Built to win, Dodgers put final pieces in place
Spring camp has allowed new players to get to know each other
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Management's primary goal for last summer's radical roster makeover was to cap the Dodgers' rebirth with an instantaneous postseason appearance, but that didn't happen.
So management's secondary goal for those expensive acquisitions was, in general, to make the Dodgers competitive for seasons to follow -- and in particular, for this season, with the added benefit of a team that had a Spring Training together to jell.
Now with Spring Training coming to a close, have the Dodgers jelled?
W: Kershaw L: Kontos
"We sense it in the locker room," said manager Don Mattingly. "You [media] guys sense it, you hear the [interaction]. You can tell if they're having fun together and like each other. We see it in meetings when guys step up and speak up.
"We felt like the chemistry thing was never a problem. The biggest thing we talk about is having guys on the same page. That's what this Spring Training gives us a chance to do."
"Yeah, and that's what Spring Training is all about," said Matt Kemp, who has matured into a vocal team leader in his eighth Major League season. "We all have great relationships in here. Last year, the second half was different, it was like we had a brand new team."
The second half last year saw the acquisitions of Hanley Ramirez, Randy Choate, Brandon League, Shane Victorino, Joe Blanton, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Nick Punto and, in name only, Carl Crawford, who had just undergone Tommy John elbow surgery.
Now Choate, Victorino and Blanton are gone. Crawford appears healed and committed to resurrect a career once promising enough for Boston to bless him with a $147 million contract, only for the relationship between player and city to sour miserably.
Crawford this spring is the most outspoken about how welcoming the Dodgers' clubhouse chemistry has been.
"Everything here is so positive," Crawford said. "You can feel the positive energy around here. For me, that's huge at this point in my career. It's an easy place to come into. The people here really make it easy to go to work every day. It's hard for me to really express it. People here are just different. There's just a positive vibe. It reminds me of Tampa a lot. Not so strict, not so many rules that it's crazy.
"And here you have so many cultures. Cubans, Koreans, Mexicans, blacks. It's a nice group of different cultures going on."
Crawford said he's also been impacted by the franchise's renewed interest in remembering its past.
"We've got the [former Dodgers] telling you the history of the Dodgers, and I'm learning more and more," he said. "It's interesting to me. I never really did learn the history of baseball. You have these guys talking to you about what it means to play for the Dodgers. You actually want to make a little of that history yourself. It's an amazing thing. I want to be part of that. Whether things go good or bad for me, I still feel I'm in a better situation and I'll be better off just being here. I just have a good feeling."
Gonzalez, like Crawford, escaped Boston for the West Coast. He said the upbeat tone in the clubhouse is a reflection of the highest level of the franchise.
"We have a great group of guys, guys that for me have a lot in common as players and people," Gonzalez said. "The coaching staff is unbelievable, ownership is unbelievable. These are people of such integrity. You know what you're going to get. They are quality individuals. Everybody has the same mentality -- to bring a championship to L.A."
The task has already been made tougher with the right thumb injury that will sideline Ramirez until mid-May, forcing Mattingly to revamp the left side of his infield.
"This is where being an experienced team kicks in," said Gonzalez. "Punto, Jerry Hairston, Juan Uribe, these guys have won World Series and had key roles as platoon guys, they've had to step in and step up to do a job, and they're all proven capable."
Nothing that happens in Spring Training is assured to happen in the regular season, not even Yasiel Puig hitting .547. If nothing else, though, the Dodgers have gotten to know each other.
"During the season you spend half the year, eight to 10 hours a day together," said Clayton Kershaw. "The baseball stuff is important, but it's great to have the cohesion in the clubhouse and to know the personalities, so these six weeks are huge for us. The baseball stuff will come from playing together. But this allows a lot of the guys to take the time and get comfortable and know everybody."
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.