Next Steps: Complete Offseason Guide, Predictions for the Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers' magical season ended with an ugly 9-0 loss versus the Cardinals at the hands of rookie pitcher and NLCS MVP Michael Wacha, who tossed 13.2 scoreless innings while defeating ace Clayton Kershaw for the second time in the series.
While there is plenty of disappointment that they fell short of their ultimate goal of winning a World Championship, the loss could result in an even more exciting offseason if it results in ownership pursuing one or two more star players.
In reality, they're still a very good team. They won 67 of their last 100 games, and none of their best players are eligible for free agency. Ownership has extremely deep pockets. The team had the best home attendance in baseball. And they have a lot of money coming off of the books after the season.
So, keep your heads up, Dodgers fans. The window of contention is still wide open for this group.
If general manager Ned Colletti can avoid another Brandon League-like debacle—League was a bust after being re-signed to a three-year, $22.5 million deal at the beginning of last offseason—he has a chance to put together the finishing pieces to what could be the most talented roster in baseball... on paper.
Here's everything you'll need to know before Colletti and the front office get started.
Despite having close to $160 million already committed to 11 players in 2014 and approximately $30 million ticketed for four arbitration-eligible players, including staff ace Clayton Kershaw (pictured), the Dodgers still have a decent amount of payroll space to work with, even if they don't have an increase in last year's Opening Day payroll of $216,753,286, according to Baseball Prospectus.
Considering that they'll only have a handful of holes to fill and more payroll space could be created if they were to trade one of their high-paid outfielders, the Dodgers could be very active this winter and capable of adding another impact player or two.
The focus for the Dodgers won't be so much on the players eligible for free agency this offseason as much as two with contracts that expire after the 2014 season.
While Mark Ellis (if they decline his $5.75 million club option), Ricky Nolasco (pictured), Juan Uribe and Brian Wilson are the more notable players likely to hit the free agent market after the season, the Dodgers' priority this winter could be trying to lock up stars Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez, who are under contract for one more season.
Both could command deals that would make them the highest-paid players in baseball at their respective positions.
Without too many internal options to replace the aforementioned free agent-to-be, the Dodgers could have interest in bringing all four back, although Wilson could be seeking a closer's job elsewhere. In Ellis' case, he would be a solid option at the price of his club option, but the Dodgers might prefer to sign a younger player with offensive ability and upside.
Of the many role players who can become free agents, including Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Michael Young, the Dodgers could look to bring back one or two to fill out their bench. Swingman Chris Capuano, who is likely to have his $8 million mutual option declined, and lefty reliever J.P. Howell could also return at lesser deals.
Holes to Fill
Depending on the health of starting pitchers Chad Billingsley, who had Tommy John surgery in May, and Josh Beckett, who will be returning from thoracic outlet syndrome surgery, the Dodgers may or may not have a need for another starting pitcher.
With recovery time for Tommy John surgery typically ranging from 12-18 months, Billingsley is likely a question mark to return at all during the 2014 season. Beckett is expected to be ready for the start of spring training. Stephen Fife pitched well enough (3.04 ERA in 10 starts) to be considered for the No. 5 starter's job, and top pitching prospect Zach Lee is also close to contributing. In other words, the Dodgers do have options.
It's probably not necessary to go after another top-of-the-rotation starter, but the Dodgers can probably afford it financially, and as they say, you can never have enough pitching. And for a World Series contender, you can never have too many frontline starters in your rotation.
Expect them to pursue one of the top pitchers available this winter or, at the least, bring back Nolasco or another mid-level starter to fill out the rotation.
Other holes to fill are at second base and third base if veterans Mark Ellis (pictured) and Juan Uribe aren't brought back. Free agent options are limited at each spot, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if either player is back in 2014. But expect general manager Ned Colletti to explore his options, which could even include top free agent Robinson Cano despite reports that they won't be pursuing the second baseman.
Potential Free-Agent Targets
Barring a cut in payroll, which is unlikely after an exciting season in which the team led the majors in home attendance (3.7 million; 46K per game) by a wide margin—St. Louis was second with 41.6 thousand per game, according to ESPN—the Dodgers will likely cast a wide net this offseason in their search to fill holes in the rotation and the infield.
Here are some notable free agents that could be of interest.
Robinson Cano, 2B: If there's a team that could possibly meet Cano's asking price, which could reportedly be in the $300 million range, it's the Dodgers. While they are not expected to pursue the 30-year-old, that could change if the price dropped enough. And it would be a surprise if the price didn't drop from that outrageous starting point.
Alexander Guerrero, 2B: After reports had the Dodgers and Guerrero agreeing to a $32 million deal back in June, it was learned that talks fell apart and there was no longer interest in signing the 26-year-old Cuban. But it's likely that the Dodgers are keeping tabs and could still get in on the bidding for Guerrero, who is said to have good power for a middle infielder.
Jhonny Peralta, 3B: The 31-year-old has been on fire in the playoffs (11-for-30, HR, 4 2B) after serving a 50-game suspension late in the regular season. This will only boost the expected interest from teams expecting to pursue him as either a shortstop or third baseman this winter. Peralta would be much more expensive than retaining Juan Uribe, but he's much younger and less likely to be the bust that Uribe was in 2011 and 2012.
Matt Garza, SP: While he'd be an expensive No. 4 starter on the Dodgers, the difference between Garza and Ricky Nolasco pitching Game 4 of a playoff series might mean a World Series championship.
Dan Haren, SP: A southern California native, Haren (pictured) rebuilt his value with a strong second half (3.52 ERA, 76.2 IP, 14 BB, 70 K) and could be on the Dodgers' radar this winter.
A trade of one of their four outfielders, which is expected, would clear up a crowded outfield situation. In addition, whether that would be Carl Crawford (due over $80 million through 2017), Andre Ethier (pictured; due over $70 million through 2017) or Matt Kemp (due over $125 through 2018), the team would clear a substantial amount of money from their payroll over the next several seasons if a deal gets done.
While that's probably not necessary in Dodgerland, it will allow general manager Ned Colletti to spread the payroll around a bit more in order to fill other needs on the roster.
Here are some potential trade targets.
Howie Kendrick, 2B: It could cost them their top pitching prospect, Zach Lee, but adding Kendrick to their lineup would be a major offensive upgrade over Mark Ellis. The 30-year-old has two years and just under $19 million remaining on his deal.
Rickie Weeks, 2B: Acquiring Weeks wouldn't require the Dodgers to give up a top prospect, as long as they're willing to pick up his entire $11 million salary in 2014. A change of scenery could be exactly what the 31-year-old needs to get his career back on track.
David Freese, 3B: The possibility of moving Matt Carpenter to third base and plugging in Kolten Wong at second base will likely have the Cardinals open to moving Freese, who was the NLCS and World Series MVP in 2011 and an All-Star in 2012. He'll have two years left of club control before he's eligible for free agency.
David Price, SP: The farm system probably has enough talent for the Dodgers to swing a deal for Price, although it would leave it in terrible shape. It's not an ideal scenario, and even the Dodgers could find it difficult to sign both Price and Clayton Kershaw to long-term deals.
Max Scherzer, SP: One year of Scherzer wouldn't be as costly as two years of Price, making this a much more likely trade scenario. They'd have to decide if it's worth giving up one of their top prospects, though, whether that's Lee, Joc Pederson, Corey Seager or Julio Urias.