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Examining the Dodgers' Chances at Contention Following Offseason Spending Spree

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Examining the Dodgers' Chances at Contention Following Offseason Spending Spree
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For the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans, this would seem to be an exciting time to be associated with the franchise. New ownership is spending money like it is going out of print, but how much is all this spending really helping?

If there is a tent-pole by which all free-spending teams are measured it would be the New York Yankees. In fact, there are jokes being made all over the Internet right now that the Dodgers have taken the Yankees' spot as the top spenders for everything they have done over the last five months. 

We are moving deeper and deeper into the Hot Stove season, so teams will continue to make moves until they feel their rosters are where they need to be for the start of spring training. We might think the Dodgers are done, but who knows what is really going on with this team?

Here is our examination of all the moves the Dodgers have made recently, as well as what it means for their chances to make the playoffs and win a World Series in 2013. 

 

Old Faces in a New Place

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Aug. 25 - Acquired Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto from Boston for James Loney, Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Jerry Sands

Oct. 30 - Re-signed RHP Brandon League to three-year, $22 million contract (via Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com)

Dec. 8 - Reportedly signed RHP Zack Greinke to six-year, $147 million contract (via Jon Heyman of CBS Sports)

Dec. 9 - Signed South Korean RHP Ryu Hyun-Jin to six-year, $36 million contract (also posted $25.7 million to negotiate) (via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times)

I felt it appropriate to include the blockbuster trade with the Red Sox in this part of the discussion because the players acquired, at least those who where healthy, did not have enough time with the team to make a significant contribution at the end of 2012. 

All told, the Dodgers are paying $205 million next season (via Cot's Baseball Contracts), an increase of $100 million from where the team's payroll started out at the start of 2012. 

The point of free agency is for teams to be able to spend their money to try to upgrade their rosters as a quick fix to get them into the postseason right away. The Dodgers certainly have the marquee names to get people excited about their future, but spending a lot of money does not guarantee anything. 

The Yankees have had the highest payroll in baseball every year since 1999. During that span, they have won three World Series, two of which came in 1999 and 2000. So over the last 12 seasons, they have won one championship. 

Anyone who watches baseball, or any sport, will tell you that all you need is one championship to validate spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a team. You think Cubs fans would care if the team spent $400 million one season, won a title, then proceeded to lose 100 games the next three years?

 

What Do the Additions Bring To the Table?

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If we are going to look at all the moves, we might as well do so in chronological order. When the Dodgers acquired Gonzalez, Beckett and Crawford from the Red Sox, some fans and analysts were already printing the playoff tickets. 

Unfortunately, those people were remembering what Crawford, Beckett and Gonzalez were at their peak instead of what they are now. Crawford is an enigma because he hasn't been healthy in almost two years and underwent Tommy John surgery last August. 

Beckett's skills had been declining for years, finally bottoming out last season when he posted a 4.65 ERA in just 170.1 innings pitched. The velocity on all his pitches dropped substantially in 2012, as his fastball went from 94.4 miles per hour in 2007 all the way down to 91.2 last season. 

The diminished velocity has taken a toll on Beckett's strikeout rate, which dropped from 8.18 and 8.16 in 2010 and 2011 to 6.97 last year, the second-worst rate of his career. He is basically a back-of-the-rotation starter being paid like a No. 2.  

Gonzalez did present a huge upgrade over James Loney at first base, but even he is starting to look old at the plate. He hit .299/.344/.463 in 159 games last season with 18 home runs. His slugging percentage and home run total were the lowest of his career since he became an everyday player with San Diego in 2006. 

Patience used to be a virtue for Gonzalez, but his walk rate has dropped substantially in each of the last three seasons—going from a high of 17.5 percent in 2009 to 13.4 in 2010, to 10.3 in 2011, to 6.1 last year. 

Gonzalez is still a great defender at first base, but when you play a corner position, you have to hit a lot to be valuable. He isn't hitting nearly as well as he did in his peak years with the Padres, likely meaning he will not age gracefully since he only boasts the "old-man skills" of power and patience with nothing else to support them. 

The Brandon League contract could easily go down as one of the worst of the 2012 offseason. The Dodgers may want to use him in the back of their bullpen, but he is basically a matchup specialist. 

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In his career, League has held right-handed hitters to a .222/.295/.295 line. By comparison, lefties have posted a .277/.345/.421 slash line against him. 

Greinke was the top free agent on the market this winter as a 29-year-old with a Cy Young on his mantle and true top-of-the-rotation stuff. He is getting paid like it, though long-term deals for pitchers seldom work out well for the team. 

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Considering that Greinke has thrown at least 200 innings in five of the last six seasons and posted ERAs under 3.50 in four of the last six, I am not worried about him at least maintaining his value for the duration of the deal. 

But if we are looking at this strictly through the prism of 2013, Greinke is a great addition to pair with Clayton Kershaw at the top of a rotation. If you get into the postseason, you need those dominant starters who can take the ball and shut down a lineup. Most teams are lucky if they have one pitcher like that—the Dodgers can say they have two. 

 Ryu is the great unknown in this whole scenario. If you add the money he is making and the posting fee, the Dodgers are paying him like a really good mid-rotation starter. 

According to Baseball America (for subscribers only), that is exactly what Ryu's ceiling is. He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but he does have good fastball command and an above-average changeup.

Of course, that is Ryu's ceiling. The number of players who actually reach their ceilings is slim. The fact that he doesn't have a true out-pitch breaking ball will likely make him vulnerable against right-handed hitters, so he could end up pitching at the back of a rotation or in middle relief. 

It is a big financial investment for the Dodgers, though we need to get a more thorough look at Ryu  before we completely sell him down the river. 

 

How Formidable Do These Moves Make the Dodgers?

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These are still the two most important players for the Dodgers, even with all the additions.

Looking at things objectively, the Dodgers really only acquired one centerpiece player in all these recent deals in Greinke. Gonzalez still has value, though it's not nearly as high as it was when he was an MVP candidate. 

Beckett and Ryu will likely battle for innings at the back of the rotation. If Crawford gives the Dodgers anything in 2013, they should consider themselves lucky. 

The rest of the roster isn't incredibly deep. Matt Kemp is a legitimate MVP candidate as long as he can stay healthy, which he couldn't do in a promising but prematurely-ending 2012. Andre Ethier is a decent overall hitter, but he can't hit left-handed pitching. 

Perhaps a happy and motivated Hanley Ramirez will be able to recapture some of what made him great with the Marlins, though he posted a rather pedestrian .271/.324/.450 line in 64 games with the Dodgers after the trade. 

To compete with San Francisco in the National League West and have a shot at a World Series, the Dodgers need Kemp, Kershaw, Ethier, Gonzalez and Greinke to be healthy and play up to their full potential. 

If any two of those five players struggle, the Dodgers are going to be left with a lot more questions than answers. Of course, given their new philosophy, they will just end up throwing money at all those questions and hope that solves the problem. 

As of this moment, I would have to say the Dodgers and Giants are in a dead heat for the top spot in the National League West, but Washington and St. Louis are better top to bottom than either. 

 

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