Reassessing Los Angeles Dodgers' Offseason Plan and What's Next
Last year, the Dodgers made a flurry of high-profile offseason moves like signing Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu to contracts, adding to a roster that was already changed dramatically during the 2012 season.
So far this winter, Los Angeles has been relatively quiet on the free-agent and trade fronts, with the offseason marked by a few lower-profile additions. As they leave the winter meetings in Florida, the Dodgers do so looking relatively the same. Matt Kemp is still on the roster, and David Price isn't in Dodger blue, despite persistent trade rumors surrounding those two players entering the week.
There are about two months left until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, plenty of time for Los Angeles to make a big offseason splash. Let's take a look at what the Dodgers have done so far, followed by their most pressing needs going forward.
Evaluating Offseason Moves so Far
The Dodgers also inked Dan Haren (one year, $10 million) and Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero (four years, $28 million), while re-signing setup man Brian Wilson to a one-year, $10 million pact. In an offseason where MLB clubs have spent well over $1 billion, the deep-pocketed Dodgers have spent just $48 million.
But that's because the team is in relatively good shape with just a couple of holes to fill heading into spring training.
Haren and Wilson addressed two of the team's biggest needs in the rotation and bullpen, respectively. While $10 million for Haren is on par with what the starting pitching market has dictated this winter, the Dodgers may have overpaid for one season of Wilson.
Haren has struggled the past two years with a combined 22-27 record, 4.50 ERA, 1.27 WHIP and 7.6 K.9 ratio, but for his career is 129-111 with a 3.74 ERA, 1.19 WHIP and 7.6 K/9. He fits in nicely as the team's fourth starter behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, and still has the potential for productive seasons at the age of 33.
The eccentric right-hander Wilson recovered from Tommy John surgery and provided a major boost for the Dodgers down the stretch this past season, posting a 0.66 ERA, 0.88 WHIP, .178 opponents' batting average and an 8.6 K/9 ratio. But the fact of the matter is he's a just a setup man for Kenley Jansen, and eight figures is a lot to pay for an eighth-inning guy.
But this is Los Angeles, where money doesn't seem to be an issue. With about $200 million already committed to the 2014 payroll, the team has been wise to shy away from any massive free-agent contracts so far while improving the roster.
Hold on to 4 Outfielders
Outfielder Matt Kemp's agent Dave Stewart entered this week's winter meetings believing his client was going to be traded but left on Thursday with word that the Dodgers would be keeping Kemp around.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times detailed Stewart's latest comments, with the agent claiming Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told him Kemp wouldn't be traded.
Given the amount of time each of the team's outfielders have missed the past couple of seasons, it behooves the Dodgers to keep all four of them around. Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig each have a recent history of injuries, so splitting up the duties between the four of them would benefit this team in the long run.
Manager Don Mattingly acknowledged as much when speaking with reporters recently, via Hernandez:
"I know somebody is not going to be happy the days that they don't play," Mattingly said. "But also within that, we know that we found out if we can give Carl an extra day off here or there, he seems to be even better. We think Matt will probably need the same type of thing, where you're getting a day here and there. Andre, the same, days here and there."
Even though the quartet will cost the team a combined $58.75 million in 2014, per Cot's Baseball Contracts, the Dodgers would be wise to keep all four of them around.
Settle the Infield
Alexander Guerrero may have received a hefty commitment from the Dodgers this offseason, but the Cuban defector is still something of an unknown quantity.
According to Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com, Guerrero is currently playing second base for Los Gigantes del Cibao in the Dominican winter leagues. Gurnick reports Guerrero is swinging the bat well but that the natural shortstop is still going through a transition phase as he acclimates to a new position.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times reported Guerrero is expected to travel to Arizona next month to prepare for spring training, where he figures to enter as a leading candidate to start at second base. With Juan Uribe testing the free-agent market, the team is also looking for a third baseman, leaving some possibilities open for the Dodgers.
One scenario is to re-sign Uribe at third base and give Guerrero a chance to start at second, while the team could also sign a shortstop like free agent Stephen Drew or second baseman Omar Infante. But either of those latter moves could require Hanley Ramirez to move to third base.
Ramirez has changed positions for an elite shortstop like Jose Reyes in the past, but it would be interesting to see if he would be willing to change for players like Drew or Guerrero. There are a lot of moving parts to this situation that is sure to change in the coming weeks.
Bolster the Bullpen
All roads in Los Angeles' bullpen lead to closer Kenley Jansen and setup man Brian Wilson.
While those are two solid options at the back end of games that could make eighth and ninth innings tough against the Dodgers, the team could still use help with situational and middle relievers. According to Ken Gurnick of Dodgers.com, Los Angeles is still in the market for at least two additions to the bullpen.
Southpaw J.P. Howell was one of the team's top relievers in 2013 (62 IP, 2.03 ERA, 1.05 WHIP, 7.8 K/9) but is reportedly the target of the Colorado Rockies, who have made progress in contract discussions, per Troy Renck of The Denver Post.
Howell's departure would leave Paco Rodriguez as the only lefty in the bullpen, meaning the team could go after another southpaw. Gurnick also reported long reliever Jamey Wright is on the team's radar, while listing other available right-handers like John Axford, Andrew Bailey and Grant Balfour as possible fits.
Spend Big Bucks on Rotation
Ace and reigning Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw isn't a free agent until next season, but the team would be wise to try and lock him down now.
According to Buster Olney of ESPN, the team already offered a long-term, $300 million deal to Kershaw earlier this year, but the lefty didn't want to discuss a deal during the season, especially one that could reportedly be "essentially a lifetime contract."
Los Angeles needs to craft a deal that is impossible for Kershaw to refuse, since he looks like a once-in-a-generation talent. Lefties with two Cy Youngs by the age of 25 and three consecutive NL ERA titles don't come around often, and the Dodgers don't want to get in a bidding war with other teams next offseason.
Ultimately, the decision will come down to Kershaw, but Los Angeles should bend over backwards to keep him at this point.
The same can't be said about Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka, who has question marks despite going 24-0 with a 1.27 ERA last season. The 25-year-old righty is eligible to be posted by his team, the Rakuten Golden Eagles, but he and his club haven't made a decision yet.
Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times passed along recent comments from Rakuten president Yozo Tachibana, who said the team's wish is for Tanaka to stay in Japan. If Tanaka is available, the big-spending Dodgers are in a position to put a sizeable offer on the table, one where Tanaka could step into a star-studded rotation and wouldn't be counted on to be the ace from Day 1.
Though the Dodgers shouldn't go over the top for Tanaka, he is an intriguing option for the pitching staff.