The Los Angeles Dodgers have won 92 and 94 games the past two seasons, as well as the National League West both times, and are once again considered by many (if not most) to be the favorites in that division in 2015.
But has the Dodgers' busy offseason, sparked by a change in the front office that brought in new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and new general manager Farhan Zaidi, left them at least somewhat vulnerable as spring training approaches?
That question seems a little odd to raise, given the reputation of the Dodgers and their new decision-makers along with the fact that this is the only team currently projected to win even 90 games based on personnel and metrics, according to FanGraphs.
The Dodgers, however, have made a great many changes, like moving on from two of their most prominent, productive hitters in Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez. This has resulted in a ton of roster turnover, and so, to an extent, the if-it-ain't-broke argument applies.
Did the 2013-14 Dodgers have flaws that needed fixing just like every other team the past two years? Sure, namely a terrible bullpen, a below-average defense and injury issues that plagued the roster.
The playoffs also proved disappointing, with defeats in the 2013 NLCS and 2014 NLDS at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals both times.
Then again, the Dodgers did make the postseason each of the past two years, and are one of just five clubs to do so, along with the Detroit Tigers, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Cardinals.
So this new-look 2015 Dodgers team is almost something of an experiment to see if a contender can be remodeled on the fly by a pair of incoming executives and stay a contender.
Besides that, there is quite a bit of pressure in L.A. for this to work right away, as the Dodgers are in win-now mode as much as just about any other club in the sport.
Before anything else, here's a rundown of the Dodgers' notable additions and subtractions so far this offseason, along with each player's projected 2015 wins above replacement (WAR), courtesy of Steamer Projections, which can be found at FanGraphs:
|Projected WAR for Dodgers' Key Offseason Additions/Subtractions|
|ADDITION||POSITION||PROJECTED WAR||SUBTRACTION||POSITION||PROJECTED WAR|
|Jimmy Rollins||SS||2.5||Hanley Ramirez||SS||3.9|
|Howie Kendrick||2B||2.4||Matt Kemp||OF||1.9|
|Yasmani Grandal||C||2.3||Dan Haren||RHP||1.6|
|Brandon McCarthy||RHP||2.1||Dee Gordon||2B||1.0|
|Brett Anderson||LHP||0.9||Tim Federowicz||C||0.6|
|Chris Heisey||OF||0.0||Roberto Hernandez||RHP||0.5|
|Joel Peralta||RHP||0.2||Kevin Correia||RHP||0.3|
|Joe Wieland||RHP||0.2||Jamey Wright||RHP||0.2|
|Enrique Hernandez||INF/OF||0.0||Josh Beckett||RHP||0.0|
|Chris Hatcher||RHP||0.0||Brian Wilson||RHP||0.0|
|Juan Nicasio||RHP||-0.1||Matt Magill||RHP||0.0|
Simply tallying the projected WARs for those added and lost is far from an exact measure of how much better or worse a team will be from one year to the next, but it can offer a sense.
In this case, the Dodgers look to have gained and lost roughly the same, meaning they might not be any better or worse than what they have been—they've only shuffled the deck chairs. Perhaps.
In letting Ramirez (512 plate appearances) walk as a free agent and trading Kemp (599) and Gordon (650), the Dodgers have moved on from three players who placed in the top five in plate appearances for them last season, leaving Adrian Gonzalez (660) and Yasiel Puig (640) as the only players to reach 500 plate appearances with L.A. in 2014.
Now, plate appearances don't tell anything other than how often a player goes up to the plate, but that does provide an idea of how much turnover has taken place. As for the actual production, well, each of Kemp (140 OPS+), Ramirez (132) and even Gordon (101) were above-average with the bat.
Friedman acknowledged the risks involved in swapping that kind of talent.
"[Kemp] was a really popular player because of how gifted he is offensively," he said via Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times. "We get it. I have a lot of respect for what he can do in the batter’s box."
The same goes for the pitching side, as four of the 10 pitchers to throw at least 50 innings for L.A in 2014 are now gone: Dan Haren (186.0), Josh Beckett (115.2), Paul Maholm (70.2) and Jamey Wright (70.1).
Of those four—two starters and two relievers—only Beckett, who has retired, posted an ERA+ that was better than league average at 121, so the losses on the mound don't seem to be quite as impactful.
The Dodgers' top three starters, Hyun-jin Ryu, Zack Greinke and 2014 NL MVP and Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw, are still in place.
Quite possibly, the biggest takeaway from all the maneuvering is that it puts a heck of a lot more on the shoulders of Puig, who is one of baseball's biggest and brightest but also most mercurial stars.
This is a young player who looked like an MVP candidate through the first half of 2014 (.309/.393/.522), only to slump soon thereafter (.268/.359/.402 with just one homer from the break until the end of August) before a late-season bump (.284/.376/.432 in September).
All of that turned into utter disaster in October, when Puig reached base just twice in his final 10 trips, struck out eight times in that span and was benched for NLDS Game 4, which turned out to be the Dodgers' final game of the season.
Can Puig now handle being the marquee name in the lineup along with Gonzalez? Is he ready for that? Is there at least a chance it could go horribly wrong?
As Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times wrote before the Dodgers traded Kemp:
The Dodgers "lost" free agent Hanley Ramirez to the Boston Red Sox after the shortstop signed a jaw-dropping $88-million deal. They can't really afford to lose the only other real right-handed power in the lineup. Certainly you're not going to count on the streaky Yasiel Puig, who hit exactly one home run in a 54-game stretch from June 5 to Sept. 15?
As far as the pitching staff goes, the other potential pitfall that could crop up based on the machinations is the health of the rotation.
Both Kershaw (neck/back) and Ryu (hip) spent time on the disabled list in 2014, while Greinke battled through some minor elbow soreness late in the year.
And now that elite trio is backed up by two new starters in Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson, who are practically defined by their injury history.
To wit, McCarthy, who scored a four-year, $48 million contract, reached the 200-inning threshold for the first time last season—his ninth in the majors—and he's now entering his age-31 campaign.
Anderson, meanwhile, has been remarkably injury-prone, having dealt with a number of problems affecting all sorts of body parts since 2010. The soon-to-be 27-year-old lefty has quality stuff and might prove himself worthy of a $10 million gamble, but he hasn't reached the 50-inning mark since 2011 and has thrown 206.1 innings the past four years combined.
There also will be a lot asked of Joc Pederson, one of the Dodgers' top prospects, who made a brief cameo last September after a 30-30 season at Triple-A.
Here's Carson Cistulli of FanGraphs on Pederson, citing ZiPS projections:
Joc Pederson is expected, also, to produce the third-most wins among Dodger batters. It’s not a typical arrangement, that, but also likely the product of the Dodgers' outfield glut over the last couple years. Without it, Pederson almost certainly wouldn’t be entering the 2015 season with his rookie-eligibility intact.
Pederson has a strong all-around skill set and has done all he can in the minors, but he's also just 22 years old with all of 18 games in the majors. There's bound to be a transition period and some growing pains for a youngster who is expected to take over as the starting center fielder at some point in 2015. If he's going to be L.A.'s third-best hitter, as mentioned above, that might not work out so well.
Now, all of this isn't to say that the Dodgers won't be good this coming season. What they will be is different.
"This just gets back to us doing everything we could to mold our roster into the most highly-functioning baseball team, as opposed to a collection of talent," Friedman said, per Hernandez.
That could be a good thing, as Friedman and Zaidi have addressed the bullpen and defense, making the club more athletic and bringing in veterans Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick to better handle the middle infield.
They have also cut some costs by unloading Kemp's hefty contract, among others, which leaves open the possibility that more moves could still happen.
But it's also possible that so much change could take some getting used to, which could hurt the Dodgers, especially with all of the hype and expectation surrounding this club.
They may still be the favorites in the NL West at the moment, but the Dodgers have changed quite a bit from the past two years when they won the division. Remaking a contender is a bold and tricky task, with a potential downside that could come back to haunt them.
That might not happen with the Dodgers—but it could.
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