5 Things the Los Angeles Dodgers Must Do This Offseason to Win in 2013
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The Los Angeles Dodgers’ offseason started earlier than anticipated after they were officially eliminated from the National League Wild Card race on Tuesday night. While missing the playoffs was a huge letdown, the Dodgers brass needs to quickly move past the disappointment and start preparing for what’s sure to be a busy offseason.
Los Angeles has been the major league’s most active franchise since being sold to Guggenheim Baseball Management last spring.
GM Ned Colletti and president Stan Kasten—with the blessing and financial backing of the new ownership group—made several major investments in the team’s future over the past six months.
Each move was designed to improve the Dodgers immediately without compromising their plans to build a franchise ideally set up for long-term, sustainable success.
To ensure that those moves were not made in vain, Los Angeles will need to continue to be aggressive this offseason. The Dodgers were given somewhat of a grace period in 2012, but their will be no excuses if the team fails to reach the postseason next year.
Here are five moves the Dodgers need to make this offseason to prepare for World Series contention in 2013.
1. Offer Don Mattingly a New Contract
It's been difficult for Dodgers manager Don Mattingly to crack a smile lately but he's definitely the right man to lead this team.
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Even though Ned Colletti has gone on record stating that Don Mattingly will return as the Dodgers manager in 2013, his lame-duck status will remain intact once the season starts. Los Angeles should end any speculation about Mattingly’s job security by signing him to a long-term contract extension this offseason.
Despite having no previous managerial experience when he was hired, Mattingly has led the Dodgers to winning records in each of his first two seasons in L.A. He’s earned the respect of his players and others around baseball, and he’s largely credited with helping Matt Kemp develop into one of the game’s best players.
The team underachieved in the second half of this season despite several moves to improve the roster. That led some to speculate about Mattingly’s future as the Dodgers manager, but he should be commended for not letting the weight of expectations take control of his team.
Mattingly was himself a standout player for the New York Yankees during the longest World Series drought of their illustrious history (1982-1995), so he knows a little bit about high-profile franchises failing to meet lofty expectations.
That experience, along with his naturally humble nature, makes him the perfect manager to lead the Dodgers new collection of current and former All-Stars. Hopefully, the Dodgers brass will reward Mattingly with a new deal before the start of the 2013 season.
2. Pursue Zack Greinke at All Costs
Zack Greinke would look mighty nice in the right Los Angeles uniform.
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The Dodgers must use every recruiting tool in the book, and a few that aren’t, to convince Zack Greinke to move a little farther north from Anaheim to Los Angeles. He’ll be the best available pitcher in this year’s market and would be a perfect fit in L.A.’s starting rotation behind Clayton Kershaw.
Besides a miserable first half in 2011—when he was recovering from an offseason ankle injury—Greinke was outstanding for the Milwaukee Brewers during his year and a half in the National League. The 2009 AL Cy Young award winner also looked comfortable in his brief stint with the Angels, so the Southern California environment appears to suit him well.
Greinke won’t be 29 until the end of this month, so signing him to a long-term contract would provide the Dodgers with a fearsome front of the rotation for years to come. With only Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett currently signed beyond 2013, he’d also help fill a potential hole in L.A.'s starting rotation.
3. Re-Sign Closer Brandon League
Brandon League's late-season heroics kept Los Angeles in the wild card hunt until the season's final days.
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As much as the Dodgers need to fortify their starting rotation for next season, they’d also be wise to solidify the bullpen by re-signing Brandon League.
Los Angeles acquired League near the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline and he initially struggled with the transition to the NL. But after taking over the closer’s role for the absent Kenley Jansen, League was outstanding at the back of the Dodgers bullpen.
He was 6-for-6 in save opportunities for L.A. and surrendered only one earned run over his last 22 innings pitched.
Jansen is scheduled to undergo surgery to repair a heart condition that has sidelined him for parts of the last two seasons. While the surgery should permanently solve the problem, Jansen’s status and role for 2013 are still unknown.
Re-signing League would give the Dodgers the same bullpen insurance that was so vital to the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals this season. The surprisingly strong efforts of Rafael Soriano and Tyler Clippard helped the Yankees and Nationals finish the regular season with the best records in their respective leagues.
4. Sign Clayton Kershaw to the Richest Contract Ever for a Starting Pitcher
Clayton Kershaw may very well win his second consecutive NL Cy Young Award after a gutsy 2012 campaign.
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Clayton Kershaw has fast become one of the top five pitchers in Major League Baseball, and it’s time for the Dodgers to pay him accordingly.
The 24-year-old lefty has one year of salary arbitration remaining after the 2013 season, but Los Angeles would be wise to secure Kershaw’s services now. The price will continue to escalate over the next two years, so the Dodgers gain nothing by delaying the inevitable.
Cole Hamels’ six-year, $144 million contract extension with the Philadelphia Phillies reset the going rate for elite starting pitchers. Kershaw’s age (Hamels is more than four years older at 28) and Cy Young pedigree will allow him to easily surpass both the years and annual salary on that deal.
He may not reach $30 million per year, but Kershaw will almost certainly become the first $200 million pitcher in MLB history. That type of money is well deserved for a pitcher that consistently tosses 200 innings per year with 200-plus strikeouts and a sub-3.00 ERA.
His curveball alone might be worth $5 million per season.
5. Consider Trading Dee Gordon
For the sake of his development, the Dodgers need to make a decision on Dee Gordon's future in Los Angeles sooner rather than later.
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Dee Gordon’s brief career in a Dodgers uniform hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts. The midseason acquisition of Hanley Ramirez and the emergence of third baseman Luis Cruz make Gordon expendable, and Los Angeles could use him as a trade chip to help address their pitching woes.
Gordon appeared in only 87 games this year thanks to a thumb injury that sidelined him for more than two months. He hit just .228 in 303 at-bats, but he did manage to steal 32 bases in limited actions. In his 143-game career, Gordon has hit only .260 with a dismal .299 on-base percentage.
Still just 24, and with less than a full season’s worth of games played at the major league level, it’s way too early to give up on Gordon’s potential. The Dodgers, however, are built to win immediately, so he may be more valuable to them as a means of acquiring a quality starting pitcher.
The Miami Marlins invested heavily in shortstop Jose Reyes last offseason, but they may be intrigued by Gordon’s potential and affordability (he can’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season) and decide to try him at another position. Los Angeles would get right-hander Josh Johnson in exchange, who has one year left on his contract at $13 million.
Johnson wasn’t spectacular in 2012, but he pitched well enough to prove that he was over the shoulder problems that plagued him for most of 2011. He gave the Marlins 191.1 innings this year and at 28, he still has a few good years ahead of him.
If the Dodgers hold on to Gordon, they’d be better off sending him to the minors for another year of seasoning until an infield spot opens up in 2013.
Both Mark Ellis and Nick Punto become free agents next winter, opening up a spot a second base. That could open the door for Gordon or Cruz to shift over to the right side of the infield, unclogging the current logjam at shortstop and third base.