By now, we're all fairly well acquainted with the major spring themes. Will Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford be at full strength by April 1? Will the team be able to blend all its expensive parts into a humming engine? Can Ned Colletti lock up Clayton Kershaw through his 20s? Is Hanley Ramirez still a shortstop?
But there are some under-the-surface issues that could roil camp for the next few weeks and make a similar impact on the season ahead. Let's explore some more obscure, but equally important, questions.
Is defense a liability? If the Dodgers are intent on keeping Ramirez at shortstop, it just might be. With the possible exception of catcher, a team's two most important fielders are the shortstop and center fielder, precisely where the Dodgers might be weakest.
Things could get tense for Dodgers pitchers if Ramirez is letting routine grounders eke into the outfield and Kemp is turning fly balls into doubles. Plus, Crawford's left arm probably won't be at full strength for months, so teams figure to take plenty of extra bases on the Dodgers.
By every advanced metric, Ramirez is a poor choice at shortstop: minus-39 defensive runs saved the past three seasons, minus-19 ultimate zone rating over the same stretch). Kemp has been a below-average center fielder, according to range factor and other measures, for the past two seasons. As his body matures, Kemp looks more and more like a right fielder playing center field.
The Dodgers have ace fielders at catcher, first base, second base and third base, but you wonder whether the soft spots might be poorly placed.
Can they find a spark? Andres Torres told reporters at San Francisco Giants camp Tuesday that the Dodgers were one of the team's pursuing him this winter. This news is interesting mostly because it reveals one of the Dodgers' main anxieties entering the season. If they were talking to Torres, they must be desperate for a top-of-the-order catalyst.
Don Mattingly says it here: He views table setting as the primary problem when the offense stalled out after the big trade last August. If the Dodgers can get people on base in front of Kemp, Adrian Gonzalez, etc., they should be in pretty good shape.
But there's no obvious leadoff hitter, and Crawford's production is a mystery due to elbow and wrist problems, plus some pretty serious under-performance the past two seasons. If he struggles and the Dodgers have to move him down in the order (the Red Sox, for a while, batted him seventh), this issue will be compounded.
What can they get for Cap-Harang-ly? If Chad Billingsley's elbow ligament healed (and he thinks it did), the Dodgers have Chris Capuano, Aaron Harang and Ted Lilly as potential trade chips. This is not a problem. It's a very, very good thing if they can maximize their return.
We're not talking about fringy, fighting-for-a-roster spot guys here. Lilly is a two-time All-Star with a 3.54 ERA since 2008. Capuano, at times, was the Dodgers' second-best starter last year when they limited his exposure. Harang finished in the top five in Cy Young balloting once and still has a good arm. For a lot of teams, any one of these guys could be a decent No. 3 starter.
The Dodgers don't have a lot of major league needs, unless they can land a super-utility player who bats right-handed and has a knack for getting on base. What they need is minor league depth to patch up holes when injuries begin to mount and more good prospects for a system ranked No. 18 by ESPN.com's Keith Law.
Teams' desperation for starting pitching could grow as the spring progresses. If Colletti plays his cards right, he potentially could get all of the above with some well-timed trades.
Can Kemp lead? I went on ESPNLA 710 yesterday to discuss some of the Dodgers' potential chemistry issues and mentioned that I thought Gonzalez was a good candidate to be the clubhouse leader. He's an experienced, skilled, respected player and has the distinct advantage of being fluently bilingual.
But Mychal Thompson had a good retort: Doesn't Matt Kemp have to be the guy to lead this team? On second thought, I think he does.
There once was a thing called the Dodger Way. It involved good pitching, smart baserunning and meticulous attention to detail. Kemp and Clayton Kershaw are the heirs of that legacy and, along with Billingsley and Andre Ethier, are responsible for instilling it in their new teammates. Somebody has to make it clear what will and won't be tolerated and that guy needs to be the team's best player. Kershaw might have the attributes, but he plays in only 20 percent of the games.
Kemp is going to have to stand up and take hard questions when things aren't going well. If he can become that guy, he takes pressure off his teammates and sets an example of accountability that can carry a team far.
Is Ryu ready?
No matter how much the Dodgers say they scouted Hyun-Jin Ryu, they can't possibly know how quickly or how well he can adjust to major league hitting. No player has ever gone straight from the Korean Baseball Organization to the major leagues. The Ryu signing is a $62 million leap of faith.
They say they are committed to using the big left-hander in the rotation, but should they keep at least one of the aforementioned veteran starters as insurance in case Ryu is sinking early on? They can't demote him to the minor leagues without his written consent, because of the contract they worked out with Scott Boras, so they're probably stuck with him no matter what happens.
The foundation of this team is still pitching, and Ryu is an essential cog. If only the Dodgers had a better idea what to expect. Maybe they'll have a clue by the time Cactus League games get underway.