Projecting the Dodgers' 2015 Opening Day Roster
The Los Angeles Dodgers enter the 2015 season with a roster full of new faces, but the particular collection of players is still capable of advancing to the postseason for a third consecutive year.
Trotting out the reigning National League MVP and two-time defending Cy Young Award winner tends to legitimize a team's chances, so the Dodgers will certainly benefit from having Clayton Kershaw on their side.
While trading away a slugger like Matt Kemp may dent the offense, the team has put a premium on defense with the new double-play combination of Jimmy Rollins and Howie Kendrick rounding out the infield alongside returners Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe at the corners.
Last season, the Dodgers were doomed by an ineffective bullpen headlined by former closers (Brian Wilson and Chris Perez) who consistently put the "has" in has-been. This year's relief corps features a combination of wily veterans, young hopefuls and a few guys who have been brought in to see if the move to a pitcher's park like Dodger Stadium may induce some value potentially lying dormant within them.
Here's an early look at the projected 25-man roster that manager Don Mattingly will lead into battle on Opening Day 2015.
The Dodgers' starting rotation in 2015 is likely to once again be among the best in the National League, beginning with the lethal one-two punch of Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke at the top.
Kershaw is quite simply the best pitcher on the planet. Two hiccups during last season's NLDS aren't going to change that fact. The southpaw turned in a 21-3 record to go along with a 1.77 ERA in 27 starts last season, leading the majors in ERA for an unprecedented fourth consecutive season.
He struck out 239 batters while walking only 31 in 198 innings, and he also reeled off a 41-inning scoreless streak plus a no-hitter.
Greinke would probably be an ace on most other teams, so the Dodgers are glad to have him back as their No. 2 starter. The right-hander will look to build on the success of last season, when he won a career-high 17 games and also reached the 200-strikeout plateau.
Greinke is set to make $23 million in 2015, the third season of his six-year deal. The question facing the Dodgers is whether or not to lock Greinke up with an extension before he can opt out at the end of the season.
Korean left-hander Hyun-jin Ryu returns as the No. 3 starter for Los Angeles in 2015. The reliable, finesse pitcher showed improvement by increasing his strikeout rate and lowering his walk rate last year. However, injuries limited him to just 26 starts. The Dodgers should expect more of the same from the 27-year-old as he enters his third MLB season.
The back end of the rotation is where some new faces begin to crop up. Brandon McCarthy was one of the first major signings under the new front office regime headed by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi.
The right-hander agreed to a four-year, $48 million contract during the winter meetings and will be the team's projected No. 4 starter in 2015. The Dodgers are banking on McCarthy putting together back-to-back healthy seasons, a daunting proposition for a pitcher who has made seven trips to the disabled list with a sore shoulder over the course of his nine-year career.
Last season was a tale of two halves for McCarthy and one that saw him throw 200 innings for the first time in his career. After a brutal first half with the Diamondbacks (3-10, 5.01 ERA), he found success following a trade to the Yankees and went 7-5 with a 2.89 ERA in 14 starts with New York.
The Dodgers took another chance on an injury-prone starter when they signed left-hander Brett Anderson to a one-year, $10 million deal to round out the rotation as their projected No. 5.
Anderson is 27-32 with a 3.73 ERA in 92 career games spanning six seasons with Oakland and Colorado. He was limited to just eight starts in 2014 with the Rockies because of a broken left index finger and lower back surgery. Anderson went 1-3 with a 2.91 ERA in those games.
The Dodgers will feature a revamped infield this season after letting Hanley Ramirez walk in free agency and trading away Dee Gordon.
Replacing Ramirez at shortstop will be veteran Jimmy Rollins, the only player on the roster besides Juan Uribe with a World Series ring. Since the 36-year-old has one year remaining on his contract, Los Angeles tabbed him as the ideal stopgap at shortstop until top prospect Corey Seager is deemed ready to take over the position, likely in 2016.
Rollins quietly produced a higher on-base percentage, four more home runs and 14 more stolen bases than Ramirez did in 2014. But Friedman and Zaidi are more interested in what he brings to the table on defense.
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, Rollins ranked 10th last season in DRS among shortstops with at least 500 innings under their belt. Ramirez ranked 29th.
For a brief moment, it looked like Rollins and Gordon were going to constitute the 2015 double-play combination for the Dodgers. But Los Angeles quickly followed the Rollins deal with another trade, sending their All-Star second baseman to Miami.
Kendrick has been one of the better offensive second basemen over the past few seasons in terms of a metric called "weighted runs created plus," or wRC+. Since 2011, Kendrick has posted 115, 117, 103 and 123 in terms of wRC+. Gordon's numbers during that span: 94, 58, 73 and 101.
The 31-year-old Kendrick will also provide an upgrade over Gordon on defense. 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.
Returning to the Los Angeles infield are first baseman Adrian Gonzalez and third baseman Juan Uribe.
Gonzalez experienced somewhat of a resurgence in 2014, compiling an isolated power metric (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .206. It was the first time he eclipsed .200 in that department since 2011.
Overall, Gonzalez slashed .276/.335/.482 with an MLB-leading 116 RBI and will likely be tabbed as the Dodgers' cleanup hitter in 2015.
Uribe will continue to hold down the hot corner in Los Angeles, fresh off leading National League third basemen with at least 850 innings in DRS last season. The 35-year-old veteran and valuable clubhouse presence is entering the final year of his current contract.
Behind the plate, the Dodgers received switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal as the main haul in the Matt Kemp trade. The team is hoping that Grandal can provide a bit more pop from the catcher position (15 homers last year playing in spacious Petco Park) while forming a platoon alongside A.J. Ellis.
One of the most well-documented issues facing the Dodgers in recent years has been the team's outfield logjam. Friedman and Zaidi were committed to alleviating the situation upon arrival, and they stayed true to their word when Kemp was shipped out of town during the winter meetings.
The trade came as somewhat of a surprise, as many believed that either Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford was going to be the one sent packing. With Kemp gone, Crawford is all but ensured a starting gig in left field—especially considering he held down that position for the final three months of 2014.
Yasiel Puig will likely shift back over to right field, the position he played before Kemp returned from injury. Right field is also where the Dodgers can best utilize Puig's cannon of a throwing arm.
The young Cuban who plays with an unparalleled reckless abandon regressed at the plate last season. After hitting 19 home runs in just 104 games as a rookie in 2013, Puig tallied 16 home runs in 148 games last year. He slashed just .270/.353/.420 over the final four months of the season.
The biggest question mark lies in center field and is centered around rookie Joc Pederson, the team's top outfield prospect.
Last year, Pederson 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 CBSSports.com.
Overall, Pederson slashed .303/.435/.582 with 135 hits and 78 RBI in 121 games at Triple-A before his September call-up. Needless to say, the 22-year-old doesn't have much more to prove in the minors.
It's why Pederson will have an opportunity to earn an everyday job in center field during spring training, likely competing with Ethier.
The Dodgers have shopped Ethier this offseason, according to Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, but they may ultimately decide to hang on to the eight-year veteran in the event that Pederson isn't ready or the injury-prone Crawford falls victim to another malady.
A glaring weakness for the 2014 Dodgers—one that spelled the difference between division winner and championship contender—was their bullpen.
Los Angeles relievers combined to surrender more earned runs than 18 other bullpens around the league. They also ranked 22nd in ERA, 20th in fielding independent pitching (FIP) and 26th in walk rate.
Either a lack of trust in the relievers or a reluctant reliance on them could be blamed as the culprit for each of the Dodgers’ three postseason losses to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Division Series.
Friedman and GM Zaidi began shoring up the bridge between that night's starter and closer Kenley Jansen by acquiring relievers Joel Peralta from Tampa Bay, Juan Nicasio from Colorado and Mike Bolsinger from Arizona.
Friedman is familiar with Peralta from their time together with the Rays. Regarded as a positive clubhouse presence, the 38-year-old Peralta turned in a 3.40 FIP in 69 innings last season for Tampa Bay.
The hope with Nicasio and Bolsinger is that by removing these pitchers from hitter-friendly parks in Phoenix and Denver, respectively, they might be able to find more success pitching in spacious Dodger Stadium.
It remains to be seen if both of them make the Opening Day roster. Nicasio would appear to be the favorite simply because of his more consistent body of work.
Los Angeles received right-hander Chris Hatcher from Miami in the trade that sent Gordon and veteran starter Dan Haren to the Marlins.
Hatcher turned in a 3.38 ERA and a 2.56 FIP with 60 strikeouts and just 12 walks in 56 innings last season. The 30-year-old also ranked 23rd in FIP and 20th in xFIP among relievers with at least 30 innings pitched, per FanGraphs.
Hatcher will be able to bring the heat out of the pen in 2015 as well. His fastball averaged 96.3 mph last season, per Brooks Baseball.
Southpaw J.P. Howell and right-hander Brandon League will both be back in 2015. Howell, a lefty specialist, held left-handed batters to a .170/.284/.227 slash and was almost just as effective against righties (.198/.301/.284).
League pitched better than he had during the previous year, but he will never be worth the $22.5 million contract that former general manager Ned Colletti gave him following the 2012 season.
Relievers on the roster bubble heading into spring training include right-handers Pedro Baez and Carlos Frias, as well as southpaw Paco Rodriguez.
The Dodgers return several key bench players in 2015, most notably Scott Van Slyke and Justin Turner.
Van Slyke will pick up where he left off as a platoon outfielder who starts against left-handed pitchers. Last season against southpaws, he slashed .315/.415/.630 with eight home runs and 10 doubles in 130 plate appearances. Van Slyke's .524 slugging percentage and .910 OPS led Los Angeles.
Turner was one of the team's arbitration-eligible players this winter, and both parties agreed to a $2.5 million deal for 2015, per Dylan Hernandez of the Los Angeles Times.
After joining the Dodgers on a minor league contract prior to last season, Turner made the 25-man roster as a utility player and proceeded to turn in a career year. He slashed .340/.404/.493 in 109 games, and he helped spell teammates by filling in at all four infield positions throughout the summer.
The loser of the center field competition this spring will head to the bench, meaning Ethier could spend a second consecutive season as the odd man out. Ethier played the good teammate last year and kept his mouth shut, but the veteran has made it known that he is expecting a different role this season, according to Steve Dilbeck of the Los Angeles Times.
Los Angeles also acquired outfielder Chris Heisey in a trade with the Cincinnati Reds earlier this winter. The five-year veteran will likely play a similar role as Van Slyke.
The position-less Alex Guerrero and infielder Darwin Barney round out the remaining bench options for the Dodgers, with Guerrero possessing the upper hand in terms of a roster spot because he—unlike Barney—can refuse a minor league assignment, per Eric Stephen of True Blue LA.
All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs unless otherwise linked/noted.