By Jon Weisman
It’s no secret that this will be another offseason of change for the Dodgers.
Already, manager Don Mattingly and vice president of medical services Stan Conte have departed. Five days after the World Series ends — sometime before November 10 — free agency begins. And you never know what the trade market will bring or take away.
The winter months will address several issues facing the Dodgers. But whatever happens will still leave several questions that won’t be answered until we’re well into the 2016 season.
Among them, these:
- Joc Pederson’s bat: Can the first-half power sensation crack the whip while reducing the whiff? Solving the vulnerable spots in his swing could return Pederson to the top third of the batting order, if not the leadoff spot?
- Hyun-Jin Ryu’s health: Ryu began a throwing program on flat ground earlier this month. His return would be huge for the starting rotation, but few if any know what to expect.
- Kiké Hernandez’s role: Full-time infielder, full-time outfielder or super-utilityman? Much could depend on how he hits right-handed pitching in 2016.
- Corey Seager’s stability: Seager’s September debut did not affect his rookie status for 2016. He figures to be a preseason Rookie of the Year favorite, and more likely to avoid the kind of prolonged slump that derailed Pederson. But you never really know what kind of ups and downs a player will have in his first full season.
- Yasiel Puig’s development: In his first 365 days as a Major Leaguer, Puig hit .326/.405/.559. Since then, plagued by injuries, he has hit .265/.341/.422. He turns 25 in December, more of a mystery than ever (or at least since before he first arrived at Spring Training three seasons ago).
- Alex Wood’s consistency: Among pitchers born in 1991 or later, only one has thrown more big-league innings than Wood. He’s experienced, but still young. He was also far more inconsistent in 2015 than the year before. One rudimentary example: His quality-start percentage declined from 79 percent (19 of 24) to 53 (17 of 32).
- Chris Hatcher’s reliability: Few Dodgers ended the season on a higher note than Hatcher, who allowed 21 baserunners while striking out 31 in 24 1/3 innings from August 15 on, including the playoffs. Can he do it for a full season?
- J³=X: Julio Urias (19 years old), Jose De Leon (23) and Jharel Cotton (24 in January) all pitched well for Double-A Tulsa in 2015. None would be expected to start 2016 in Los Angeles, but could one become the homegrown compliment to Kershaw the Dodgers have been looking for by summer? (No offense to Zach Lee and others whose names don’t begin with “J.”)
In the cool before the Hot Stove, it’s fun to imagine what it would mean for these storylines to play out in a happy way …