Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2015 season. Next up: The Los Angeles Dodgers.
The Big Question: Will the revamped front office put the Dodgers over the top?
After losing in the NLCS in 2013, the Dodgers won their second straight NL West title last season before being ousted by the Cardinals during the NLDS. It was bitterly disappointing, especially to see the division rival Giants go on to win the World Series, but such is life with the randomness of the playoffs. However, rather than stand pat and hope for better luck in 2015, the Dodgers decided to shake things up by reassigning GM Ned Colletti and giving big money to Andrew Friedman to lure him from the Rays. Friedman, who was hired as president of baseball operations, then brought on Farhan Zaidi from the A’s to serve as general manager and made a host of other changes throughout the organization.
Friedman and Zaidi were accustomed to making the most out of limited resources with their former organizations, so being free from these shackles allowed them to not only improve around the margins with their new team but also make some bold moves. After letting free agent Hanley Ramirez walk, the Dodgers remade their middle infield by acquiring Jimmy Rollins and cashing in on Dee Gordon’s big 2014 to get Andrew Heaney as a chip for Howie Kendrick. They flipped Matt Kemp to the Padres and landed a new primary catcher (Yasmani Grandal) in the process. They threw money at risk with the backend of their rotation by signing Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million contract, Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million deal and the rehabbing Brandon Beachy for $2.75 million. The Dodgers will pay $30.5 million (between Kemp, Dan Haren, and Gordon) for players who aren’t playing for them this season. Talk about a different world.
This is a lot of turnover for a roster that already had some great pieces in place. Clayton Kershaw, with three Cy Young Awards in the last four seasons, is the undisputed best pitcher on the planet. Meanwhile, Zack Greinke has been excellent during his first two seasons in Los Angeles and Hyun-Jin Ryu has gone underappreciated since coming stateside. Yasiel Puig is one of the most talented and exciting players in the game today and will likely face more pressure to be the face of this offense with Kemp and Ramirez elsewhere. Fortunately, Adrian Gonzalez is a durable and consistent force in the middle of the lineup.
Barring something unexpected, like an injury to Kershaw, it’s hard to not see the Dodgers as the overwhelming favorite to win their third straight NL West crown. Perhaps the gambles in the backend of the starting rotation won’t work out, but they have the prospect depth and the money to make a trade if an in-season upgrade is necessary. However, the great unknown of October lingers. And no front office change or player acquisition can bring certainty.
What else is going on?
- The dynamic between Don Mattingly and the new Dodgers’ front office will be fascinating to follow. After Friedman joined the Dodgers and Joe Maddon opted out of his contract with the Rays, many immediately assumed that they would be reunited in Los Angeles. However, the Dodgers stood behind Don Mattingly while Maddon ended up with the Cubs. Still, Mattingly wasn’t chosen by them. He was a holdover. Mattingly has never been vocal about his use of analytics in the past, but he said back in January that “you’re a fool” if you’re not using them as part of your decision making. He’s talking the talk, which is a good idea for a person who wants to keep his job, but we’ll have to see if he meshes with the new regime.
- Kenley Jansen underwent surgery in mid-February to remove a growth from his left foot and is expected to miss the first month of the season. Some speculated that the Dodgers would throw money at Francisco Rodriguez (who eventually signed with the Brewers) or Rafael Soriano (who is still a free agent), but they appear content to rely on internal options to fill in. Joel Peralta was acquired from the Rays over the winter and figures to be in the mix, but keep an eye on Chris Hatcher. Hatcher, who came over to the Dodgers in the Gordon trade, is another former catcher (like Jansen) and quietly posted a 3.38 ERA and 60/12 K/BB ratio across 56 innings last season. There’s some uncertainty with this situation, but they should be able to get by for a month.
- Juan Uribe currently projects to be the regular third baseman if he’s healthy, but the Dodgers are one of the teams who have been linked to Cuban free agent infielder Hector Olivera. In fact, they reportedly made a $77 million offer before Olivera switched agents. Who knows if that offer was legitimate — he’d probably already be a Dodger by now if that was true — but clearly they like him. He’s 29 and was one of the best hitters in Cuba, so he could be ready to make an impact in the majors right away.
- While Andre Ethier is on the outside looking in for playing time, rookie Joc Pederson is penciled in as the Dodgers’ regular center fielder this season. He turns 23 in April and is coming off a monster season in Triple-A where he batted .303/.435/.582 with 33 home runs and 30 stolen bases across 121 games. Baseball America recently ranked him as the No. 8 prospect in the game. He put up those numbers in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League and strikeouts are an issue for him, so expect some growing pains, but he should be exciting to watch.
- Zack Greinke is guaranteed $71 million from 2016-2018, but he has the ability to opt out of his contract after this season and test the free agent market. He would almost certainly fetch more if his 2015 is anything close to his first two seasons in Los Angeles. From that perspective, the Dodgers likely won’t be upset if it works out that way. And heck, they certainly have the money to bring him back if they want.
- Vin Scully is back in the booth for his 66th season, which is a treat for all baseball fans. Don’t take him for granted.
Prediction: The Dodgers will win the NL West handily.