Spring Training is quickly approaching, but there is still time for the Dodgers to fine tune their roster with either major or marginal upgrades. This off-season has been a relatively quiet one for the Dodgers. There was no ownership divorce drama, no Yasiel Puig debacles, and no blockbuster trades, but the moves and non-moves made by the Dodgers this winter have been significant, and they have coincided with the long-term goals Andrew Friedman outlined when he became President of Baseball Operations for the team.
Preservation of the young talent and core players has been a constant theme woven through the front office’s tapestry of both short-term and long-term plans. Re-signing Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill were a trio of moves many thought wouldn’t happen due to the monetary commitment. Yet the retention of one of the top closers in the game along with your number two guy in the rotation and your NRI-turned-star third basemen all were necessary investments that a World Series contender must make.
The off-season seemed to center around Brian Dozier and the question of what the Dodgers would be willing to give up for him. They easily had the depth to obtain Dozier to play second base, but instead traded Jose De Leon to Tampa Bay for Logan Forsythe. De Leon was expendable, and they didn’t feel as though Dozier was worth the extra cost of a player that perhaps is arguably only marginally better.
Those moves plugged all the major holes the Dodgers had for 2017. Still, Friedman and Farhan Zaidi are always looking to upgrade the roster, even if marginally.
The Dodgers still have some moves to be made and some decisions to make before Opening Day. The so-called bridge to Jansen remains rickety, the outfield needs to be sorted out, and the rotation still has some question marks as well. Some of these decisions may not come until the final days of Spring Training, and may even extend into the Freeway Series against the Angels. These weaknesses, regardless of how small, will have to be addressed at some point, whether it is via trade, signing or an in-house solution.
The backend of the starting rotation, for example, can be improved on. Clayton Kershaw, Hill, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias and Scott Kazmir are far from a terrible one through five. That would leave Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu as either long-relief options or possible fifth starters should the Dodgers find a trade partner for Kazmir, the dreaded injury bug hits again or Urias starts the year in the minors. McCarthy and Ryu still have health concerns to battle back from, but along with Wood, are effective when healthy. If we’ve learned anything from last season, all of these starting pitchers may be used at some point during the season, but some kind of stability at #4 and #5 spots would be nice as opposed to the revolving door those spots were in 2016.
The outfield is once again seemingly going to be a mess and one difficult conundrum. The Dodgers currently have seven outfielders for three positions. Despite the angry internet’s disdain for his inability to live in the batting cage, Joc Pederson will be the starting center fielder for years to come. That leaves Puig, Andrew Toles, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Trayce Thompson and Enrique Hernandez for left and right field. Hope springs eternal for Puig to regain the force he once had when he broke onto the scene in 2013, but he has yet to prove it on the field the last two seasons. If he has indeed slimmed down and simmered down, he should be the starting right fielder, but a platoon lurks and so does a potential move for a more stable option. Left field was a mess last season for the Dodgers, and they were last in the NL West in combined batting average (.240), slugging percentage (.386) and hits (145) there. Roberts may choose the platoon plan in order to get Thompson (if healthy) and Van Slyke (if healthy) playing time against left-handed pitching. And while Andre Ethier may find himself on the bench in favor of the dynamic Toles, I wouldn’t count Ethier out as the Opening Day left fielder if he has another good Spring Training in him. Regardless, the corners are clear areas where the Dodgers have to improve in for this coming year, and yet there’s not a lot of evidence they have done that as of right now.
The Dodgers’ bullpen is the biggest area of the roster to sort out before Opening Day, but they took a big step forward in shoring up the bridge to Jansen by reportedly signing Sergio Romo to a one-year deal. Then again, Joe Blanton played a significant role in the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2016, but it looks like the Dodgers have moved on. J.P. Howell recently signed with Toronto. Yimi Garcia is out for the year after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Dave Roberts said his plan is to use Wood as a starting pitcher in Spring Training. Jansen, Grant Dayton, Pedro Baez, Josh Fields, Chris Hatcher, Adam Liberatore, Luis Avilan, Josh Ravin, Stripling, Stewart and Jacob Rhame are all in the mix. There are also nine non-roster invitees who will be looked at in camp including Brandon Morrow, Steve Geltz, Madison Younginer, Patrick Schuster, Ralston Cash and Yaisel Sierra. Dustin wrote about the NRIs just the other day.
“Morrow has the best pedigree and pure ability. If he’s healthy (and that doesn’t happen … ever), he could be a late-inning relief option.”
Despite a historically heavy workload due to a plethora of injuries to the pitching staff last season, the Dodgers bullpen was one of the best in baseball. They led MLB in ERA (3.35), strikeouts (633), and were fourth in FIP (3.55) and strikeout rate (26.1 percent) all while pitching an astounding 590 2/3 combined innings. That’s why having a surplus of arms in camp is never a bad thing, but there’s also valid questions as to whether they could pull it off again in 2017. The Romo signing will give the Dodgers’ bullpen further options, and while the Dodgers still need a setup man to emerge, with plenty of middle-relief options to choose from in camp the Dodgers’ bullpen is shaping up to be first-rate once again.
Pitchers and catchers report to Camelback Ranch on Feb. 15, so the time crunch for bringing on additional reinforcements is beginning to be felt. The off-season has been promising so far, as the front office tackled most of the major issues facing the team, but there’s definitely major question marks remaining. While there will likely be minor changes coming, if things don’t go as planned during Spring Training, there’s potential need for more significant moves as well.