With a roster that is basically settled and returning all of the key pieces from the team that won the 2013 NL West, the Los Angeles Dodgers are in good shape. The recently re-signed Juan Uribe will slot in at third base, which was the only remaining hole on the depth chart. However, there are still a couple of organizational questions that will be addressed as the offseason moves on.
Despite it being full, the roster is not perfectly balanced—and questions still abound about how the front office will deal with this problem. The decisions they choose to make will be instrumental in shaping the future of the team.
The obvious big question surrounding the Dodgers is their outfield. Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford are all big league outfielders—but only three can play at any given time. And with prospect Joc Pederson likely nearly ready (he played a full season in Double-A last year) to fill a fourth outfielder role, there is no sense in unnecessarily paying at least $18 million for a bench player.
Now, there is a clear problem: There’s no obvious one to trade. Kemp seems to be preferred, but rumors also surround Ethier. And while the team would not reject a Crawford offer out of hand, it’s the receiving the offer part of the trade process that has stymied general manager Ned Colletti. Puig, at just 23 years of age, will not be moved.
A final confounding factor is that of the four, only Kemp is a center fielder. Ethier played it last year in Kemp’s absence, but he’s not particularly good at it: He’s a career negative fielder in right, and he simply doesn’t have the speed necessary to play as a quality center fielder for a full season. Puig might be the best option, but the fact that he is prone to mental lapses might give the Dodgers pause when entrusting him with that kind of responsibility.
So basically, the Dodgers don’t have four outfielders; they have three corner outfielders and one center fielder, and only the most likely one to move is the center fielder.
Tanaka is a good pitcher. This FanGraphs post compares him to Hiroki Kuroda, and this piece from Sports on Earth also projects success. Once we concede Tanaka’s talent and expect him to be a high-quality big league pitcher, analysis of the Dodgers’ pursuit of him gets far more interesting.
Dodger ownership continues to claim that the eventual goal is to reduce payroll (as mentioned recently at the bottom of this article in the Los Angeles Times). If that is the case and they intend to begin that process now that they have successfully bought a contending team, then expect them to ease up on their pursuit of Tanaka.
If, however, they still plan on being relatively reckless with their money, then it would be a minor shock to see them not mentioned among the final and highest bidders for the Japanese righty.