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Dodgers' chances in 2016 depend not on Kazmir, but on Ryu and McCarthy comebacks

Kazmir's fine, but the key to staying atop the NL West will be whether the Dodgers can get more out of the back end of their rotation next year.

Peter G. Aiken-USA TODAY Sports

What a difference a year makes. Last year, coming off of a 94 win 2014, the Dodgers had revamped their roster, dealing Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to the Marlins to pick up a number of players that included Andrew Heaney. Then they immediately turned around and sent Heaney to the Angels for Howie Kendrick. They signed Brandon McCarthy. They dealt former franchise player Matt Kemp to the Padres for Yasmani Grandal and two pitchers. They traded one of those pitchers to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins. And they signed Brett Anderson to compliment a rotation headlined by Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke. All that maneuvering and the Dodgers actually won two fewer games in 2015.

Now, as we get ready to turn the page on 2016, the Dodgers are still led by Kershaw, and Anderson is backing him up. Behind them are three more lefties: the newly signed Scott Kazmir, Alex Wood, and the rehabbing Hyun-jin Ryu. At some point in there, Brandon McCarthy will presumably come back, but he is also rehabbing. Kendrick is gone, replaced by the ghost of Chase Utley. Rollins is in the wind, but in his place will be lauded prospect Corey Seager.

They missed out on re-signing Greinke. They whiffed on Johnny Cueto. They weren't a factor in the bidding for David Price. They signed and then reneged on signing Hisashi Iwakuma after looking at his medicals, and finally settled on a three year deal with Scott Kazmir that will actually be a one year, $16 million if everything goes right and Kazmir takes his opt out. It's an investment with almost no upside, costs them their first round draft pick [note: the author had a brain fart], and makes the Dodgers' rotation super left-handed (though that, in and of itself, is not a problem).

Still, it's hard to bet on the Dodgers getting much worse in 2016. Kazmir will help in that regard; he's no Greinke, but he's been a perfectly league average and durable pitcher since he reappeared on Baseball's radar in 2013. The smart money is on him being a capable mid-rotation starter. That sounds like a downgrade, but it underestimates how badly Los Angeles missed having capable arms at the back end of its starting rotation. The question isn't how much the Dodgers are sacrificing by replacing Greinke with Kazmir, it's whether Kazmir and whatever Wood, Ryu, and McCarthy produce can equal what the Dodgers got last year from Greinke, half a season of Wood, Mike Bolsinger, and Carlos Frias.

And, frankly, that seems doable. LA's fourth and fifth starters (basically anybody who started a game who wasn't Kershaw, Greinke, or Anderson) had a 4.78 ERA in 342.2 innings in 2015. Ryu, when healthy, has been worth in excess of three wins over his first two years. McCarthy has demonstrated that he can be a league average starter or better when he's not hurt. Wood, too, has flashed the ability to be a quality mid rotation starter over the last three seasons.  That's a huge improvement over what the Dodgers had to endure last year.

The Dodgers will also presumably have better luck keeping players like Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke, and Enrique Hernandez healthy, can count on at least some improvement from early summer-sensation Joc Pederson, and a big improvement at shortstop thanks to Seager.

The trouble, of course, is that the Dodgers' competitors haven't just been treading water this offseason. The Giants and the Diamondbacks have both gotten demonstrably better and may well end the Dodgers' run at the top of the NL West. It also ignores the very real risk that McCarthy and Ryu won't bounce back as expected, or Brett Anderson will go back to being brittle. And all this activity just to keep running in place will have been for nothing.