3 Reasons Los Angeles Dodgers Should Continue Spending Big This Offseason
If the Los Angeles Dodgers are serious about building a World Series contender as early as next season, they must continue to flash the cash this offseason.
Guggenheim Baseball Management wasted no time flexing their financial muscles once they officially took control of the Dodgers in April. Magic Johnson and his partners must finish the job this winter to create the winner they desperately want.
Los Angeles’ new ownership group made their presence felt across Major League Baseball by pulling off a series of high-profile trades during the 2012 season.
The Dodgers first shook up the trade market by acquiring shortstop/third baseman Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins in late-July. More shocking than the transaction itself was L.A.’s willingness to take on the remainder of Ramirez’s contract—a deal that guaranteed him nearly $38 million (at the time of the trade) through the 2014 season.
The Ramirez deal soon became trivial once Los Angeles completed a rare blockbuster trade with the Boston Red Sox during the August waiver period.
The nine-player deal added more than $250 million in guaranteed contracts to the Dodgers’ payroll. It also put former All-Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett (and utility infielder Nick Punto) in Dodgers uniforms.
Although team president Stan Kasten insist the Dodgers will return to being a franchise built on strong player development, it will take years for that strategy to bare fruit at the major league level.
The minor league system was nearly left barren following the six years that Frank McCourt owned the team. As a result, Los Angeles has only two prospects ranked among 2012’s top 100 according to MLB.com’s Jonathan Mayo.
Of the two, only right-handed pitcher Zach Lee (the 42nd ranked prospect on Mayo’s list) was in the organization before this season. Cuban outfielder Yasiel Puig (No. 91) was signed by the Dodgers as a free agent in June to a record seven-year, $42 million contract.
Los Angeles fell short of making the postseason despite winning eight of their last ten games and finishing 86-76. Missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons was unfortunate given the efforts made by the new ownership group and general manager Ned Colletti. However, many of L.A.’s midseason acquisitions gave Dodgers fans reason to be excited about the 2013 season.
With little to no help expected from the minor league system next spring, here are three reasons why Los Angeles needs to spend more money this winter to build a World Series contender.
Questions Remain About 2013's Pitching Staff
The Dodgers are plagued by uncertainty about their 2013 starting rotation despite having six starting pitchers under contract next season (not including 2012 spot-starter Stephen Fife). Luckily for Los Angeles the crop of potential free agent starters is strong, led by former AL Cy Young award winner Zack Greinke.
Los Angeles could lose right-hander Chad Billingsley for the entire 2013 season if rehab doesn’t sufficiently fix the elbow problems that ended his season on August 24. The former All-Star may require Tommy John surgery this winter which would keep him out of the Dodgers’ rotation for more than a year.
Lefty Ted Lilly is expected to be fully recovered by Spring Training as he works his way back from a left shoulder strain that prematurely ended his season in May. But at 37, his career as a starting pitcher is likely over, at least in a Dodgers uniform.
Regardless of what happens with Billingsley and Lilly, Colletti can drastically improve L.A.’s rotation by backing the Brinks truck up to Greinke’s front door.
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim will do everything possible to re-sign Greinke after acquiring him from the Milwaukee Brewers in July. The Dodgers can finally afford to compete with Angels owner Art Moreno, so they must convince the 28-year-old right-hander that life is sweeter just north on the I-5.
If Los Angeles is unable to lure Greinke away from Anaheim, they should pursue another free agent starter like Ryan Dempster, Jake Peavy, Kyle Lohse or former Dodger Edwin Jackson.
Along with adding starting pitching depth, the Dodgers would be foolish not to resign closer Brandon League. When a reoccurring heart condition—which will require surgery this offseason—left Kenley Jansen unavailable for several weeks, League made a seamless transition to the back of the bullpen.
The New York Yankees and Washington Nationals proved how important having a reliable backup closer is to reaching the postseason. League provides that same level of security for the Dodgers and should be brought back in 2013.
End Any Speculation About Clayton Kershaw’s Free Agency
After a season for which Clayton Kershaw could every well earn his second consecutive National League Cy Young award, the Dodgers shouldn’t hesitate to make him the highest paid pitcher in Major League Baseball.
Los Angeles avoided salary arbitration with the 24-year-old lefty in February, agreeing to a two-year, $19 million contract. That leaves Kershaw with one more arbitration-eligible year following next season, but the cost of a long-term contract will only go up for the Dodgers the longer they wait.
Philadelphia Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels set the new market for starting pitchers when he agreed to a six-year, $144 million contract extension in July. But Hamels is more than four years older than Kershaw and not quite as good, so the Dodgers’ ace should become MLB’s first $200 million pitcher.
And he’ll be worth every penny.
Kershaw won the pitching Triple Crown in 2011, leading the league in wins, ERA and strikeouts. He also led the NL in WHIP on his way to his first Cy Young award.
He again led the National League in ERA and WHIP this season, and finished only one strikeout behind R.A. Dickey to finish second in that category.
Kershaw has pitched more than 200 innings and struck out over 200 batters in each of the last three season. He's also made at least 30 starts and ended the season with a sub-3.00 ERA in each of the last four years.
With such an outstanding track record of dominance and reliability, the Dodgers should give him a contract that validates his value to the organization. Los Angeles has given big-money extensions to franchise cornerstones Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier within the past year and Clayton Kershaw is more important to the Dodgers’ future than both outfielders.
I’d say eight-years, $240 million sounds about right.
Guggenheim Baseball Management Must Finish What It Started
The Dodgers must continue to be aggressive this offseason if for no other reason than to validate the moves they’ve already made. The new ownership group has promised to, again, make Los Angeles one of the premier franchises in all of pro sports. That process begins with putting a World Series contender on the field.
Ethier’s contract extension, the Puig signing and the five in-season trades are proof that Guggenheim Baseball Management is serious about competing for championships. Those moves would be made in vein, however, if Colletti is not allowed to finish the rebuilding job this offseason.
Los Angeles may not be able to pry Greinke away from the Angels, but they have to make an all-out effort to try.
If the Dodgers are unsuccessful in their pursuit of this winters top free agent, It wouldn’t hurt to circle back with the Miami Marlins and check on Josh Johnson’s availability. Miami is expected to further pare down their payroll and his $13 million salary in 2013 would help tremendously.
Some combination of Puig and Carl Crawford will emerge to fill the void in left field—the only obvious hole that the Dodgers have in their lineup. With a healthy Matt Kemp and a full season of Ramirez, Gonzalez and third baseman Luis Cruz, Los Angeles will become the offensive juggernaut that fans expect.
As long as the Dodgers commit to shoring up the pitching staff, we should be breaking down their National League Division Series matchup around this time next season. A World Series title would be the ultimate return on investment, but getting their starts with a playoff berth in 2013.