How the Los Angeles Dodgers Can Maximize the Title Window They Bought

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How the Los Angeles Dodgers Can Maximize the Title Window They Bought

Of all the ways the Los Angeles Dodgers could have pictured their 2013 season coming to an end, Clayton Kershaw getting rocked in a must-win game probably never crossed their minds.

But that's what happened in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series Friday night. The St. Louis Cardinals got to Kershaw for four runs in the third inning, in which they were aided by a poorly timed Yasiel Puig-y throw by Yasiel Puig. The Cardinals tacked on five more runs in the fifth inning to put the game out of reach and went on to win by the final of 9-0. 

Oh, don't sit there and weep for the Dodgers. They didn't succeed in making it to the World Series, but they did succeed in proving that their model for being a title contender is one they can make work.

That model can be summed up in four words: spend money, win games.

Yes, the Dodgers have made some poor investments since Magic Johnson and his partners took control early in 2012. Extending Andre Ethier for $85 million was puzzling. Taking on the bulk of Josh Beckett's remaining contract in last August's trade with the Boston Red Sox didn't work out. Signing Brandon League to a $20 million deal over the winter was never a good idea.

But then there are the smart investments. Agreeing to take on Hanley Ramirez's remaining contract in a deal with the Miami Marlins paid off in a big way. So did dishing out over $40 million to sign Puig. Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez didn't go bust the way Beckett did. Signing Zack Greinke for $147 million is looking like a fair deal. Signing Hyun-Jin Ryu for $36 million is looking like a steal.

Buying wins is not as easy as the New York Yankees have made it look for so many years. Heck, just look at how things have crashed and burned in Anaheim. It's easy to make big investments. It's a lot harder to hit on big investments. 

The Dodgers did just that and ultimately came two wins away from the World Series. They deserve their due credit for the season they had.

But now the matter at hand is where the Dodgers go from here. After opening their window to contend for World Series titles in 2013, how do they open it even wider and make sure it stays open?

Their first order of business this winter should concern the latter half of that equation. If they want to make sure their window to contend for titles stays open for as long as possible, they need to quit stalling and tie that one left-handed guy up for the long haul.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

He may have fallen flat in Game 6 of the NLCS, but the Dodgers still have plenty of reasons to make Kershaw the richest pitcher in baseball history. He's coming off a season that saw him post a 1.83 ERA, and he leads all pitchers in ERA and ERA+ since the start of the 2010 season. Kershaw has the look of an all-time great pitcher, and he's not even 26 yet.

Signing Kershaw to a long-term extension could cost the Dodgers as much as $30 million per year. Whatever the cost, they can pay it. And barring some weird cosmic forces invading Chavez Ravine, you have to think they are going to pay it.

If the Dodgers really want to make it rain, they'll extend Kershaw and sign the winter's top free agent: current Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. However, Johnson told USA Today's Bob Nightengale earlier this month that the Dodgers aren't going to be the team to pay Cano, and imagining the organization paying both Kershaw and Cano this winter is admittedly hard to do.

Especially considering that they could sign several players for the price of one Cano.

On the radar will be the Dodgers infield, which will need some new additions this winter. Third baseman Juan Uribe is slated to test the free-agent waters, and second baseman Mark Ellis will follow him if the Dodgers decline to pick up his $5.75 million club option.

Cano would obviously be a monster upgrade over Ellis, but the Dodgers can find another upgrade over Ellis for much cheaper.

According to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports, the Dodgers have re-entered the mix for Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero after having a deal with him fall through over the summer. Bleacher Report's Mike Rosenbaum likes Guerrero's power potential, and the Dodgers would appear to like it too.

And since the Dodgers scored big with their past two international signings (Puig and Ryu), arguing with their apparent fondness for Guerrero isn't recommended.

The first deal the Dodgers and Guerrero had in place was supposedly worth $32 million over five years. Now the word from Heyman is that Guerrero wants only a four-year deal. He could be signed for under $30 million, which is obviously something the Dodgers can handle.

As for what to do at third base, the Dodgers could just re-sign Uribe. He was quietly a productive player on both sides of the ball in 2013, posting a .769 OPS and ranking behind only Manny Machado among MLB third basemen in Ultimate Zone Rating, according to FanGraphs.

But rather than simply re-signing Uribe, a better idea for the Dodgers would be to move Ramirez to third base. He actually had a good year defensively at shortstop, but moving Ramirez to third base is in his health's interest. And of course, it would also mean a massive offensive upgrade at the hot corner, and it would open the window for a solid shortstop to slide into the mix.

The guy on the free-agent market who should strike the Dodgers' fancy is Stephen Drew. He got off to a slow start in April and May, but he posted an .824 OPS in his final 82 games while also playing solid defense at short. Per FanGraphs, Drew's 5.3 UZR placed him 12th among shortstops.

In swapping Uribe for Drew and moving Ramirez to third base, the Dodgers would be getting a defensive upgrade at short and an offensive upgrade for third base. That Drew is younger and has a better bat than Uribe is icing on the cake.

As for what it would take to sign Drew, it's likely going to take a multiyear deal. And given that his salary was $9.5 million this year, it'll probably take at least $10 or $11 million per year to get him to listen. A deal in the neighborhood of $40 million sounds about right.

And that, of course, is another deal the Dodgers can handle.

If the Dodgers let Uribe and Ellis go and sign Guerrero and Drew and move Ramirez to third base, they could trot out the following lineup:

Potential Dodgers Lineup
Spot Player Position
1 Carl Crawford LF
2 Yasiel Puig RF
3 Matt Kemp CF
4 Hanley Ramirez 3B
5 Adrian Gonzalez 1B
6 Alex Guerrero 2B
7 Stephen Drew SS
8 A.J. Ellis C

Source: ZDR's imagination

If they don't choose to trade him this offseason, Ethier could be used as a platoon partner for Matt Kemp and/or Puig. The Dodgers would be loaded offensively.

Pitching-wise, the Dodgers are already well off. Whether he's extended or not, Kershaw will be back next year. So will Beckett and Chad Billingsley, who will do fine as back-of-the-rotation options. Greinke and Ryu are signed long term.

But with the door open for the Dodgers to acquire a starting pitcher this winter, they might as well go for the biggest prize of them all: Tampa Bay Rays lefty David Price.

With a big payday via arbitration due up this winter, Price is as good as dealt—and he knows it. And if ESPN's Buster Olney is to be believed, the Dodgers are going to be among the more aggressive bidders for the 2012 American League Cy Young winner.

The Dodgers have the pieces to go get Price. The Rays might like the idea of adding Joc Pederson to their outfield and/or Zach Lee to their stable of young pitchers. Or they could try to pry prized infield prospect Corey Seager from the Dodgers, who might figure that getting Price is worth giving up a potential heir apparent for Ramirez on the left side of their infield.

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Regardless, the Dodgers are in a good position to empty the farm for Price. There's little point in them waiting for their best prospects to be ready while their window to contend is wide open, and they could afford to sign Price to a long-term extension upon his arrival. His free-agent years don't kick in until after 2015, and by then the Dodgers will have Beckett's and Billingsley's contracts off the books.

The best-case scenario involves the Dodgers both extending Kershaw and then trading for and extending Price. If they pull it off, they'll have a rotation of Kershaw, Greinke, Price and Ryu locked up for several years. 

From there, the only gem left to polish off would be the bullpen. The Dodgers already have an elite closer in Kenley Jansen. Before he ran out of gas at the end of the year, Paco Rodriguez was a stud. That leaves a quality right-handed setup man as the outstanding need. If the Dodgers don't re-up with Brian Wilson, it would be worth it for them to roll the dice on the oft-injured Jesse Crain.

That's my vision of a perfect Dodgers shopping spree for the offseason: Kershaw, Price, Guerrero, Drew and a righty setup man. One big extension, one big acquisition, two solid acquisitions and one minor acquisition.

It might not come off as much of a haul compared to the big moves the Dodgers made in 2012, but hey, it's not like this is a team that needs a completely new look. The Dodgers already have loads of talent, and it must be noted that Kemp might still have some MVP-caliber seasons in him if he can stay healthy.

Given that the Dodgers are already World Series contenders, this is a team that merely needs a few adjustments. And no matter how it all goes down, a few adjustments are coming.

Love 'em or hate 'em, the Dodgers aren't about to be content with Game 6 of the NLCS as a high-water mark.

 

Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted. Salary and contract info courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts. 

 

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