Los Angeles Dodgers: 9 Dream Free-Agent Pickups for the Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent the past several months assembling MLB’s version of a dream team, a job that will continue during free agency this winter. Los Angeles doesn’t have many holes to fill on its roster, but there are some tantalizing players available on the open market.
This year’s class of free agents is not particularly sexy. There are enough All-Star-level players in the pool, however, to help out a team with World Series aspirations.
The Dodgers are certainly one of those teams.
Although the team failed to make the playoffs for the third straight year, Los Angeles has high expectations heading into 2013. Matt Kemp and Chad Billingsley will return from major injuries, and midseason acquisitions Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez will have had a full offseason to get settled in.
Carl Crawford will make his Dodgers debut early next season, and Brandon League is re-signed to bolster the bullpen.
With all that talent available for an entire season, Los Angeles will again challenge the San Francisco Giants for NL West supremacy and the National League Pennant.
Even with a stable full of current and former All-Stars, the Dodgers will continue to be aggressive in pursuit of their first world championship since 1988. Their $25.7 million bid for the rights to negotiate with Korean left-hander Ryu Hyun-jin is the latest example of that.
Major League Baseball’s offseason is heating up following a number of free-agent signings and a Blue Jays and Marlins blockbuster trade. Expect the Dodgers to get in on the action as they complete their Hollywood makeover.
Listed in reverse order from least to most dreamy, here are nine MLB free agents that would look good in Dodgers blue.
9. Nick Swisher
Any interest in signing Nick Swisher (or any other outfielder on this list) would obviously be predicated on the Dodgers trading incumbent right-fielder Andre Ethier. Various reports say that Los Angeles would be willing to move Ethier, despite the five-year, $85 million contract extension he signed in June.
As unlikely as a Ethier trade may be, the former New York Yankees right fielder and 2009 World Series champion would be a decent replacement. While Swisher lacks Ethier’s defensive prowess, he would add a more consistent bat to the Dodgers lineup.
His .361 career on-base percentage is nearly identical to Ethier’s .362 mark despite a career batting average that is 34 points lower (.256 versus .290). Swisher also brings more power to Los Angeles, hitting 22 or more home runs in each of the past seven seasons.
His ability to switch hit adds versatility to the lineup, and Swisher has appeared in at least 148 games in every season since 2006.
Swisher’s carefree personality would likely fit well in L.A.’s locker room, as would his presence as a veteran player with World Series-winning pedigree.
He would not be my first choice as potential replacement for Ethier, but I’d be happy to see him in a Dodgers uniform.
8. Ryan Madson
If the Dodgers learned anything this past season, it was the importance of bullpen depth. Ryan Madson could emerge as a cheap, low-risk addition to a Los Angeles bullpen that is already very strong, but not without question marks.
After saving 32 games for the Philadelphia Phillies in 2011, Madson was forced to settle for a one-year, $6 million deal to be the Cincinnati Reds closer last year. Unfortunately, he missed the entire 2012 season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in the spring.
The Dodgers already have League, who filled in admirably as the closer when Kenley Jansen was sidelined with a recurring heart condition. Although Jansen underwent offseason surgery to repair his aorta, his status for 2013 is unknown.
League has said that he’s comfortable in whatever role the Dodgers choose for him, but Madson wants to be a closer. Los Angeles could give Madson a one-year deal knowing it has plenty of insurance if it does not work out.
Both Jansen and League have had previous success as setup men. Adding a healthy and effective Madson to the mix could give the Dodgers a lights-out trio for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.
7. Mike Napoli
The Dodgers would not appear to be in the market for a catcher, but that doesn’t mean Mike Napoli couldn’t help this team out. Last year’s backup, Matt Treanor, is now a free agent, and surprise starter A.J. Ellis may be best suited for a backup role.
Ellis was one of the biggest surprises for the Dodgers in 2012, putting up first-half numbers worthy of All-Star consideration. He hit just .252 after the All-Star break (including .216 in September), suggesting that his early-season numbers were not sustainable.
Napoli failed to build on the success of his breakout 2011 campaign last season. His batting average dropped nearly 100 points (from .320 to .227) as he struggled through a tough 2012.
The .320 average was more of an outlier for Napoli, who had never hit higher than .273 before 2011. But he’s always provided good power for a catcher, hitting 20-plus home runs in each of the last five seasons.
A combination of Napoli and Ellis would be a huge upgrade for the Dodgers, as they compete in a strong division.
In 2012, the Colorado Rockies and San Diego Padres debuted to sweet swinging rookie backstops. Wilin Rosario blasted 28 home runs for the Rockies, while Yasmani Grandal (who will serve a 50-game suspension for violating MLB’s policy on banned substances) hit .297 for the Padres last year.
The Arizona Diamondbacks and San Francisco Giants both have All-Star catchers in Miguel Montero and 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey, respectively. The Dodgers would be wise to add a former All-Star of their own by going after Napoli.
6. Kevin Youkilis
At this stage of his major league career, Kevin Youkilis’ value to the Dodgers would come more from what he adds to the clubhouse than for what he produces on the field.
The Dodgers already have a crowded left side of the infield with Hanley Ramirez, Luis Cruz and Dee Gordon. Signing Youkilis would likely send Cruz to a utility role and signal that Los Angeles is leaning towards sending Gordon back to Triple-A to start the season.
Reports, however, indicate that the Dodgers do indeed have interest in signing Youkilis.
Even at this late stage of his career, the 33-year-old would make the Dodgers a more powerful lineup. He hit 19 home runs in just 122 games for the White Sox last year and would allow Ramirez to move back to his preferred position of shortstop.
Youkilis also has a reputation for being a tough player who works his butt off, plays hard every day and will do anything to win. He also has the credibility and experience of a two-time World Series champion (2004 and 2007 with the Boston Red Sox), something the Dodgers could use badly in their dugout.
5. Rafael Soriano
Although Rafael Soriano would be a far more expensive option, he would add the same bullpen depth provided by Madson. He’s also seeking a multi-year deal after declining the one-year, $13.3 million qualifying offer made by the New York Yankees.
Soriano was arguably New York’s most valuable player last season. After Mariano Rivera went down in early May with a knee injury, Soriano stepped in to save 42 games for the Yankees.
With Rivera expected to return in 2013, Soriano chose to decline his 2013 player option and test the free-agent market.
The Dodgers probably have little to no interest in pursuing Soriano given the re-signing of League and the presence of former closers Jansen and Javy Guerra on the roster. But if Los Angeles really wants to stake its claim as the “West Coast Yankees," why not add another one of its former players to the fold?
4. Dan Haren
Former Los Angeles Angels starter Dan Haren would not be a bad consolation prize if the team is unable to sign top free-agent pitcher Zack Greinke. The Monterey Park, California native would be a welcome addition to a starting rotation facing a great deal of uncertainty.
A nagging back injury ended Haren’s streak of consecutive seasons with at least 200 innings pitched at seven. He still managed to make 30 starts last season and has been one of the best and most consistent starters in the majors over the past eight years.
Haren is a three-time All-Star (2007-09) with a 3.66 lifetime ERA. Before 2012, he had five consecutive seasons with at least 192 strikeouts while pitching in the less pitcher-friendly American League.
With questions about the health of Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly lingering over the team, Haren fits in as a reliable No. 2 starter behind Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.
The Angels declined Haren's 2013 team option following a failed trade to the Chicago Cubs, making him available in free agency. Given his stellar track record and California roots, the Dodgers would be foolish not to show interest in him.
3. Michael Bourn
Signing free-agent centerfielder Michael Bourn would require some creativity on the part of the Dodgers and flexibility by one or two players. The payoff, however, would be acquisition of one of the game’s best leadoff hitters and defensive outfielders.
The leadoff position was disastrous for the Dodgers in 2012. Los Angeles used a number of players at the top of its lineup—including Dee Gordon, Shane Victorino and Mark Ellis—but none of them proved to be the answer.
Bourn, meanwhile, would provide the type of speed (at least 41 stolen bases in each of the last five seasons) and ability to reach base (a respectable .348 OBP last year) that the Dodgers sorely need ahead of sluggers Kemp, Gonzalez and Ramirez.
As mentioned with Swisher, any discussion about signing Bourn is worthless unless the Dodgers can trade Ethier. Even if that were to happen, that is not the trickiest part of making Bourn fit.
Los Angeles would need to convince Kemp that moving from center to right field is in the best interest of the team and his career long-term, and that may prove difficult to do.
The Dodgers would clearly improve their already strong outfield defense by having Bourn and Kemp in center and right as opposed to Kemp and Ethier. They would also reduce Kemp’s injury risk by cutting down on the amount of ground he has to cover in the field.
But Kemp has won two Gold Gloves in center field and is just entering the prime of his career. He may interpret the request as a knock against him, and we’ve seen what a disaster Kemp can be if his mind is not completely right (remember 2010?).
I think the Dodgers would be wise to discuss any potential interest in Bourn with Kemp before making a run at the former Brave. If Kemp gives is receptive to the move, Los Angeles should take a shot at signing Bourn.
2. Zack Greinke
I’ve written a lot about why the Dodgers should pursue Zack Greinke at all cost, so for my latest in-depth analysis on that, read here. What I have been unable to comment much on before now, however, is the likelihood of Greinke ending up in a Dodgers uniform.
While I have been unable to find more evidence to support his claim, Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald is reporting that Los Angeles has emerged as the favorite to sign Greinke, ahead of the Angels and Texas Rangers.
This would obviously be a huge signing for the Dodgers, giving them a huge edge in their quest to unseat the Giants as NL West and World Series champions. OK, I have to stop writing about this now before I salivate all over my keyboard.
1. Josh Hamilton
I won’t waste any time rehashing the challenges of acquiring Josh Hamilton as they relate to trading Andre Ethier. I discussed that in depth with Swisher and Bourn.
Instead, imagine the possibility of a lineup including Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, Josh Hamilton, Adrian Gonzalez and Hanley Ramirez. My head is on the verge of exploding just thinking about it.
Remember back in April when Kemp and Hamilton were coming off two of the best Aprils in MLB history? Remember in early May when ESPN and the MLB Network were constantly discussing which one was the best hitter in baseball or who they’d rather have on their team?
Now, imagine you're the Dodgers and you don’t have to choose. You could have them both!
Having Kemp in center field allows Los Angeles to shift Hamilton to right field. Unlike with Bourn, Hamilton is the bigger injury risk here, so this move would make everyone happy.
Hamilton’s left-handed bat allows the Dodgers to maintain the balance that their lineup will have next year even with the loss of Ethier.
I’m concerned about any National League team that attempts to sign Hamilton because they won’t be able to rest him at DH and keep his bat in the lineup (except during interleague play). If any team can afford to take on the risk, however, it’s the Dodgers.
Los Angeles would not be financially handcuffed if Hamilton breaks down sooner than expected. It also has Yasiel Puig waiting in the wings, ready to play everyday if Hamilton were to miss an extended amount of time.
I’d be terrified of giving Hamilton a contract longer than three years. But recent history shows that there is always one team willing to overpay in both annual salary and number of years.
The Dodgers are unlikely to emerge as that team when it comes to Hamilton, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they did.
I’d also order the MLB Extra Innings package and stay up to watch every game, even with the three-hour time difference here on the East Coast.