The Dodgers Keep Making Moves, But Have They Improved & Does That Matter Right Now?


Over the Thanksgiving weekend I decided to re-watch the second season of Deadwood in the course of like two days. In the final episode of the season (“Boy-the-Earth-Talks-To”) the season’s off-camera antagonist, George Hearst, finally arrives at the camp and promptly buys the Bella Union Hotel from E.B. Farnum and decides to knock down a couple of his room walls with a sledgehammer. If this is spoiling the show, my apologies but it’s been around for over a decade and allow this to serve as a suggestion to watch it.

Anyways, that’s the image that rolled through my mind when I read this morning that Andrew Friedman has overseen 10 trades in the last 26 days (and counting) in his new role as the Los Angeles Dodgers president of baseball operations. At first glance it seems counter-intuitive to tear down, let alone tinker a team that won 92 and 94 games the last two seasons by making a series of moves, highlighted by offloading Matt Kemp (and his $107+ million salary) to the Padres, picking up $31 million on the tab for catcher Yasmani Grandal, pitcher Joe Wieland and other prospects.

The Dodgers also:

  • Have a deal in place to get Jimmy Rollins to play shortstop for a season.
  • Offloaded Dee Gordon and Dan Haren to the Marlins for a prospects.
  • Traded the top prospect in the Marlins deal, Andrew Heaney, to the Angels to get Howie Kendrick for a year to play second base.
  • Signed Brandon McCarthy to a four-year deal, worth around $12 annually.
  • Are working hard to (likely) move Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier.
  • Are working to (possibly) add Cole Hamels or another front-line starter.

Before making any moves, the Dodgers 2015 payroll was locked in around $200 million. Although money doesn’t seem to be an object for the team’s wealthy ownership group flush with television cash, there is only so much you could conceivably do with Clayton Kershaw, Adrian Gonzalez, Zack Greinke, Crawford, Kemp and Either each making $18+ million a year. (Crawford and Ethier are owed a combined $118 million over the next three seasons, so good luck there, Andrew.)

The Dodgers, by all connected baseball insider accounts, are not done.

What seems clear — at least at the minute of this writing since the Winter Meetings quickly morphed into The Fast & The Furious overnight — is Los Angeles is building around Kershaw and Greinke in the rotation (duh) and Adrian Gonzalez and Yasiel Puig in the lineup. And speaking of Puig, the Dodgers are probably shedding payroll knowing that Puig is going to want a major raise given he’s only making around $30+ million from 2015-2018 before hitting arbitration. That’s probably an issue for Friedman for another day.

In the immediacy, a lot depends on how good super prospect Joc Pederson is replacing Kemp, or working his way into the outfield rotation which if nothing else should improve the team’s defense. Yasmani Grandal, acquired in the Kemp trade, has some pop in his bat and will be a solid platoon with A.J. Ellis. Kemp is not the five-tool stud he was earlier this decade, but after the All-Star break his did post an .971 OPS with 17 home runs. Moving Kemp’s salary offsets his contributions on the field, but let’s not pretend the Dodgers won’t miss his bat in the lineup especially with Hanley Ramirez gone, too.

At 36, maybe Jimmy Rollins puts together a decent enough season — he won’t be Hanley Ramirez at the plate, but is maybe a little better defensively. The Dodgers needed a shortstop and Rollins fits the bill for a season. Don Mattingly — yes he’s still employed by Los Angeles — better resist conventional baseball habits and avoid batting Rollins leadoff. Rollin’s .323 on-base percentage in 2014 was the best he’s posted in the decade and his lifetime mark is only .327.

Gordon’s 63 steals won’t be replaced by Kendrick, but he’s a steady .290 hitter, for whatever that’s worth in 2015 baseball. I’d have though Kendrick’s on-base was better, but it’s only .332 lifetime, so the Dodgers are going to have to find a makeshift leadoff hitter. At least Gordon, although not an on-base guy, provided speed.

The leadoff hitter situation should work itself out, eventually.

More pressing remains the Dodgers’ bullpen — last seen flaming out in the NLDS vs. the Cardinals. Friedman still needs to find a bridge to Kenley Jansen, unless he expects bounce-back seasons from Brandon League, Brian Wilson, etc. The Dodgers didn’t make a run at Andrew Miller or even Luke Gregerson and were beat out by the Astros for Pat Neshek. So far they’ve traded for Joel Peralta from the Rays. Perhaps Friedman will apply the logic that worked in Tampa Bay recently, that bullpen arms crop up and can be developed, as we saw with the likes of Grant Balfour, Fernando Rodney and Jake McGee.

Having Kershaw and Greinke atop the rotation does wonders for a team April-September, but unless those guys pull the Madison Bumgarner routine come October, someone is going to have to get a high-leverage out or two in the seventh or eighth ahead of Jansen. I tend to doubt you build an entire $200+ million operation around this what-if scenario, but given the last two seasons its something Dodgers fans should brace for in October.

Friedman’s track record with Tampa says you give him the benefit of the doubt, but replacing the middle infield and a productive, albeit declining player in Kemp is a lot to do all at once. Fortunately when you have Kershaw once every fifth day it makes life a lot easier, allowing these issues some time to work themselves out.

Friedman’s intelligence was lauded during his time in Tampa and those smarts are helping him tackle a completely different financial/organizational situation in Los Angeles. One thing is clear, Friedman remains forward-thinking and not content to stand pat, even with all those massive contracts on the payrolls, meaning the fairest assessment we can make about the Dodgers flurry of trades is that what we see from the roster now will bear little resemblance to what it looks like on August 1, let alone April 1.

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