Los Angeles Dodgers' 4 Biggest Missed Opportunities of the Offseason
The Los Angeles Dodgers had a relatively quiet offseason, which is a decision that could come back to haunt them in the near future. The Dodgers took care of their most important business by signing manager Don Mattingly and ace Clayton Kershaw to contract extensions. But the moves they didn’t make could prove costly over the next couple seasons.
Here are four missed opportunities from the offseason that may have a negative impact on the Dodgers organization.
4. Not Trading Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford
The Dodgers seemed open to trading Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford during the offseason, an idea that general manager Ned Colletti confirmed in early December. However, Los Angeles now seems content to enter the season with all three of its luxury-priced outfielders still on the roster.
I understand Colletti’s concern that more injuries may necessitate the current depth in the outfield. However, he may regret not moving one of the three players while they still have some value to other teams.
The Seattle Mariners kicked the tires on Kemp last November, but it’s unclear how genuine their interest was. I believe the Dodgers were wise to hold on to Kemp. But given the plethora of young talent in the Mariners organization, perhaps Los Angeles missed a golden opportunity to infuse the league’s seventh-oldest team (in 2013) with some much-needed youth.
Kemp could, of course, maximize his trade value with a strong comeback from offseason surgeries on his left ankle and shoulder. But there’s no guarantee that he’ll ever again come close to being the player that finished second to Ryan Braun in the 2011 NL MVP voting.
Crawford improved his value with a strong 2013 season following what amounted to two lost years with the Boston Red Sox. He’s clearly not the All-Star player he was with the Tampa Bay Rays. However, Crawford has retained enough of his skills to be a valuable addition to the top of most lineups.
Ethier had the worst season at the plate of his eight-year career—not a great sign for a player turning 32 in early-April. But thanks to some solid defense in right and center field, Ethier managed to post the second-best WAR of his career at 2.7.
Ethier is still awful against left-handed pitching, posting a .221/.275/.338 slash line in 145 at-bats in 2013. However, his above-average defense and .294/.394/.460 slash line against righties would make him a valuable platoon player, particularly for an American League club.
Of course, moving Kemp, Crawford or Ethier would have required the Dodgers to eat a significant portion of salary. But Los Angeles is in the enviable position of not having to let finances dictate its ability to make sound baseball decisions.
If the performances of Kemp, Crawford or Ethier are hindered by injuries or decline in 2014, the Dodgers will regret not moving one of them while they still had the chance.
3. Not Signing Hanley Ramirez to a Contract Extension
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez reestablished himself as one MLB’s best players with an outstanding 2013 campaign. If he continues his career renaissance in 2014, Los Angeles may find itself paying a premium to secure his services beyond next season.
Ramirez seems genuinely disappointed to be entering 2014 without a contract extension from the Dodgers. However, given his recent injury history, it’s easy to understand why Los Angeles would risk having to pay Ramirez more money considering the uncertainty about his long-term health.
Ramirez delivered a spectacular .345/.402/.638 slash line during the regular season and hit .323 with seven RBI in nine postseason games. However, a variety of hand, back and hamstring injuries limited him to just 86 regular-season games.
2013 was the third time in the past four seasons that Ramirez missed at least 20 games due to injury. He appeared in 157 games in 2012 but missed 45 percent of his team’s games in 2011 and 2013.
If Ramirez, 30, can overcome the chronic back injury that caused him so much pain in 2013, he has many productive years still ahead of him. This is likely Ramirez’s last chance to secure a lucrative multiyear contract, so he is heavily motivated to have a healthy and productive 2014 season.
Last season, Ramirez’s performance played a major role in the Dodgers’ ability to overcome a 20-32 start, win the NL West and reach the National League Championship Series. If Los Angeles has any hope of ending its 26-year championship drought, Ramirez will again need to be one of the Dodgers’ best players.
If that turns out to be the case, the Dodgers would happily give Ramirez the long-term contract he seeks, even if it comes without a hometown discount.
2. Not Signing Masahiro Tanaka or Bronson Arroyo
Even without signing free-agent pitchers Masahiro Tanaka or Bronson Arroyo, the Dodgers enter next season with one of the best starting rotations in the majors. However, passing on both Tanaka and Arroyo could end up hurting Los Angeles in more ways than one.
The Dodgers were reportedly one of the favorites to land Tanaka, especially after team president Stan Kasten declared that they “certainly won’t be outbid” for the Japanese right-hander’s services. Tanaka eventually signed a seven-year, $155 million contract with the Yankees, and Los Angeles may regret not solidifying its rotation for the next few years.
After giving Kershaw a seven-year contract extension in January, the Dodgers now have the top three starters in their rotation (including Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu) locked up through at least 2018. If the 25-year-old Tanaka turns out to be as good as advertised, Los Angeles missed out on building a rotation that could rival that of the Braves during the 1990s and early 2000s.
From 1991 through 2005, the trio of Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz helped lead Atlanta to 14 consecutive division titles, not including the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.
The Dodgers will get over losing out on Tanaka, especially since he signed with an American League team. But passing on Arroyo could have a more immediate, albeit shorter-term, impact on Los Angeles because he signed with a division rival.
After missing the playoffs in each of the last two years, the Arizona Diamondbacks will seriously challenge the Dodgers for the NL West crown in 2014. In addition to signing Arroyo, the D’Backs acquired outfielder Mark Trumbo from the Los Angeles Angels and closer Addison Reed from the Chicago White Sox in separate offseason trades.
Aside from his impact on the competition, the Dodgers could have used Arroyo in their rotation for selfish reasons. Even after signing left-hander Paul Maholm to an incentive-laden one-year deal, the fifth starter’s spot is still wide open entering spring training.
If healthy, Josh Beckett will challenge for the final spot in the rotation. Los Angeles will also get Chad Billingsley back from Tommy John surgery this year, likely sometime around midseason.
While Maholm, Beckett and Billingsley offer varying degrees of promise, Arroyo’s consistency and dependability would have given the Dodgers greater stability at the back of their rotation.
Arroyo has made at least 32 starts and pitched at least 199.0 innings in every season since 2005. He also leads the majors in wins since 2006 with 105.
1. Not Signing Brian McCann
The Dodgers’ biggest offseason regret may very well be not going all out to sign former Atlanta Braves backstop Brian McCann. McCann, who signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the New York Yankees, could turn out to be this year’s best free-agent acquisition.
The Dodgers haven’t had an elite catcher since Russell Martin’s last good season with the club in 2008. Los Angeles has undoubtedly gotten more than expected out of A.J. Ellis over the past two years, particularly with his handling of the Dodgers’ pitching staff.
However, McCann’s presence in the Dodgers’ lineup would have been a welcome addition to a team with World Series aspirations.
McCann has been an All-Star in seven of his eight full seasons in the majors. Since 2006, the career .277 hitter has averaged more than 21 home runs per season while driving in nearly 80 runs per year.
McCann, as a left-handed hitter, would have also added more balance to the Dodgers’ lineup.
Both Ellis and McCann are above-average defensive catchers who are known for their expert handling of talented pitching staffs. But McCann, who turns 30 on February 20, is three years younger than Ellis.
Additionally, his strong veteran leadership would have filled a void left by the departure of second baseman Mark Ellis. Ellis joined the St. Louis Cardinals this offseason after the Dodgers declined to pick up his 2014 option.
With no attractive options in the 2014-15 free-agent class and no top prospects at the position, the Dodgers will continue to be without an elite catcher for the foreseeable future. For a fanbase that’s grown accustomed to watching standouts like Martin, Paul Lo Duca, Mike Piazza and Mike Scioscia over the past 35 years, that could be a hard pill to swallow.