Rounding Third: NL Outlook: Dodgers' cash could lead to a pennant

It doesn't seem all that long ago that the Los Angeles Dodgers were headed towards bankruptcy.

Well, fast forward two years and they enter the 2013 season with one of the highest payrolls in baseball and are also one of the favorites to win the National League.

The Dodgers' spending spree, fueled of course by the deep pockets of the Guggenheim ownership group that includes former NBA star Magic Johnson, started with contract extensions to both Andre Ethier and superstar Matt Kemp.

But, it was a trade last summer that really set the baseball world on its ear and let everyone know that the Dodgers are indeed open for business.

Los Angeles acquired first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, outfielder Carl Crawford, righty Josh Beckett and utility man Nick Punto for prospects from Boston in what was essentially a salary dump by the Red Sox with a look towards this season.

The spending wasn't done, though, as the Dodgers pulled off a huge surprise this winter, landing former American League Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke with a 6-year, $147 million free agent deal.

Next up will be getting a deal done for lefty Clayton Kershaw, who very well could become the game's first $200 million pitcher with another strong season this year.

But, first things first.

Manager Don Mattingly has all the tools at his disposal for the Dodgers to get back to the postseason for the first time in 2009. The only thing that could stop them are injuries and, like last year with Kemp, they seem to be rearing their ugly early on.

Greinke appears likely to start the season on the disabled list, while another one of the Dodgers' pickups last season, infielder Hanley Ramirez, will miss at least the first two months following thumb surgery. Still, this is a team that can overcome that and then some and has proven it will go out and add another piece if need be.

Bottom line, the ownership wants a title. It's World Series or bust.

If you are a betting man, place your money on the Dodgers getting back to the Fall Classic for the first time since 1988.

For an insight into the season, here's a brief synopsis and a look at some of the teams which will try to stop the Dodgers in power poll form. For a look at the AL predictions, click here

2. WASHINGTON NATIONALS: This is the year in D.C. There are no limits on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper will be on the field from the get go. Add in Denard Span, Dan Haren and Rafael Soriano combined with the fact that the Nats won 98 games a year ago and expectations are through the roof in the nation's capital. If anything the Nationals might be the most exciting team in the league.

3. CINCINNATI REDS: The sky is the limit this season for the Cincinnati Reds. The lineup that helped the Reds win the NL Central by nine games is essentially the same - and could be even better with Todd Frazier playing everyday and the addition of Shin-Soo Choo. If Joey Votto can play over 150 games he may win another MVP. The starting rotation is young and talented, while having Jonathan Broxton and Aroldis Chapman at the back of the bullpen will shorten games to seven innings on most nights. It's World Series or bust for Dusty Baker's crew.

4. SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS: The defending world champions return essentially the same team that swept the Detroit Tigers for the second title in three years. And they could be even better provided Tim Lincecum reverts back to being the pitcher who was a perennial Cy Young Award candidate instead of the one who threw to a 5.18 ERA a year ago. Judging by his 10.57 ERA this spring, though, Lincecum could be headed for another long year.

5. ATLANTA BRAVES: No lineup improved itself more in the National League this offseason than the Braves, who added both B.J. and Justin Upton. The duo will have an even greater impact provided Jason Heyward starts playing to expectations. Should that happen this could be a dangerous team. But, there are some questions at the back of the rotation and Johnny Venters' elbow injury late in spring training has to be a concern. Still, the Braves should be right in the thick of things in the National League this year.

6. ST. LOUIS CARDINALS: St. Louis should not only be able to compete for a playoff spot, but it is good enough to win the National League Central. Of course, many things must fall into place for that to happen, the most important of which being staying healthy. You can probably say that about most teams, but staying on the field is essential for the Cardinals. Injuries, though, have already sapped the team's depth, but they do have a young stud waiting in the wings in Oscar Taveras. If manager Mike Matheny can get 30 starts apiece from his top-3 pitchers, the Cardinals are going to be very good. That is a very big if, though.

7. PHILADELPHIA PHILLIES: If you are looking for a sleeper in the National League look no further than the Philadelphia Phillies. There is still no team in baseball with a better top-3 in the rotation of Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Roy Halladay

8. MILWAUKEE BREWERS: The Brewers were some decent pitching and more particularly, a decent bullpen, away from making the postseason in 2012. Pitching -- from both the rotation and the bullpen -- figures to be a roller- coaster ride this year, but the bats will keep them in just about every game they play, but not enough that they'll contend for a National League Central crown. Plus it still remains to be seen if Ryan Braun will be suspended for his involvement with the Miami clinic.

9. PITTSBURGH PIRATES: What can you say about the Pirates? Last year they were a feel-good story in the first half and then it all fell apart. If those first few months did anything, it showed that there is some talent on this roster. General manager Neal Huntington has preached baby steps and that is the right approach. Before they can even start thinking about contending for a division title they have to get back to .500, which would be a huge accomplishment.

10. SAN DIEGO PADRES: It's almost unbelievable that the San Diego Padres are just two seasons removed from 90 wins considering the club lost nearly 90 games a year ago. The Padres just don't have enough firepower to compete with the top teams in the NL West. But help for star Chase Headley may be on the way in the form of rookie Jedd Gyorko.

11. ARIZONA DIAMONDBACKS: Expectations are not that high for Kirk Gibson's club, as the Diamondbacks begin the post Justin Upton era. Arizona is a young team and its time is coming. It won't be this year, though. Keep an eye on center fielder Adam Eaton, an NL Rookie of the Year favorite until he hurt his shoulder late in spring training. He's expected to miss about the first two months, but still should have enough time to have an impact rookie season.

12. COLORADO ROCKIES: Former major leaguer Walt Weiss begins his first year at the helm of the Colorado Rockies. As was the case with his predecessor, Weiss' success will hinge on the health of both Troy Tulowitzki and Carlos Gonzalez. But, even if they do remain healthy, the Rockies still need a lot more things to fall their way if they have any intention of reaching the postseason.

13. NEW YORK METS: As if the New York Mets season wasn't going to be bad enough, now comes word that lefty Johan Santana is probably done for the season. The two-time Cy Young Award winner's career is also very much in jeopardy, as he is expected to undergo yet another shoulder surgery. On the bright side the Mets do have a pair of young pitchers to keep an eye on: righty Matt Harvey, who will break camp with the club, and Zack Wheeler, who will debut likely sometime in July.

14. CHICAGO CUBS: With the rebuilding process continuing in Chicago, it appears that it will be another long season for the Cubs. Adding Edwin Jackson to the mix in the rotation automatically makes them better, but without the Houston Astros to kick around in the division anymore, the Cubs likely are headed towards a last-place finish. The Cubs probably won't lose 100 games this season, but they are also probably not good enough to be .500 either.

15. MIAMI MARLINS: It's embarrassing what happened to the Marlins this offseason. The fact that Jeffrey Loria was allowed to dismantle them a year after opening that new ballpark in a disgrace. The only reason to even pay attention to this team is to see where they are going to trade Giancarlo Stanton.

BREAKOUT PLAYER: JEDD GYORKO, INF, SAN DIEGO: The silver lining for the San Diego Padres in the fact that third baseman Chase Headley would miss the start of the season with a thumb injury was the fact that it opened a spot for Jedd Gyorko to play everyday. Gyorko can play both second and third base, but is future likely will be up the middle with Headley firmly entrenched at the hot corner. Gyorko had a monster offensive season at the minor league level a year ago, hitting .311 and with 30 home runs and 100 RBI over 126 games at the Double- and Triple-A level. You may not know who he is now, but you will by the end of the season.

BREAKDOWN PLAYER: ROY HALLADAY, RHP, PHILADELPHIA: The easy choice here would have been New York's Johan Santana, but that's kind of cheating considering he is going to miss the year with yet another shoulder surgery. So, we'll go with another two-time Cy Young Award winner in Halladay, who has looked awful this spring and for the second straight year people are questioning his velocity. Look, there are an awful lot of innings in that once golden right arm. At some point something has to give. Spring training stats normally mean nothing, but this is the second consecutive year this has been a problem. Where there's smoke, there's fire right?

FIRST MANAGER FIRED: TERRY COLLINS, NY METS: It's no secret that the Mets are not going to be very good this year. Truth be told there probably isn't going to be a manager fired in-season, but if there is he's going to be the guy to go, considering his contract runs out at the end of the year anyway.

PLAYER MOST LIKELY TRADED BY DEADLINE: ALFONSO SORIANO, OF, CUBS: The Chicago Cubs are all about the future, one that hopefully does not include Alfonso Soriano. The only problem is that he still has two years left on that massive 8-year, $136 million pact. If Soriano comes close to the numbers he posted last year (32 HR, 108 RBI) some team will call. Epstein does like the veteran presence he provides for burgeoning stars Anthony Rizzo and Starlin Castro, but would take about a nanosecond to move him if he could.





NL MVP - JOEY VOTTO (CIN); NL CY Young - Clayton Kershaw (LOS); NL Rookie of Year - OSCAR TAVERAS (STL); NL Manager of Year - DON MATTINGLY (LOS); NL Comeback Player - CARL CRAWFORD (LOS)