The 3 Biggest Decisions the Los Angeles Dodgers Have to Make This Offseason
With the Dodgers’ 2013 campaign over in disappointing fashion, the front office has already started to look ahead to next year. There are roster moves and coaching decisions to be agonized over, and the sooner general manager Ned Colletti makes them, the earlier we can criticize them.
In fairness, Colletti has actually done a decent job since the new ownership group took over. We’re far removed from the days of signing an injured Jason Schmidt or overpaying for Juan Pierre and Andruw Jones, but those transactions are still memories in the back of Dodger fans’ minds, creating a healthy amount of skepticism whenever Colletti does something controversial.
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There are Opening Day pitching staff questions that will need to be addressed, but are likely to be put off until spring training as the Dodgers have options within their organization that are ready to fill those spots if necessary.
The back of the rotation is not settled: Will Chad Billingsley or Josh Beckett be ready by Opening Day? Will the team go after Masahiro Tanaka or David Price?
Teams are also always working to improve their bullpens, and the Dodgers will be no exception. Brian Wilson will likely move on to get a closer’s job somewhere, and Brandon League proved definitively that he is not a viable option in high-leverage situations—so Colletti will be on the lookout for cheap upgrades.
The Coaching Staff Is in Limbo
Don Mattingly was all but fired in May after he criticized Colletti’s roster construction. Somehow, though, he kept his job—I’m honestly not sure how—and piloted the Dodgers through their historic 42-8 stretch; he probably deserves a lot of credit for that.
However, he is an atrocious tactical manager. The Dodgers were third in the majors in sacrifice bunts as a team, despite overwhelming evidence that bunting—while occasionally useful, particularly when a subpar hitter is at the plate—does more to harm a team’s chances of winning than help.
In addition, his bullpen management in Game 2 of the NLDS versus the Atlanta Braves might have been the most horribly mismanaged situation I’ve ever seen. A summary can be found here, but suffice it to say that he appeared entirely incapable of thinking ahead.
All of this is a roundabout way of saying that despite the Dodgers’ success this year, there are some legitimate questions about Mattingly’s future with the organization. The front office seems to have hinted that, although he has a contract for next season, they wouldn’t be heartbroken if he quit. In fact, their recent firing of bench coach Trey Hillman indicates that they are not completely supportive of Mattingly.
The front office appears torn on this issue and clearly wants Mattingly to make the decision for them. However, they would be best served to deal with this situation quickly so they are not too late to pursue all of the best candidates should they decide to go in a different direction.
Who’s Playing Third Base?
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With the reports that the Dodgers and Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero have agreed to terms, the second base question is likely settled: Mark Ellis will not be back, and assuming all goes according to plan, Guerrero will be the Opening Day second baseman.
But third base is still up in the air. I have gone on record multiple times saying that I expect Juan Uribe to be back with the Boys in Blue. There are legitimate questions about his performance, though: He was absolutely horrid in 2011 and 2012, worth a combined 0.6 wins per FanGraphs WAR. So if the Dodgers—who absolutely have more insight into Uribe than I do—believe that this was a dead-cat bounce and not a resurgence, then they have a hole to fill.
One of the foundations of my belief that Uribe will be back is the lack of quality third basemen on the free-agent market. However, recent discussions have mentioned Jhonny Peralta, the outgoing Tigers shortstop, as a potential replacement. This would be a more dependable option than Uribe, but also more expensive. In addition, it remains a question whether Peralta would want to play third; he might prefer to sign with a team that would give him the opportunity to remain at shortstop.
How Much Money Are They Willing to Spend?
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If it wasn’t already clear, the Guerrero signing is the nail in the coffin of the idea that the Dodgers would sign Robinson Cano.
However, there are still a couple big-money decisions that need to be made, and one of those is a necessity: Clayton Kershaw.
Kershaw, who led the league in ERA for the third straight year, is a free agent after next season and is due for a massive extension. It seems likely to be concluded this offseason, so the Dodgers will be able to relax knowing they have locked up their young ace to a long-term deal.
The other pertinent decision relates to Japanese pitcher Masahiro Tanaka, the next high-profile pitcher to likely jump stateside. The Dodgers have expressed interest, but the price tag will be high. A profile of Tanaka can be found here, but suffice it to say that a potential top-of-the-rotation starter would command a price tag nearing $100 million (counting the posting fee).
While on the surface the Dodgers may not seem a logical fit with last season’s additions of Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu still under contract for several years, they proved this season that there is no such thing as too much starting pitching. Having as many elite starters as possible certainly provides insurance against injuries, so it would not be a surprise to see the Dodgers heavily involved.
In fact, this is a move that makes a lot of sense. It provides an outlet for the money that is clearly burning a hole in the ownership group’s pockets, and it bolsters the rotation—a spot that can be especially important to solidify if a team wants to contend.