Biggest Winners and Losers from Dodgers Offseason
There's less than three months remaining until Opening Day, and the Los Angeles Dodgers look decidedly different than they did at the beginning of the offseason.
For starters, the front office was stripped down and replaced with a new regime headed by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi.
The metrics-minded duo wasted little time revamping the roster, trading away several popular players in an effort to improve the team in less noticeable ways while saving money and replenishing the farm system.
Los Angeles also saw other players walk away, either for a lucrative deal elsewhere in free agency or simply because they were no longer wanted.
It has been one of the busiest winters for the Dodgers in recent years, and there's still time for more moves to be made before the regular season begins. For now, though, here are the winners and losers from the first three months of the team's offseason.
Loser: Ned Colletti
When the St. Louis Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers from the postseason for a second straight year last October, it became clear that some kind of change needed to be made.
The team with baseball's highest payroll could not advance past the first round of the playoffs, regressing from an appearance in the National League Championship Series just one year earlier.
Dodgers' manager Don Mattingly suddenly found himself in the hot seat, but Los Angeles ownership felt that a deeper adjustment was necessary and decided to remove Ned Colletti from his post as general manager.
Colletti was not completely banished, however, and he remains with the organization as a senior adviser to team president Stan Kasten.
During Colletti's nine seasons as general manager, the Dodgers never won fewer than 80 games and finished with a 783-674 record. Over the years, he orchestrated trades to acquire players like Andre Ethier, Manny Ramirez, Hanley Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez. But a recent trend involving poor investments in washed-up relief pitchers probably played a large role in Colletti's demotion.
The Los Angeles Times' Dylan Hernandez pointed out some of Colletti's expensive blunders.
Colletti signed Brandon League to a three-year, $22.5-million deal after the 2012 season. When League pitched his way out of a late-inning role, Colletti essentially doubled down the next winter by guaranteeing Brian Wilson $18.5 million over two years
League has one season remaining on his contract, while Wilson is no longer part of the team. Some of Colletti's other bullpen moves last season—bringing in Chris Perez and Jamey Wright—also did not pan out.
Winner: Hanley Ramirez
Hanley Ramirez played two-and-a-half seasons in Los Angeles after the Dodgers acquired him in a trade with the Miami Marlins a few days before the 2012 trade deadline. Most fans remember him for helping turn around the Dodgers' 2013 season by hitting .345 with 20 home in just 86 games after returning from an injury earlier that year.
But the last memory of Ramirez in Dodger Blue illustrated why the team ultimately decided to let him walk in free agency this winter.
During the fateful seventh inning in Game 4 of the National League Division Series against the Cardinals, Jhonny Peralta looped a single into center field, just out of Ramirez's reach. The ball actually tipped off his glove. Most other MLB shortstops probably would have made the catch.
The next batter, Matt Adams, launched the series' clinching three-run home run off of Clayton Kershaw. Ramirez was suddenly a free agent after the game.
Advanced metrics indicated that Ramirez was one of the worst defensive shortstops in baseball last season. Don Mattingly often removed him for a defensive replacement late in games. Offensively, his 13 home runs were the fewest of his career when playing more than 100 games
So why is Ramirez a winner this offseason?
Well, because the Boston Red Sox made him one by offering him $88 million over four years. The Dodgers were never going to give Ramirez anything close to that this winter. They couldn't hide Ramirez's defensive shortcomings by moving him to third base or first base with Juan Uribe and Adrian Gonzalez signed through 2015 and 2018, respectively. They couldn't slide him into their crowded outfield, either.
But the Red Sox had a vacancy in the outfield, so Ramirez signed with the team that originally drafted him. Boston plans to stick Ramirez in left field. Yes, there will be something nostalgic about seeing a Ramirez playing left field at Fenway Park, and it will be interesting to see how this one deals with the Green Monster.
The majority of Ramirez's value over the next few seasons will once again lie with his bat. As a right-handed hitter, Ramirez is likely to experience an offensive resurgence playing in hitter-friendly Fenway Park while flanked in the lineup by the likes of David Ortiz and Pablo Sandoval.
After last season's disappointment at the plate and in the field, it looks like Ramirez made out just fine this winter, and he can refocus his energy toward developing a new legacy with the Red Sox.
Loser: Matt Kemp
It was just four seasons ago that Matt Kemp finished second in National League MVP voting. He missed a 40/40 campaign by a single home run in 2011 while batting .324 and knocking in 126 runs. The Dodgers rewarded him with an eight-year, $160 million contract that winter, and Kemp became a franchise cornerstone just like that.
He's now a member of the San Diego Padres.
Los Angeles sent him south last month 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.
How did it come to this?
Part of the problem was injuries. Kemp played just 179 of a possible 324 games between 2012-2013, undergoing multiple surgeries for shoulder and ankle maladies.
Meanwhile, Yasiel Puig, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier established themselves as the primary outfielders during Kemp's extended absences. Prior to last season, there was already friction forming when Kemp announced that he was not prepared to play the role of "fourth outfielder" in 2014, per Hernandez.
Kemp didn't help his case in the beginning of the season, batting just .202 through May 2. The prior ankle injury also seemed to sap Kemp of his defensive prowess in center field. According to FanGraphs, Kemp registered a minus-23 in defensive runs saved, the worst among qualifying MLB outfielders in 2014.
Eventually, Mattingly removed Kemp from center field and banished him to left field. Other times, Kemp was simply benched. This did not sit very well with the veteran, and a pattern of unhappiness began brewing in Kemp's camp. By the end of July, Kemp's then-agent, Dave Stewart, indicated to Jon Heyman of CBS Sports that "sometimes change is good," hinting at a possible trade if it meant more playing time for his client.
The Dodgers held on to Kemp for the rest of the season, shifting him to right field and having Ethier come off the bench. Kemp established himself as one of the best hitters during the second half. His final 2014 numbers included a .287/.345/.506 slash with 25 home runs and 89 RBI.
When the offseason rolled around, Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi were committed to trading an outfielder. Most thought either Crawford or Ethier were going to be the ones sent out of town. Instead, it was Kemp.
Perhaps more surprising than a productive fan favorite traded to a divisional foe was the return that Los Angeles received for Kemp. Surely the Dodgers could have gotten more than Yasmani Grandal as the main haul.
Or could they have?
Kemp, who is still owed a hefty $75 million, was linked to the Seattle Mariners in the weeks leading up to the trade. Seattle eventually backed out of talks, according to Heyman, due to clubhouse concerns. Mattingly also recently revealed that he texted Kemp following the trade to thank him for his service to the Dodgers, but has not heard back from the outfielder, per Ken Gurnick of MLB.com.
It seems that a combination of Kemp's salary, personal baggage and declining defense reduced his market value to the point where Grandal was the best Los Angeles could muster in return.
What's more, Kemp will play half of his games next season at spacious Petco Park. Tony Blengino of FanGraphs provided a comprehensive report on how 30-year-old Kemp, whose remaining value lies primarily with his bat, will be unlikely to age very well playing in the notorious pitchers park.
Winner: Joc Pederson
As we just discussed, the biggest winner of the Matt Kemp trade was not Matt Kemp.
It was Joc Pederson.
Regarded as the organization's top outfield prospect, the 22-year-old became the Pacific Coast League's first player since 1934 to hit at least 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season, according to Mike Axisa of CBS Sports. Overall, Pederson slashed .303/.435/.582 with 135 hits and 78 RBI in 121 games at Triple-A prior to his September call-up.
Los Angeles brass liked Pederson so much that Ned Colletti was not allowed to trade him last season, even if doing so meant netting a player like Cole Hamels, per Hernandez.
Colletti was prevented by ownership from making any midseason adjustments to the bullpen, people familiar with the situation said. Top prospects Corey Seager, Julio Urias and Joc Pederson were labeled as untouchable by President Stan Kasten
According to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times, Mattingly considers Pederson the "best defensive center fielder" on the Dodgers, and the rookie will have an opportunity to earn an everyday job at the position during spring training.
“I think we’ll take some time in spring training and assess that, get a feel for him in camp and how he’s handling things," Friedman told Dilbeck. "It’ll be a discussion we'll have with the staff and I’m sure it will be an ongoing discussion between now through the last game in March."
Despite Friedman refusing to publicly label Pederson the team's starting center fielder in 2015, it would make little sense to send the former 11th-round draft pick back to the minor leagues again. Last season's performance showed that he has hardly anything left to prove at that level.
However, one of Pederson's weaknesses is his strikeout rate. He struck out 149 times in 445 minor league at-bats and 11 times in 28 at-bats with the Dodgers a year ago.
Still, whenever a team believes in a prospect to the point where it watches an opportunity to acquire Hamels sail by, it's pretty obvious that the prospect has a bright future.
Another clear sign pointing toward Pederson landing a starting job in Los Angeles this April is the swirl of ongoing trade rumors surrounding Andre Ethier. The eight-year veteran is coming off of the worst season of his career, one that saw him bat .249 with just four home runs and 42 RBI in 341 at-bats. He'll turn 33 in April and is still owed $56 million through the 2018 season.
Loser: Brian Wilson
One of those ill-fated contracts that played a role in Colletti's demise as general manager was the one-year, $10 million offer made to Brian Wilson following the 2013 season.
Looking back at this contract, the worst part wasn't the exorbitant amount of money given to a former closer. It was that the merit for the deal was a small, 18-game sample size in 2013 when Wilson returned from Tommy John surgery and posted a nice 0.66 ERA. Sure, the ERA is minuscule. But it was just 18 games.
The truth would come out in 2014, when Wilson simply imploded. In 61 games, the right-hander known for his famous beard turned in a 4.66 ERA, 4.29 FIP and 1.61 WHIP. Opposing hitters slashed .259/.369/.402 against him, the highest on-base percentage allowed by any Dodgers pitcher last season.
Problems began almost immediately for Wilson, who missed two weeks early in the season because of nerve irritation in his surgically repaired throwing arm. Although Wilson never admitted it, this injury probably figured prominently in the decrease of his fastball velocity throughout the season. He averaged 93.59 mph on his four-seam fastball in 2014, down slightly from 94.07 mph in 2013. But as the year dragged on, the speed dropped even further, down to 91.18 mph in August and 89.75 mph in September, per Brooks Baseball.
Yet despite his disastrous campaign, Colletti had conveniently included a player option for 2015 in Wilson's contract. Realizing that he was not going to receive any similar offers in free agency, Wilson exercised the $9.5 million option and expected to be part of next season's bullpen for the Dodgers.
But the new front office in Los Angeles never let it get that far.
Rather than give the declining Wilson a roster spot for the upcoming season, the Dodgers instead designated him for assignment, essentially paying the 32-year-old not to pitch for them in an effort to improve the bullpen by subtraction.
"At this point, we did not feel he was one of the best seven relief options," Zaidi told reporters on a conference call shortly after the move, per Mark Saxon of ESPNLosAngeles.com.
The decision came just a few days after the Kemp trade, in which the Dodgers agreed to eat $32 million of the remaining $75 million on his contract. Los Angeles also sent the Miami Marlins $12.5 million to help cover the cost of Dee Gordon and Dan Haren's contracts.
Friedman and Zaidi inherited a ton of money when they arrived in Los Angeles. But instead of using that money to throw at free agents like Colletti used to do, they seem to be putting it toward rectifying Colletti's expensive mistakes. The Wilson decision was the latest example of this trend, and CBS Sports' Dayn Perry explained how the economically minded duo understands a sunk cost when it sees one.
This reflects well on the Dodger front office. Too often, teams will keep a player on the active roster and give him regular duty solely because he's owed a lot money. The ill-considered contract must be justified by having that player in the lineup, rotation or bullpen, the thinking goes. This, of course, makes no sense. You're going to pay him the money anyway, so why harm the team's chances by giving time to a sub-replacement level talent? In effect, said dubious contract becomes all the more damaging when it's allowed to manifest itself on the field and, by extension, in the standings
"For us, the contract is the contract," Zaidi said, per Hernandez. "We don't want to be sort of tied down by financial obligations — we're just trying to build the best team we can for 2015."
Winner: Jimmy Rollins
Jimmy Rollins needed a change of scenery.
The 2007 National League MVP had spent his entire career with the Philadelphia Phillies, winning the World Series in 2008 and advancing to the ultimate stage again the following season.
But the team had been trending down in recent years, bottoming out in 2014 with a 73-89 record. That was good for a last-place tie with the Chicago Cubs.
“It wasn’t the best,” Rollins said about his final years in the City of Brotherly Love, per Beth Harris of The Associated Press. “After ‘11, the magic was gone.”
So was the Dodgers' shortstop after Hanley Ramirez signed with Boston.
Los Angeles had in-house replacements Miguel Rojas and Erisbel Arruebarrena on hand to bridge the gap until top prospect Corey Seager was deemed ready, but Friedman and Zaidi were thinking about the bigger picture. They didn't just want a shortstop who could handle both the glove and the bat. They wanted a winner, a leader, someone who had been there before and could help the 2015 Dodgers compete for a championship.
Rollins had one year left on his current contract, and it was clear the Phillies were in rebuilding mode. He made sense as a trade target. So the Dodgers pulled the trigger, sending right-hander Zach Eflin (acquired from San Diego in the Kemp trade) and minor league lefty Tim Windle to Philadelphia in exchange for Rollins, who agreed to waive his no-trade clause, per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA. The Dodgers also included $1 million to help cover Rollins' $11 million salary this year, according to Hernandez.
During his introductory press conference, the 36-year-old Rollins shared what he thought of the Dodgers while playing for a struggling Philadelphia team in recent years, per Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register.
From the outside looking in, it was, ‘These guys are good.’ They do everything. They have fun. They beat you. They clown while they’re beating you. But they’re beating you. It’s like boxing when a dude hits you and talks to you at the same time. That’s what it was like playing these guys.”
Rollins' last season ranked 10th in defensive runs saved among shortstops with at least 500 innings played, per FanGraphs. He also produced a higher on-base percentage, four more home runs and 14 more stolen bases than Ramirez in 2014.
According to Harris, Rollins called Los Angeles “a place that has history and wants to win. It wasn’t happening in Philly at the moment, so I’m here."
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise linked/noted.