Though Clayton Kershaw is the legitimate ace of the Dodger starting rotation, the team could still be in play to acquire lefty David Price via trade. (Courtesy of Rafael Orellana)
The end of the World Series punctuates the end of baseball season on the field, but kick-starts the beginning of the business aspect of the sport. Because social media has given fans all a tool to follow their teams’ transactions—from big-name signings to the resignation of a bat boy—offseasons in baseball have become increasingly intriguing for people to follow.
This offseason will be flooded with rumors of all teams, but no team will hear its name uttered by anonymous sources more than the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers have more money than Mike Tyson could blow in three lifetimes, so their name will likely be included as a potential player in every major free agent discussion.
Because pitchers and catchers are due to report to spring training in just over 100 days, it’s time to take a look at the potential market for the Dodgers this offseason.
The Dodgers recently declined the team option on second baseman Mark Ellis, leaving little doubt that Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero—days removed from signing a 4-year, $32 million contract—will become the everyday second baseman.
Third base is the only other infield position where no clear candidate is under contract, though Juan Uribe is arguably the most well-liked player in the clubhouse. Uribe was among the most credited with giving the Dodgers their loose demeanor during the historic turnaround this season. But intangibles are impossible to quantify into dollar figures, so front office will undoubtedly look to improve at this position.
Among the early favorites to take Uribe’s place are Jhonny Peralta of the Detroit Tigers and Chase Headley of the San Diego Padres. Peralta played in 107 games this past season and hit .303/.358/.457, while earning the nod for his second career All-Star Game.
Peralta is expected to earn more in 2014 than the $6 million he earned this past season—despite the 50-game suspension for his connection to the Biogenesis scandal.
Headley had a somewhat disappointing 2013 season after having a breakout year in 2012, when he led the National League with 115 RBIs and hit 31 home runs despite playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Petco Park. The Padres reportedly offered Headley a franchise record contract during this past season, but Headley turned it down.
Unlike Peralta, however, Headley has one year remaining in his contract with the Padres, and it’s difficult to envision a team trying to rebuild trading one of its best players to a division rival.
It seems as if second and third base are the only positions on the field where new faces could emerge. But as I mentioned earlier, the Dodgers will be rumored in nearly all major free agent signings, so it would not surprise anyone to see them at least kicking the tires of Atlanta Braves catcher Brian McCann.
Few expect McCann to return to the Braves, though nothing has been ruled out yet. But McCann is expected to sign for approximately 5 years, $80 million (according to national baseball insiders). That’s not a contract that would scare the Dodgers away, but the fact that A.J. Ellis batted .323 in the postseason and is a close friend of Clayton Kershaw makes any possibility of signing McCann a farfetched possibility for even the most optimistic Dodger fans.
It’s difficult to argue that a team with a starting pitcher who’s the odds-on favorite to win the NL Cy Young, a righty who could anchor nearly any staff in baseball, and a lefty rookie who won 14 games is in need of another starting pitcher, but it’s also difficult to find a team in baseball history with the spending power of the Dodgers.
Immediately after the Tampa Bay Rays’ exit from the ALDS, it was widely reported that Tampa Bay would be looking to trade 2012 AL Cy Young winner David Price, and the Dodgers unsurprisingly emerged as a front-runner to land the lefty ace.
Because there have been no formal talks reported between the Rays and Dodgers, it’s difficult to gauge exactly which of the Dodgers’ top prospects the Rays would want in a deal for Price. But if the Rays’ continuing ability to develop young stars is any indicator, they would have their sights set on (at least) Joc Pederson, Zach Lee, Corey Seager, Julio Urias and perhaps even Onelki Garcia to make up for the loss of Price. This would leave the Dodgers in baseball’s age-old conundrum: mortgaging the future for the present.
The Dodger bullpen has been the least talked about part of the team this offseason. Front office has vaguely hinted at the Don Mattingly situation and at improving the offense and starting pitching, but little has been said about the bullpen. Brian Wilson turned out to be the most reliable arm coming out of the ‘pen, and J.P. Howell was great down the stretch, minus one game against the Cardinals.
Paco Rodriguez was reliable all season, but turned into a completely different pitcher in October. Ronald Belisario was his usual inconsistent self, and Kenley Jansen nearly blew a four-run lead in the ninth inning against the Cardinals in game 5 of the NLCS.
Unlike teams like the Rays or Oakland A’s that have to be frugal in their pursuit of greatness, the Dodgers essentially have their own U.S. Mint to bring in any player in the free agent market. This means that there are countless scenarios for the Dodgers this offseason. But the approach of the Dodgers this offseason is best explained by 1920s mob boss Arnold Rothstein in Boardwalk Empire:
The Dodgers already boast the most expensive lineup in baseball. That lineup will be more expensive in 2014 with the addition of Guerrero and other pieces to complete the 40-man roster.
Just because Robinson Cano is a free agent and the Dodgers have the means to bring him doesn’t mean they should. The Angels have provided the Dodgers with a good example of the result of signing veterans to gargantuan deals. Other than re-signing Uribe and Wilson, there are no other moves to be made at the moment that would highly improve the Dodgers and leave the farm system intact.
Teams interested in 24-year-old Japanese phenom Masahiro Tanaka will have to pay approximately $60 million for his negotiating rights, but with the re-signing of Kershaw as top priority and Zack Greinke’s $147 million contract last offseason, it’s safe to assume that even the Dodgers won’t be in the business of handing out record contracts for the next few seasons.
If the Cardinals haven’t taught the Dodgers the importance of patience as an organization, then the Dodgers have learned virtually nothing from this season. Unlike other sports, baseball is a sport where organizations negotiate in wildly contrasting contexts, so I don’t see a problem with the Dodgers spending even more than they already have because they generate more money than almost any other team. But the one variable that applies to all smart baseball teams is knowing when to overpay.
For the sake of better illustrating this point, here’s an example: it’s okay to overpay and increase your payroll by 20 percent when you’re improving the team by roughly 20 percent. But when you’re overpaying and increasing your payroll by 20 percent and the quality of your team only increases by 3 percent, then you have a problem as an organization.
Even the Dodgers can’t afford to operate this way because they’re already doing that by eating Josh Beckett’s contract and—to a lesser extent—Carl Crawford’s $20 million/year deal.
The Dodgers have barely completed one full season under new ownership. Great strides have been made as an organization in a short time and a sustainable plan is being put into place to achieve long-term success with their improved farm system and international scouting. Even with the team as it is now, Las Vegas recently made them the favorites to win the World Series next season at 5-1 odds. Also, there will be plenty of opportunities to bolster their offense, starting pitching, and bullpen before the trade deadline next season. And as the Dodgers learned this past season, baseball season is long and there is plenty of time to catch up in case their offseason plans don’t work out as planned.
As I said earlier, the end of the World Series punctuates the end of baseball season on the field, but kick-starts the beginning of the business aspect of the sport. They are two different worlds approached in two different ways. But the one common denominator for success in both worlds is patience. This offseason the Dodgers front office will have their at-bat, and all of baseball will be watching.
Surely the possibility to hit a home run will be enticing. But sometimes taking a walk is the best way to start a rally.