The Dodgers and their shiny new front office have accomplished so, so much this offseason. Remember the complaints about their seeming inactivity? That was barely more than a month ago. It seems almost insane to think about that now. Let’s take a look back at the goals they’ve accomplished — and what they might still want to do.
Remember, here’s what’s happened so far…
1. The defense has been hugely improved.
Of course. Jimmy Rollins is a better shortstop than Hanley Ramirez. Howie Kendrick is a better second baseman than Dee Gordon. Yasmani Grandal is a better framer than A.J. Ellis, though he’ll need to overcome some passed ball issues. Not Matt Kemp is better than Matt Kemp — remember, we’re just talking about defense — and that’s especially true if Joc Pederson wins the center field job and pushes Yasiel Puig back to right. Add that to Juan Uribe (a plus at third base), Adrian Gonzalez (a plus at first), and Carl Crawford (still above average in left), and suddenly a defense that was often a question last year might now be a strength.
2. The rotation’s talent has been improved.
Last year, the rotation started with Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-jin Ryu, arguably the best trio in baseball, and all three return in 2015. Of course, last year, the other 40% of the rotation consisted of half a good season from Josh Beckett, some huge ups and downs from Dan Haren, and Ned Colletti’s best attempts to fill in holes with Paul Maholm, Roberto Hernandez, Kevin Correia, Carlos Frias, and the tears of your ancestors.
Now, Brandon McCarthy is in town, coming off a solid year. Now, lottery ticket Brett Anderson is in town, full of talent and endlessly dogged by health concerns. Brim was absolutely correct last week when he noted that depth remains an issue, and we’ll get to that in a second. But overall, there’s more talent and potential in this rotation than there was last year.
3. The bullpen has more potential.
I think a lot of fans wanted a big-money addition like Andrew Miller or David Robertson to fix last year’s biggest problem, but I think we should have all learned our lessons about trying to spend your way out of bullpen issues. (Last year’s leaky ‘pen was, after all, the most expensive bullpen ever.)
While the names haven’t been big, the thinking has been smarter. Gone are failed former closers Chris Perez and Brian Wilson, no matter how much money it meant eating on Wilson. Gone are mediocre veteran swingmen Maholm and Correia. Gone is the adequate but not much more Jamey Wright.
Coming to town to replace them are names that won’t sell tickets but are all interesting for a variety of reasons. Brim’s look at Chris Hatcher, acquired from Miami in the Gordon deal, made me extremely excited to see what he can do. Juan Nicasio fits the “mediocre live-armed starter who could be reinvigorated as a reliever like Wade Davis” template about as well as anyone could. Joel Peralta, if you can look past his age and 4.41 ERA, looks like a useful setup man. There’s even reason to dream on Mike Bolsinger, as I think Brim will have more on soon.
There’s no guarantees here. All of those guys aren’t going to work out. There’s still questions about J.P. Howell and Paco Rodriguez, though thankfully none exist about Kenley Jansen. I’m just happy to see guys imported for “reasons” as opposed to “savez.”
4. The outfield has been somewhat cleared up.
I’m not interested in rehashing all of the Kemp trade drama again, but obviously someone had to go, and he was the one who did. You don’t have to like it, you don’t have to love it, you just have to understand that the Dodgers did get value back in a situation where many thought that was impossible.
This now opens room for Pederson — a young, homegrown player — to take the job in center. It keeps Crawford and Scott Van Slyke intact as a surprisingly useful left platoon, and gives Puig right all to himself. Even Chris Heisey, likely ticketed for Triple-A as depth, seems like a useful addition. The big remaining question is “what happens to Andre Ethier,” and that’s still not been resolved. But at least the first step has been made with the trade of Kemp, a step the previous regime had been unable to make.
5. The fringes of the 40-man roster have been massively upgraded.
For as lousy as Erisbel Arruebarrena‘s first season in America was, it was still somewhat surprising to see him get DFA’d. (He cleared waivers and will remain as depth.) After all, his glove is still elite and he’s still being paid well. But what that really said to me was that in two short months, the bottom of the 40-man roster has really been upgraded, to the point that (other than maybe Bolsinger) there’s no obvious candidate to lose when you need to open up a spot.
That hasn’t always been the case. It always felt like there was a Justin Sellers or a Matt Angle or a Colt Hynes on the bottom of the roster, someone taking up space without a lot of potential for value or upside. Now, whether it’s Austin Barnes or Enrique Hernandez — I really liked that Gordon deal, obviously — or Adam Liberatore or Joe Wieland, the edges of the 40-man contain very interesting players with a real chance to contribute. (That doesn’t include Shawn Zarraga, who I also like, and who has helped upgrade catching depth.)
We’re only about six weeks or so away from the first full squad workout in Arizona on Feb. 26, and for the most part all of the questions have been answered. It seems there’s only three left…
1. Will another starting pitcher be added?
Max Scherzer is still a free agent. James Shields is still a free agent. The Phillies haven’t yet traded Cole Hamels. Not only are McCarthy and Anderson injury concerns, but Ryu (three trips to the DL in 2014) and Greinke (general concern about his elbow) are as well, to say nothing of Grienke’s ability to opt out following the season.
Wieland, Zach Lee, Chris Reed, Bolsinger, and Frias — here’s one very positive look at Frias’ prospects — might be adequate depth, and you could include Nicasio in there, though I hope he sticks in the bullpen. Still, it’s understandable to worry about what happens when — not if — one of the top five goes down. I don’t think Shields or Scherzer are likely, so there’s not an easy answer about this. The remaining options are limited.
2. Will Ethier be moved?
My gut says “yes,” because we’re still hearing semi-regular rumors about discussions, and because after a year of being the good soldier about being relegated to the bench, it’s unlikely Ethier will put up with that again. If and when he goes, I’ll probably be fine with it. Still, there’s that small concern about what happens if Pederson struggles, which isn’t out of the question, which might put Puig back in center and make Van Slyke the daily starter in right. Then again, Van Slyke deserves more playing time anyway, and Ethier didn’t show anything last year that indicated he’s someone you want filling in anyway.
3. What becomes of Alex Guerrero?
We’ve talked about this a few times, but publicly there’s been very little indication about what the new regime plans to do with Guerrero. He can’t be sent to the minors without his consent, and his intriguing bat means they won’t just cut him, but his glove remains a huge question mark, as does where he could actually play. I’ve mentioned before that I like the idea of him as a bat-first multi-positional type off the bench, but there’s some redundancy there with Justin Turner. A spring training trade doesn’t seem unlikely, and while it’s been reported that he can opt out at the end of a year in which he’s traded, it’s not like his trade value is high to begin with — and he might not want to opt out unless he can prove something in 2015, anyway.