still good,” Cokin said. “But the Padres may go backward a little bit. I would put them fourth right now in that division.”
The Braves lost Jones, but they are loaded with young talent and added power-hitting first baseman Mark Teixeira last season. The rotation includes Tom Glavine, Tim Hudson, Mike Hampton and John Smoltz.
Cokin is projecting Atlanta, 84-78 last year, to surpass its win total of 85 and challenge the favored New York Mets in the NL East.
“I like Bobby Cox over 162 games,” Cokin said. “I don’t think there’s a better skipper around, and the Braves have got a good club. It’s hard to see the Mets not winning the division, but the Braves could make a run at them.”
In the American League, the Boston Red Sox will see competition from the New York Yankees, Cleveland Indians, Detroit Tigers and Los Angeles Angels. The Red Sox are 9-2 favorites to repeat as World Series champions.
“I just don’t see anybody as good as the Red Sox,” Cokin said.
The Yankees replaced Torre with Joe Girardi. Cokin said two young pitchers, starter Phil Hughes and reliever Joba Chamberlain, will help make the Yankees strong contenders. But, Cokin said, the Yankees are erring by not making Chamberlain a starter.
The worst team in the AL East might not be Tampa Bay. The Baltimore Orioles have the lowest posted win total in the majors at 651/2. “Baltimore is unbelievably bad and should lose 100 games,” Cokin said.
The Minnesota Twins’ win total has been bet down from 761/2 to 741/2, and the move makes sense. The Twins traded left-handed ace Johan Santana to the Mets and lost free-agent center fielder Torii Hunter to the Angels.
Cokin said he’s not sold on the Seattle Mariners as a team capable of knocking off the Angels in the AL West.
“I think the Angels are overvalued, but it might not matter in that division,” Cokin said. “The Angels probably win the division by default.”
Contact reporter Matt Youmans at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2907.MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL WIN TOTALS
The 2008 regular-season win totals for all 30 major league teams, as posted at the Las Vegas Hilton:
x-Boston Red Sox 94
New York Yankees 93
Detroit Tigers 921/2
New York Mets 921/2
Los Angeles Angels 911/2
Cleveland Indians 90
Chicago Cubs 871/2
Los Angeles Dodgers 87
Philadelphia Phillies 87
Arizona Diamondbacks 86
Toronto Blue Jays 851/2
Atlanta Braves 85
Milwaukee Brewers 85
San Diego Padres 84
Seattle Mariners 84
Colorado Rockies 831/2
Cincinnati Reds 78
Chicago White Sox 771/2
Houston Astros 751/2
Tampa Bay Rays 751/2
Texas Rangers 751/2
St. Louis Cardinals 75
Minnesota Twins 741/2
Kansas City Royals 731/2
x-Oakland Athletics 731/2
San Francisco Giants 71
Washington Nationals 71
Pittsburgh Pirates 70
Florida Marlins 69
Baltimore Orioles 651/2
x-Off the board; season started