Dodgers full of expectations

JOHN MARSHALL AP Sports Writer Published:

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Players wander into the Los Angeles Dodgers' spacious clubhouse all morning, exchanging handshakes and hugs, asking about health and family, smiles all around.

The weight of expectations from what likely will be baseball's highest payroll are nowhere to be found. With six weeks until opening day, eight months until the World Series starts, there's plenty of time for that.

Right now, the middle of February, the first day of spring training, the focus is not on what this team might be able to do, but on setting the foundation to even give themselves a chance to get there.

"All these expectations are just noise to me and noise to our club," Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said on Tuesday, reporting day for pitchers and catchers at Camelback Ranch Stadium. "We should win the World Series and this and that, that's all fine, that's all good, but my job is to prepare this team to play and to cut out the noise."

Mattingly has plenty to work with after the team's owners went on a spending spree.

Stuck in bankruptcy, the Dodgers opened last season 12th in the majors with a payroll of $94.7 million.

After Frank McCourt sold the team in May, the new ownership group that includes Mark Walter, Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten whipped out the wallets, working out deals to acquire Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Brandon League.

The Dodgers kept handing out stacks of cash during the offseason, paying a combined $183 million to right-hander Zack Greinke and South Korean pitcher Ryu Hyun-jin.

The wheeling and dealing sent the Dodgers payroll over $200 million, into luxury-tax range and likely ahead of the New York Yankees, baseball's biggest spender the past 14 years.

A price tag like that brings expectations, particularly for a storied franchise that hasn't been to the World Series since winning the title in 1988.

"I expect to win. I expected to win last year, I expected us to win the year before, honestly," Mattingly said. "I just believe that you can do anything if things work out. Granted, this year I have some more leeway."

The trouble in spring training will be figuring out how to get all these high-priced pieces to fit.

Los Angeles has talent and depth across the field and its bench, leaving Mattingly with a lot of evaluating and figuring to do during the spring.

Injuries to key players also could stretch the decision-making into the season.

Center fielder Matt Kemp is recovering from left shoulder surgery and left fielder Carl Crawford, picked up in last season's blockbuster trade with Boston, is recovering from surgery on his left elbow and wrist.

Pitcher Clayton Kershaw had problems with his right hip late last season -- he says he's healthy now -- and fellow starter Ted Lilly is coming off left shoulder surgery and Chad Billingsley, No. 2 in the rotation last season, is returning from a partially torn right elbow ligament.

Putting this puzzle together won't be easy and Mattingly will likely have to make some choices as spring ends and the season starts.

"Everybody can't hit third or fourth and there's only going to be one closer, for the most part, so there's going to be roles for everybody," Mattingly said. "When you build a club, you're trying to build a club where the pieces fit together and you don't have four second basemen or four center fielders. You want that guy who is a utility player, who comes off the bench and is happy doing that and likes that role. When you put a club together you can't just throw a bunch of names together and expect it to work. "

The biggest decisions will likely come in the starting rotation.

The Dodgers enter spring training with eight pitchers vying for five spots in the rotation.

Kershaw and Greinke appear to be locks at the top and Mattingly said Tuesday that he doesn't see right-hander Josh Beckett as someone who could move to the bullpen. That will likely leave Ryu, who will get a crash course in American culture and baseball, Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang, Billingsley and Lilly fighting for what may be just two spots.

"Everything's kind of up in the air right now," Mattingly said.

The glut of starters could end up helping the Dodgers.

Having so many potential starters certainly gives them depth, which could prove useful later in spring or even into the season, particularly with three of the pitchers coming off injuries.

It also fosters a competitive atmosphere, with even the guys at the top knowing they can't let up with so many players fighting for the same spots.

"Unless we do something different and go with six starters, there's going to be competition," Kershaw said. "But it'll make spring training mean something and helps us drive each other and push each other. Good competition is fun."

Fielder blending in

LAKELAND, Fla. -- With his beefy frame and prodigious power, Prince Fielder doesn't look like a player who can simply blend into a lineup.

Somehow, the slugging first baseman did just that in his first season with the Detroit Tigers.

Fielder signed a $214 million deal early last year, arriving in Motown amid predictable fanfare. Then he hit .313 with 30 home runs and 108 RBIs in a Detroit debut that was largely devoid of drama.

With Triple Crown winner Miguel Cabrera hitting in front of him and Justin Verlander baffling hitters from the mound, Fielder's terrific production was almost overshadowed. And that's exactly how he prefers it.

"It's always good to be on a team when you have superstars who are cool guys. They know how to play the game," Fielder said. "Everyone here is a star, so it's not a big deal. I love that. The more attention off me, the better."

Detroit's pitchers and catchers went through their first spring training workout Tuesday, but the full squad doesn't start until later this week. Fielder appeared at a youth baseball field in Lakeland on Tuesday, joining around 100 youngsters for the unveiling of what was billed as the world's largest baseball card.

The card, created by the Topps Company, measured approximately 90 feet by 60 feet, leaving center field covered with the giant image of Fielder swinging.

That's about as ostentatious as it gets for Fielder these days. His violent, uppercut swing is in direct contrast with his persona. His goal each season is to be consistent and avoid major peaks and valleys.

Rolen declines Reds' offer

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Third baseman Scott Rolen declined the Cincinnati Reds' offer to attend spring training, but stopped short of saying he's ready to retire.

The seven-time All-Star informed the team of his decision on Tuesday, when Reds pitchers and catchers reported for the start of camp. Rolen, who turns 38 on April 4, had been mulling an offer to fill a reserve role with the NL Central champions.

He's been limited each of the last three seasons by chronic problems with his left shoulder and back spasms.

"Right now, I'm simply not ready to make a commitment," Rolen said, in a statement released by the team. "I would like to leave my options open, without closing any doors. I am looking forward to all of the challenges, both personally and professionally, I will face in the future."

Rolen became a free agent after last season, when he batted .245 in 92 games with eight homers and 39 RBIs. He missed time with the shoulder and back problems. Todd Frazier is set to take over at third base this season, but the Reds offered Rolen a chance to stay in a reduced role.

"It's tough for me because he's a good guy to talk to every day about third base," Frazier said, after learning of Rolen's decision. "I understand he wants to be with his family or whatever he wants to do. All the best to him. But I'd like him to be here so I could get more knowledge from him, for sure."

Rolen's arrival in Cincinnati coincided with the Reds' resurgence. General manager Walt Jocketty traded for Rolen midway through the 2009, bringing in a veteran leader for a young team. The Reds won the NL Central two of the last three years, with Rolen becoming one of the clubhouse's leaders.

"Scott made significant contributions to our team's recent success, and it isn't a coincidence we made the playoffs in two of his three full seasons here," Jocketty said.

Mets' closer

Even on the day before their first spring training workout, the New York Mets had bad news.

Closer Frank Francisco is bothered by the same elbow inflammation that ended his 2012 season on Sept. 16.

Mets manager Terry Collins said Tuesday that Bobby Parnell and Brandon Lyon will be given the first chance to take over the closer's job.

"There is some inflammation in there. It was something the training staff was prepared for," Collins said. "They thought it might happen, so we just want to quiet the swelling down before he plays catch. Frank told me last week, 'I'll be ready.'"

Hernandez deal official

Felix Hernandez and Seattle reached agreement Tuesday on a contract that is expected to make the Mariners ace the highest-paid pitcher in baseball.

"I think it's a great thing for the Seattle Mariners," Seattle general manager Jack Zduriencik said. "It's a great thing for Felix Hernandez, and looking forward to this guy being here for a very long time, obviously."

Hernandez's deal is expected to be for $175 million over seven years. Terms of the contract were not released by the team. Hernandez and Zduriencik will hold a news conference in Seattle on Wednesday afternoon where Hernandez is expected to sign the contract.

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