Still depressed about the World Series? Same. But the only thing better than watching a winning team is to fire up the Hot Stove, because coming one win away from a World Series title just isn’t satisfying enough.
There’s not really many moves a 104-win team needs to make to improve. In fact, it’s unlikely the Dodgers will get to 104 wins again next season even if they do improve. They might not even get to 100, but they’ll still be the odds-on favorite to win their sixth consecutive National League West title and to represent the NL in the 2018 World Series.
The front office brass has already said the roster next season will look similar to this season. That makes sense. The team did win 104 games after all. But there is always room for improvement, even if they don’t win more games than they did in 2017.
Now, an off-season plan post that doesn’t have a lot going on isn’t exactly a great read, so you’ll see some creative suggestions here. Having said that, there won’t any extreme moves that will delve into the realm of unrealistic. There also won’t be any moves that hamper their ability to make a big splash (big splashes?) next off-season.
Luis Avilan – $2.3 million
Pedro Baez – $1.5 million
Tony Cingrani – $2.2 million
Josh Fields – $2.2 million
Yimi Garcia – $700,000
Yasmani Grandal – $7.7 million
Enrique Hernandez – $1.3 million
Joc Pederson – $2 million
Alex Wood – $6.4 million
All these guys will be offered arbitration and the numbers are via MLB Trade Rumors. While they aren’t going to be 100 percent accurate, it does give a good idea of the financial commitment will be for these arbitration-eligible players.
The total cost of these players is $26.3 million. The luxury tax for 2018 is $197 million. With $154.7 million committed to players right now and potentially on the hook for another $40-plus million via arbitration and free agents, they probably won’t be resetting the penalty this year. However, the Dodgers will need to stay below $237 million. If they don’t, their first-round draft pick in the 2018 MLB Draft will be moved back 10 spots, as stated in the new Collective Bargaining Agreement. We know the Dodgers value their draft picks, so dropping 10 spots (while already having the last pick of the first round) doesn’t fit this front office’s philosophy. In related news, don’t expect the Dodgers to sign any of the nine players who were given qualifying offers, mostly because none of them are really that worth it.
Minor, 29, is my top non-Shohei Ohtani target this offseason, as he excelled out of Kansas City’s bullpen. He missed a couple seasons with shoulder issues, but he came back throwing almost in the mid-90s with a wipeout slider. Morrow, 32, cashes in on his great 2017 season by landing a multi-year deal with the team that trusted him enough to pitch him in every World Series game. It’s a medium-risk deal for the Dodgers that could give them high rewards. Also, he wants to come back. If the Dodgers are truly going to be at the forefront of a pitching revolution (fewer starters going deeper, playing match-ups, etc.), adding two high-leverage arms to the bullpen seems like a no-brainer.
A word about Yu Darvish: He’s a premium pitcher, no matter what happened in the World Series. He’d be a nice insurance policy against Kershaw’s pending opt-out and some other starters in the org not being your typical workhorses. But I just don’t see this front office shelling out $25 million/season to keep Darvish around. It just doesn’t jibe with the FO’s philosophy. The largest contract handed out by them is Kenley Jansen‘s $85 million deal last off-season, and the largest deal for a starting pitcher has been Rich Hill, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir ($48 million). While I wouldn’t be opposed to Darvish returning (preferably at a team-friendly rate that he has zero reason to give), I don’t see it happening.
Speaking of Ohtani, I can’t in good conscience include him in this plan. While I’d love nothing more, I’m not overly confident he’ll take $300,000 to sign in hopes of landing a large contract extension in the next year or two. But Andrew Friedman and company appear to be interested in 2-way players like Ohtani, so it isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility. It won’t solely come down to money, especially seeing as he’s willing to forego $150-200 million for a chance to come over and play now. So if any National League team is going to sign Ohtani, the Dodgers make more sense than any other team.
Note: Net dollars is the amount for the 2018 season only.
Net Dollars: +$3.45 million
It’s clear Grandal lost his starting gig with the Dodgers in the postseason. Going into the last year of team control, he’ll want a chance to bounce back for what will likely the only big pay day of his career. If Barnes is starting, that probably won’t happen. So, he’ll need a new home. The Clevelands didn’t get much offensive production out of the position last year, and Grandal would be a big upgrade. He’d also be a nice upgrade behind the plate in terms of pitch framing. Roberto Perez is a solid framer, but he’s not much of an offensive threat and shouldn’t be starting for a first-division team. Cleveland could also use the offense upgrade, as it could potentially lose Jay Bruce and Carlos Santana from their lineup this off-season. Yes, Francisco Mejia exists, but he had 14 plate appearances in 2017 with Cleveland and didn’t even play in Triple-A. Couple that with the fact Cleveland had him working at third base in the Arizona Fall League and they might not be sold on him as their long-term catcher. If they are, he might not be ready to fully contribute to a championship-caliber team in 2018. They also get a young power arm in Sheffield, as Cleveland is good at developing its pitchers.
To acquire a player of Grandal’s stature, Cleveland would either have to dip into its farm system or its stockpile of pitching. It opts for the latter in this situation. Salazar, 27, is supremely talented, but he hasn’t been able to remain healthy or consistent over the last three seasons. The Dodgers envision him in the new Kenta Maeda role — sometimes starter, sometimes reliever. His numbers against righties are incredible, but he’s still a bit inconsistent overall. The Dodgers have had their eye on him for awhile and this seems like as good a time as any for them to make a move. The Dodgers are also willing to take on Gomes’ contract to help Cleveland save a little money in this deal. Gomes signed a 6-year, $23 million extension in March 2014. At the time, Gomes was coming off a 3.3-win season and posted a 4.4-win season in 2014. Then, the wheels fell off a bit. In the last three seasons, he’s hit just .215/.266/.377 with a 68 wRC+. He’s solid defensively and can frame, but he’s not as good as Grandal (or Austin Barnes). Gomes, 30, is owed at least $13.95 million through the end of next season, so it’s a gamble for the Dodgers, but with Barnes making peanuts and the other catchers in the org doing the same, the Dodgers can afford to take this chance in hopes of Gomes returning to his old form. Freeing up that money could allow the Clevelands to sign another bat to add to their lineup.
Net Dollars: +$9.7 million
This is the “fresh start” trade. Baez had an awful September and didn’t make an appearance in the postseason despite being named to the NLDS roster. He has fallen out of favor and there are just too many other options ahead of him, so the Dodgers ship him off to Miami with Ravin (who is out of options) and Thompson (who is also out of options) to give them all fresh starts. The Thompson inclusion hurts a bit, but 2017 was a lost season for him and with Miami set to trade at least one outfielder this off-season, they could use a pseudo-replacement for the soon-to-be-departed Giancarlo Stanton (and maybe others). To make this deal work, the Dodgers have to take on a bit of salary in the form of the 38-year-old Ziegler. His 2017 numbers aren’t great, but he does get a ton of ground balls and is a righty specialist. He’s owed $9 million in the final year of his deal. They also land a versatility left-handed hitting infielder in Dietrich. He can play all non-shortstop infield positions and he has dabbled a bit in left field. We know the Dodgers like their versatile players, and Dietrich had a bit of a down 2017 season after a strong 2016 season. If Logan Forsythe struggles against righties again, Dietrich, 28, could draw some starts against them, despite posting reverse platoon splits this past season (124 wRC+ vs. LHP in 87 PA, 97 wRC+ vs. RHP in 377 PA).
Net Dollars: -$2.2 million
Fields is a decent reliever, but the Dodger bullpen is a little crowded after bringing back Morrow, signing Minor and trading for Ziegler, so Fields is the odd man out. His salary is low enough that he has at least some trade value, so the Dodgers take a chance on a low-level, 20-year-old shortstop prospect from the Angels’ organization. Anaheim doesn’t have a strong farm system, so Rivas is probably not as highly regarded as most Top 20 org prospects.
Net Dollars: -$10 million
This is purely a salary dump and a chance to free up a roster spot. McCarthy can still be a useful pitcher, as evidenced by his ~2 WAR in 92 2/3 innings pitched in 2017. In return, the Dodgers get a left-handed pitching prospect whom MLB.com ranked as the Orioles’ No. 29 prospect in its most recent Top 30. He’s a typical lefty with an 88-92 MPH fastball, a curveball and a changeup. The Dodgers, of late, have a history of grabbing these mid-20s players (pitchers, really) in hopes of exploiting some kind of market inefficiency. It kinda worked with Grant Dayton and Adam Liberatore, so this kind of pitcher is right up their alley.
My crude, rough math puts the payroll at $186.55 million after these moves. I’m sure that number isn’t accurate and the payroll will still be north of $200 million for the 2018 season.
Looks like another strong offensive team. The 1-8 looks the same, and the bench looks a little stronger with Culberson, Dietrich, Hernandez and whomever doesn’t start between Pederson and Toles.
By now you’re probably wondering where Adrian Gonzalez has gone. Well, I’m not quite sure. I tried to mock a couple trades up for him, but nothing made even a modicum of sense. Thought about him going to Kansas City to replace Eric Hosmer, but that didn’t work. Thought about him going back to Texas or Miami, but neither of those made sense, either. In the end, I think the Dodgers just designate him for assignment and eat the almost $23 million left on his deal. They did this with Carl Crawford, and I’m not sure Gonzalez has anything left in the tank after an injury-plagued 2017 season. He’s still one of the big names in the clubhouse, but it seems the Dodgers have moved on from him, and he probably recognizes it, too.
There’s a lot of versatility on this pitching staff, as well as some uncertainty. Kershaw and Hill should be fine. Wood will hopefully be fine after an off-season of rest. Then we get into the murky waters. Maeda and Ryu might be used a lot like they were in 2017. If either of them struggles, Salazar could slide into the rotation with one or the other moving to the bullpen. There are also some guys listed below who could serve that role if need be, but the bullpen has a nice balance between righties and lefties, with Minor being the Andrew Miller-type lefty in the bullpen. He was hell on lefties and still really solid against righties.
Missing here is Wilmer Font, last year’s PCL Pitcher of the Year. He’s out of options and probably won’t survive the off-season on the Dodgers’ roster after a rocky 7 2/3 innings at the MLB level in September.
Most of these guys should see time in the majors in 2018. I’m not sure Kazmir makes it through the off-season with the Dodgers, but I don’t have a place to put him right now. Youngsters like Buehler, Stewart and Verdugo should see significant time with the Dodgers next season, as should minor-league vets Farmer, Liberatore, Paredes and Segedin. Stripling is a victim of the numbers (options) game, while it remains to be seen just what Garcia has to offer. Locastro might be roster fodder, if he’s still on the 40-man come Spring Training. Dayton will miss all season while recovering from Tommy John surgery. Urias isn’t due back until August at the earliest. Even if he does make it back, he probably won’t be much of a factor after shoulder surgery and rehab.
The moves above don’t preclude the Dodgers from making any big moves next off-season, which is important since that’s when Kershaw will opt out if he isn’t signed to some kind of extension before then. Bryce Harper will also be available and the Dodgers will likely be in need of an outfield bat. There are a number of other attractive and premium free agents available as well, and we’ve seen this front office make many a trade — most of which come out of the blue.
The Dodgers will still be as deep as any team in the sport. They still have a lot of quality prospects on the way. This team is set up to contend for a championship for the foreseeable future. Despite the incredibly disappointing end to the 2017 season, the Dodgers will get back there. Not only that, they will win it. Someday.