It didn't take long for the Los Angeles Dodgers' new front office to leave its mark on the city and franchise this offseason.
In a span of 24 hours during the recent winter meetings, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi orchestrated deals that saw the Dodgers plug a hole at shortstop, replace their All-Star second baseman and dump a former franchise cornerstone seemingly without a moment's hesitation.
When the dust settled, it appeared Los Angeles had improved its roster in a variety of ways—albeit perhaps more subtly than usual. And if last week's flurry was any indication, the new conductors of this Dodgers train surely have more up their sleeve between now and the start of spring training.
The hiring of Friedman and Zaidi shortly after the Dodgers were eliminated early in October signaled a cultural shift within the organization.
Both staunch believers in the concept of advanced metrics, Friedman and Zaidi cultivated the practice in the small markets of Tampa Bay and Oakland, respectively, where a lack of financial flexibility called for shrewd, cost-effective baseball decisions.
In fact, Zaidi spent time working directly under Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who gained national recognition through Michael Lewis' 2003 book, Moneyball, and the 2011 film of the same name.
When analyzing the metrics of the Dodgers roster they inherited from former general manager Ned Colletti, Friedman and Zaidi probably noticed that the defense could use some work. After all, there was a gaping hole at shortstop. Los Angeles chose not to re-sign Hanley Ramirez primarily because of his defensive shortcomings.
A common barometer used to value a player's defense is a metric called defensive runs saved (DRS). Zero is considered average, 10 is great and minus-10 is poor. According to Fangraphs, Ramirez ranked 29th among all shortstops who played at least 500 innings at the position last season with minus-nine DRS.
When Ramirez commanded a contract that the Dodgers probably deemed too expensive given his age and declining defense, Friedman and Zaidi opted to go in a different direction. Rather than completely sacrifice offense by rolling the dice on a sure-handed, yet unproven, in-house option like Erisbel Arruebarrena, the Dodgers acquired Jimmy Rollins from the Philadelphia Phillies, per ESPN's Buster Olney.
Last season, Rollins ranked 10th in DRS among shortstops with at least 500 innings under their belt, per Fangraphs. He also produced a higher on-base percentage, four more home runs and 14 more stolen bases than Ramirez.
For a moment, it looked like Rollins and second baseman Dee Gordon were going to constitute the 2015 double-play combination for the Dodgers. But Los Angeles then traded their all-star infielder to the Miami Marlins in exchange for four prospects, per Clark Spencer of the Miami Herald.
The major haul for the Dodgers in the deal was Andrew Heaney, MLB.com's top-ranked pitching prospect in all of baseball heading into 2014. Heaney didn't stick around very long, though, as Los Angeles quickly flipped the southpaw across town in exchange for the Angels veteran second baseman Howie Kendrick.
Yes, the Dodgers gave up a dynamic game-changer in the speedy Gordon. But upon closer inspection, Kendrick's .347 on-base percentage trumped Gordon's in 2014. As the old saying goes, "You can't steal first base."
Moreover, Kendrick's DRS ranked seventh among all second basemen with at least 500 innings played last season, per Fangraphs. Gordon's minus-five DRS ranked 25th.
Although Friedman and Zaidi now have more money to work with than they ever could have dreamed of in Tampa and Oakland, the pair remains committed to their cost-effective approach to improving the team.
Financial flexibility was lacking within the Dodgers organization last season. Former general manager Ned Colletti shoulders some of the blame for that reality, as does the Guggenheim Baseball Management ownership group that gave Colletti permission to dole out massive player contracts in order to re-establish the Dodgers' brand following the tumultuous Frank McCourt era.
Los Angeles' Opening Day payroll in 2014 came out to $229.3 million, the highest in the majors.
The Dodgers' top prospect, Corey Seager, plays shortstop but by all accounts, will not be ready for full-time MLB service until 2016. That's why Los Angeles nabbed Rollins, a player whose contract comes off the books following the 2015 season but someone who should make for a quality stopgap next year.
One of the loftiest contracts that Colletti handed out was the eight-year, $160-million commitment to Matt Kemp. Not only did the outfielder miss most of 2012 and 2013 due to various injuries, those same injuries had seemingly sapped Kemp of his defensive capability. According to Fangraphs, Kemp registered a minus-23 in DRS, the worst among qualifying MLB outfielders in 2014.
Kemp's hefty contract and poor defensive metrics contradicted two of the central ideals that Friedman and Zaidi champion.
It's why Kemp was a prime piece to be moved in a trade, and that's exactly what the Dodgers did when they sent him to the San Diego Padres in exchange for catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland and pitching prospect Zach Eflin, per Kirk Kenney and Dennis Lin of the San Diego Union-Tribune.
It also helped that Kemp's value was higher than it had been in three years because of his resurgent second half at the plate in 2014.
Los Angeles agreed to eat $32 million of the $107 million remaining on Kemp's contract, thereby immediately freeing up $75 million while reducing the well-documented outfield logjam at Dodger Stadium.
For good measure, the Dodgers recently agreed to deals with starting pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, per Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports and ESPN's Buster Olney. The common denominator between McCarthy and Anderson—besides being Twitter-savvy—is that they are both former Athletics and thus catch the eye of Zaidi.
While it can be argued that McCarthy's four-year $48-million contract is excessive for a pitcher with a career 4.09 ERA, Friedman and Zaidi may be looking a little deeper. Sure, McCarthy's most recent work was a stellar second half of 2014 with the Yankees. Even that might be an anomaly, though. Historically, McCarthy has struggled in hitter-friendly parks like Yankee Stadium.
But what about spacious parks like Dodger Stadium?
A reasonable comparison is O.co Coliseum, home of the A's. McCarthy's ERA during his two seasons with Oakland was lower than it has been with any other team throughout his nine-year career. As a No. 4 starter in Los Angeles, there will also be less pressure on McCarthy. Plus he will be working with one of the game's best pitching coaches in Rick Honeycutt.
Anderson's $10 million deal is incentive-laden due to his extensive injury history. But Pedro Moura of the Orange County Register points out an interesting piece of information that gives this signing the potential to be another cost-saving steal for the Dodgers in today's high-stakes pitching market:
Although there is major injury risk associated with Anderson, Los Angeles appears confident that he can provide better upside than Dan Haren, who was shipped to Miami in the Gordon deal.
Whenever a team pulls off six transactions involving 17 players in a matter of two days, it's probably a good bet that more moves are on the way.
The Dodgers certainly addressed some issues—filling out the back end of the starting rotation, finding a replacement at shortstop and replenishing the farm system—but what's to say these recent acquisitions will even make it to spring training wearing Dodger blue?
Just ask Andrew Heaney or Stan Kasten.
The Dodgers president recently shared similar sentiments with Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register:
I’ve always said to my GMs, the roster you have in December or January is not the roster you’ll need or want or have in August or September or October. They’re always going to be needs that arise, holes that have to be filled, adjustments or improvements that you need to make. So whatever you do, don’t ever think you’re finished.
One option that has been dangled around the league and whose name always seems linked to the Dodgers is Cole Hamels. The veteran Phillies southpaw will turn 31 later this month and is owed $94 million over the next four years.
With statistically comparable pitchers Max Scherzer and James Shields set to rake in contracts north of $100 million, Friedman and Zaidi might view Hamels as a bargain, and they've clearly shown how much they like a good bargain.
The additions of McCarthy and Anderson would seemingly take Los Angeles out of the Hamels sweepstakes, but if the Dodgers are willing to dump a resurgent fan favorite in Kemp, there's no telling what the team might do if it means a better chance at reeling in a pitcher like Hamels.
All stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise linked/noted.