Winter Report Card: Los Angeles Dodgers
With only a few weeks remaining until pitchers and catchers report to spring training, we’re checking in on how each team has fared in conducting its offseason business while acknowledging that there’s still time for its prognosis to change. Teams will be presented in reverse order of finish from 2013. To see the report cards already published, click here.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2013 results: 92-70 (.568), 1st place NL West (Hot Stove Preview)
Key departures: RHP Ronald Belisario RHP Chris Capuano*, 2B Mark Ellis, UT Jerry Hairston Jr., LHP Ted Lilly, RHP Carlos Marmol*, RHP Ricky Nolasco, IF Nick Punto, UT Skip Schumaker, RHP Edinson Volquez, IF Michael Young* (* unsigned)
Key arrivals: OF Mike Baxter, UT Chone Figgins, 2B Alexander Guerrero, RHP Dan Haren, IF Brendan Harris, C Miguel Olivo, RHP Chris Perez, RHP Jamey Wright
This just in: the Dodgers’ new owners like to spend money. In their first full season since purchasing the franchise from the miserly Frank McCourt, the Guggenheim Group allowed general manager Ned Colletti to more than double payroll to the point that the team became the first besides the Yankees to crack the $200 million barrier. It wasn’t for naught; Los Angeles won its division by 11 games, the widest margin in the majors, and knocked off the Braves in the Division Series before falling to the Cardinals in the NLCS.
As with the Yankees, that level of spending produces expectations of a championship, so the Dodgers continue to bludgeon the competition with their checkbook. Even so, the lion’s share of their spending this winter has gone toward keeping key pieces in place. Their biggest move has been extending two-time Cy Young winner Clayton Kershaw via a seven-year, $215 million deal — not only the largest ever for a pitcher, but at $30.7 million per year, the highest average annual value for any player, period. Also re-upping are third baseman Juan Uribe (two years, $15 million) and relievers Brian Wilson (one year, $10 million, with an $8.5 million player option for 2015) and J.P. Howell (two years, $11.5 million).
That deal is a slight raise for the 34-year-old Uribe, whose previous three-year, $21 million contract was an utter disaster until 2013; he hit a combined .199/.262/.289 in 474 plate appearances en route to −0.4 WAR in 2011 and ’12 while battling injuries. He salvaged that deal with a robust .278/.331/.438 line accompanied by 12 homers and outstanding defense (+15 Defensive Runs Saved) en route to 4.1 WAR, and the second of his two homers in the postseason proved to be the Division Series-winning blast. Given a weak third base market and Uribe’s additional importance as a clubhouse leader mentoring diverse personalities such as Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu, the club obviously felt it better to go with the devil it knows.
As for Wilson, who returned from April 2012 Tommy John surgery to allow just one run and struck out 21 in 19 2/3 innings between the regular season and the postseason, he’s part of a lavish attempt to bolster the bullpen. The AAV of his deal is the fourth-highest of any reliever in baseball, yet he’s not even expected to close, simply to set up Kenley Jansen. Howell, who posted a 2.03 ERA and 7.8 strikeouts per nine in 62 innings, will vie with Paco Rodriguez for the title of the bullpen’s top southpaw. Both will have to pick up the slack left by the departed Ronald Belisario, whose 145 appearances over the last two seasons were tied for 10th-most in the majors.
Both the rotation and bullpen will get additional help from outside the organization. Dan Haren signed a one-year, $10 million deal with incentives and a $10 million vesting option at 180 innings; he’ll serve as a back-end starter behind Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Ryu. He was less than stellar on a $13 million one-year deal with the Nationals, posting a 4.67 ERA while getting rocked for 1.5 homers per nine. On the bright side, Haren’s splits before and after a 15-day DL stint for shoulder inflammation (6.15 ERA and 2.1 HR/9 through his first 15 starts, 3.29 ERA and 0.9 HR/9 through his last 16) offer hope that the 33-year-old righty has rediscovered his old form. With Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley both returning from surgery (thoracic outlet syndrome for the former, Tommy John for the latter), Haren will be counted on more at the beginning of the year, but he could receive a mid-season breather if he’s similarly flagging.
As for the relief corps, 39-year-old Jamey Wright, who pitched well for the team in 2012, returns after a solid season with the Rays (3.09 ERA and a career-best 8.4 strikeouts per nine in 70 innings). For as meager as his $1.8 million deal is by most standards, this marks his first guaranteed contract after making good on eight straight minor league deals. Meanwhile, despite saving 25 games in 2013 and 123 over the past four seasons, former Indians closer Chris Perez signed a one-year, $2.3 million deal to occupy a supporting role. He was roughed up for a 4.33 ERA in 2014 due to a combination of bloated walk and homer rates (3.5 per nine and 1.8 per nine), numbers he’ll have to shrink to avoid joining an even pricier former closer, Brandon League, in the mop and bucket brigade.
Unfinished Business: Second base, outfield
The Dodgers’ largest offseason expenditure on a player from outside the organization is their $28 million, four-year deal with Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero. The plan is for the 27-year-old to take over the starting second base job, but he was limited to just 12 games in the Dominican Winter League due to a hamstring injury and may need time in the minor leagues to rediscover his stroke. Some talent evaluators are skeptical he’ll be good enough for everyday play, but the Dodger scouts’ have a strong recent track record with identifying international talent (Puig and Ryu, in particular).
There aren’t a lot of great fallback options at second base if Guerrero isn’t ready. Five of the six players who manned the keystone for Los Angeles in 2013 (Mark Ellis, Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston and Michael Young) have moved on. The lone holdover, Dee Gordon, has neither the experience at the position or enough bat in general (.256/.301/.312 career) to rate as a serious candidate. The still-unsigned Young has said he’ll either retire or play for the Dodgers, but he isn’t a great alternative in this context; while he took a total of 28 starts at second in 2011 and ’12, he played just 10 2/3 innings at the position in 2013, and his work in the field has long been in decline. Chone Figgins, brought in via a a minor league deal, last played the position in 2010, then hit .185/.249/.253 in 2011-2012 before being released by the Mariners and failing to catch on elsewhere. Brendan Harris, another recipient of a minor league deal, played all of 25 innings there for the Angels in 2013 and hit .206/.252/.355 in 117 PA, his first taste of major league action since 2010. The lone free agent of any prominence still available is Ramon Santiago (.224/.298/.288 in 234 PA for the Tigers). Look for Colletti to swing a trade here.
Meanwhile, the expensive logjam in the outfield will likely persist until Matt Kemp proves fully healthy. Kemp hit just .270/.328/.395 in 73 games while making three trips to the disabled list and undergoing two offseason surgeries, one for a debridement of the acromioclavicular joint in his left shoulder, the other microfracture surgery and a cleanup of his left ankle. His agent, former MLB hurler Dave Stewart, has already advised him against pushing too hard in his rehab just to make the team’s early Opening Day dates in Sydney, Australia on March 22 and 23.
Kemp is still due $128 million over the next six years, including $21 million in 2014. The team also has Carl Crawford (due $84.5 million over the next four years), Andre Ethier (due $69 million over the next four years, plus a $2.5 million buyout for 2018) and Puig (due $26 million over the next five years) all under contract. They’re in no hurry to make a move, but once everyone is healthy, the expense and the egos could mandate doing just that.
Preliminary Grade: B
The Dodgers have just about everything they need to contend for a championship, but until they get a good look at Guerrero at second base, it’s fair to question whether they’ve done enough.