New front office puts its stamp on Dodgers with flurry of acquisitions
SAN DIEGO — In a flurry of moves, not all of which are official at this writing, the Dodgers' new regime reshaped the team's roster at the winter meetings on Wednesday. Andrew Friedman, Los Angeles' president of baseball operations, and general manager Fahran Zaidi have pieced together a new middle infield, started to clear the club's outfield logjam and upgraded its rotation and bullpen. A three-way trade that sent All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon and righty Dan Haren to the Marlins and brought second baseman Howie Kendrick from the Angels is officially complete, but that wasn't even the club's most noteworthy move of the past 24 hours. Still to come are the finishing touches on a trade that will send outfielder Matt Kemp to San Diego and bring back catcher Yasmani Grandal; another deal with the Phillies that will bring 2007 NL MVP Jimmy Rollins in to fill the shortstop vacancy created by the free agent departure of Hanley Ramirez; and the addition of free-agent righty Brandon McCarthy to fill Haren's rotation slot via what's been reported as a four-year, $48 million deal.
Once it's official, the Kemp deal will at least somewhat simplify a crowded outfield picture in which the team had four players -- Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig -- signed to big-dollar long-term contracts through at least 2017. The 30-year-old Kemp, who has been part of the Dodgers organization since being drafted in 2003, is coming off an uneven but ultimately productive season. Limited to just 73 games by multiple injuries in 2013, he rebounded to play 150 this past season, batting .287/.346/.506 for a 140 OPS+ with 25 home runs. But despite recapturing some of his form as an offensive force — though not all the way back to his 39 homer/40 steal 2011 season — he was a disaster defensively, and L.A.'s attempts to move him around the outfield turned the situation into a considerable clubhouse distraction. He began the year in centerfield, moved to leftfield and finished in rightfield; he was a combined 23 runs below average according to Defensive Runs Saved and 22 below according to Ultimate Zone Rating.
The Dodgers still owed Kemp $107 million over the next five seasons. To move him, they have reportedly agreed to send San Diego $31 million, an amount that requires approval from the commissioner before the deal can be finalized. By eating that much money — an amount that might have been significantly more had he not hit a sizzling .309/.365/.606 with 17 homers in the second half — they increased their return from the Padres.
The centerpiece is Grandal, a switch-hitting 26-year-old catcher who was the 12th overall pick by the Reds in 2010 and who was part of the Mat Latos trade to San Diego in 2011. He played just 88 games combined in 2012 and '13 due to multiple injuries -- including an ACL reconstruction of his right knee -- as well as a 50-game Biogenesis-related suspension for performance-enhancing drug use. In 2014, though, he played in 128 games, batting .225/.327/.401 with 15 homers, which in pitcher-friendly Petco Park was good for a 112 OPS+. He caught 76 games and made another 37 starts at first base, but it's likely the Dodgers will use him in some kind of job share behind the plate with A.J. Ellis, who despite a down season offensively and a history of subpar work in the pitch-framing department (-10.4 runs per 7,000 pitches, roughly a full-season workload) is a particularly popular player among the team's pitchers, so much so that Clayton Kershaw has spoken out about the importance of keeping him around.
Grandal must improve defensively, as he threw out just 13 percent of would-be base thieves in 2014 (17 percent career) and led the league in passed balls with 12. Unlike Ellis, however, he is a particularly adept pitch-framer; via Baseball Prospectus' metrics, he was 12.6 runs above average this past season and is 18.8 above average per 7,000 pitches. He also has just two years and 115 days of service time, which gives him four years of remaining club control; he won't even be eligible for arbitration for the first time until after next season.
Three other players are also in the trade. The Dodgers are sending 27-year-old backup catcher Tim Federowicz, a career .194/.247/.300 hitter in 271 plate appearances, to San Diego and receiving a pair of pitching prospects in 24-year-old righty Joe Wieland and 20-year-old righty Zach Eflin. A fourth-round pick by the Rangers back in 2008, and the number 74 prospect on Baseball Prospectus' Top 101 list prior to the 2012 season, Wieland has accumulated just seven starts and two relief appearances at the major league level, and he missed all of 2013 because of Tommy John surgery. Eflin, the 33rd pick of the 2012 draft, put up a 3.80 ERA with 6.5 strikeouts per nine at High A Lake Elsinore in 2014. According to Fox Sports' Ken Rosenthal, he could be part of what the Phillies are getting for Rollins, which as of Wednesday was believed to be two minor league pitching prospects.
As for that portion of the action, while Friedman refused to mention Rollins by name during the press conference that was held around midnight Pacific time to announce the three-way Marlins/Angels trade, multiple sources, including the Los Angeles Times, have reported that the team has reached an agreement with the 36-year-old shortstop. To do so, Rollins would have to waive his trade veto rights afforded any player who has spent 10 years in the majors and the last five with the same team. Once that is official, Rollins will leave the franchise with which he has spent his entire 15-year major league career.
Rollins is coming off a strong year, albeit one that may not look that way given that he matched his career low in batting average. He hit .243/.323/.394 for a 101 OPS+ in 2014, adding 17 homers, 28 steals in 34 attempts and above-average glovework (+4 runs via both Defensive Runs Saved and Ultimate Zone Rating). Via Baseball-Reference.com's version of Wins Above Replacement, his 3.9 WAR made it his best season since 2008, the year he helped the Phillies to a world championship, though it should be noted that the aforementioned fielding metrics — and thus the B-Ref and FanGraphs versions of WAR — have differed wildly on his value in previous years:
Rollins isn't an impact hitter like Ramirez -- with the exception of his MVP year, he never was, as his career 97 OPS+ attests -- but historically he's been far more durable. His 2014 performance approximates the .254/.332/.394 line that all Dodgers shortstops (Ramirez and the replacement-level fill-ins that were called upon all too often) combined to hit this past year, with better defense attached. Even if Rollins is just a two-win player in 2015, that's a league-average placeholder who's worth his salary, an $11 million vesting option that was triggered by his reaching 1,100 plate appearances in 2013-14. Given that he's in the final year of his contract, the Dodgers clearly hope that he can serve as a stopgap between Ramirez and the arrival of top prospect Corey Seager.
Meanwhile, the 31-year-old Kendrick, who has spent his entire nine-year career with the Angels, hit .293/.347/.397 for a 115 OPS+, with seven homers and 14 steals. Throw in above-average defense (+7 DRS), and he was worth a career-high 5.4 WAR. Like Rollins, he can be a free agent after the 2015 season, during which he'll make $9.5 million, but unlike Rollins, he's a strong candidate for a multiyear deal starting in 2016, which makes it entirely possible that the team could issue him a qualifying offer and obtain a compensatory draft pick if he departs.
Heading out of Hollywood is the 26-year-old Gordon, a former top prospect who is coming off a breakout season. After three partial years of offensive struggles (.256/.301/.312 in 666 PA) and erratic play at the major league level at shortstop (-22 DRS in 160 games), he moved to second base and came into his own in 2014. He hit .289/.326/.378 for a 101 OPS+, while leading the league in both triples (12) and steals (64 in 83 attempts) en route to 2.4 WAR. His -5 DRS, while obviously in the red, conceals the fact that he was capable of spectacular plays at times.
Beneath Gordon's full-season offensive numbers, however, is a substantial first-half/second-half split, founded in some combination of the erosion of his plate discipline and the league catching up to him. That may have scared Friedman and Zaidi. Gordon hit .292/.344/.398 with a 60:27 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 392 plate appearances before the All-Star break but just .284/.300/.348 with a 47:4 ratio in 258 PA afterward.
Still, Gordon offers game-breaking speed, and if he can find the middle ground between those two halves, he represents a substantial upgrade on the .236/.303/.334 showing that the Marlins received from their second basemen, primarily Donovan Solano and Derek Dietrich. Gordon is also inexpensive — a Super Two player who has just reached arbitration eligibility for the first of four times -- and he has a certain amount of public relations value. After all, the Marlins have just added an All-Star to a lineup centered around Giancarlo Stanton.
Also in the deal with Miami are Haren and shortstop Miguel Rojas, a 25-year-old glove whiz who hit just .181/.242/.221 in 162 games but racked up 14 DRS in only 66 games, and not even full games at that. He mainly served as Ramirez's caddy. His 283 2/3 defensive innings at shortstop and third base equate to just 31 games and change, so those off-the-chart numbers should be taken with a considerable amount of salt.
The 34-year-old Haren pitched to a 4.02 ERA and 4.09 FIP in 186 innings with typically convergent home run and walk rates (1.3 and 1.7 per nine innings, respectively) along with seven strikeouts per nine. By reaching the 180-inning threshold, he triggered a $10 million option for 2015, one that he exercised in late October. Shortly after doing so, he told ESPN that he would walk away from baseball if the Dodgers traded him to any team besides the Angels. He said it was "based on my desire to play in Southern California near my family… I had other opportunities, but at this point in my career, I have no interest in playing in a city away from my family."
In other words, Haren all but threatened to retire if he was traded out of state. On Wednesday night, he issued a statement: "I have been notified of the trade to Miami. My strong desire to remain in southern California has been well-documented. I will have to evaluate my options carefully before making any decisions." According to the Miami Herald's Clark Spencer, the Dodgers will pay Haren's $10 million salary whether or not he retires. They're also paying Gordon's salary, which is projected to be around $2.5 million.
To get that trio, plus a player to be named later or cash, the Marlins gave up four players: 23-year-old lefty pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, 24-year-old catcher/infielder Austin Barnes, 23-year-old super-utilityman Enrique (Kiké) Hernandez and 29-year-old righty reliever Chris Hatcher.
At this writing, it's unclear who the Phillies are getting, but Heaney, the ninth pick of the 2012 draft out of Oklahoma State, was sent to the Angels in exchange for Kendrick. After entering the year as the 30th-ranked prospect on the Top 100 lists of both Baseball America and Baseball Prospectus, he split his season between Double A Jacksonville, Triple A New Orleans and two stints with the Marlins. In the minors, he put up a 3.28 ERA with 9.4 strikeouts per nine and a strikeout-to-walk ratio of four, but in the majors, he was roughed up for a 5.83 ERA in five starts and two relief appearances totaling 29 1/3 innings. His ceiling is as a No. 2 starter, but his fastball command needs to improve if he's going to get there.
Barnes, who turns 25 on Dec. 28, is a ninth-round 2011 pick out of Arizona State who hit .304/.398/.472 with 13 homers and 11 steals split between High A and Double A in 2014. He's an intriguing prospect for his versatility as much as his bat. Most of his minor league experience is at catcher and second base, with spot duty at third, and according to FanGraphs prospect hound Kiley McDaniel, he can legitimately play all three positions. This casts him as a super-utilityman with an above-average bat and very good plate discipline.
Hernandez split his year between the Astros and Marlins, playing 98 games in the minors and 42 in the majors; he was part of the July 31 deal that also sent Jared Cosart to Miami. In Double A and Triple A, Hernandez hit a combined .319/.372/.484 with 11 homers in 416 plate appearances and hit .248/.321/.421 in 134 PA in the majors. Most of his time in the minors has been spent at second base, but in 2014, he played everywhere except pitcher and catcher. Most of his time in the majors came in centerfield, although he also played leftfield, second base, third base and shortstop.
Hatcher, who turns 30 on Jan. 12, was drafted by the Marlins as a catcher in 2006 and began converting to the mound in '09. He made spot appearances for the Marlins from 2011-13 before breaking out in '14 after being recalled from Triple A in late May. In 56 innings — low-leverage at first, graduating to setup duty late in the year — he delivered a 3.38 ERA and 2.56 FIP, highlighted by a 60:12 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He uses a four-seam fastball (average velocity of 96 mph according to BrooksBaseball.net), splitter, sinker and slider, a combination that helped him to a 47-percent groundball rate in 2014. If he can replicate that performance, he'll be a solid addition to a bullpen that was the bane of the Dodgers' existence for much of the year.
As for McCarthy, the terms of his contract were reported by Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports, but in announcing the three-way trade, Friedman refused to address the deal. The 31-year-old righty stayed healthy enough to reach the 200-inning plateau for the first time in his nine-year major league career, recording a 4.05 ERA and 3.55 FIP with a career-best 53-percent groundball rate. His fortunes improved substantially after being traded from the Diamondbacks, who apparently wouldn't let him throw his cutter, to the Yankees on July 6. He was rocked for a 5.01 ERA (with just a 3.82 FIP) in Arizona, but trimmed that to a 2.89 ERA (3.22 FIP) in New York.
A former top prospect who was long vexed by an annual series of scapular stress fractures and a flyball-centric repertoire that made him all too homer-prone, McCarthy has reemerged as a groundballer, putting up a 3.81 ERA and 3.44 FIP from 2011-14 while averaging 154 innings per year for the A's, Diamondbacks and Yankees. In Oakland, he discussed advanced metrics, a key to his reemergence, with then-assistant GM Zaidi. He'll slot in behind Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jin Ryu, giving the Dodgers an enviable front four.
Even with all that wheeling and dealing, Friedman and Zaidi may not be done. They could still trade Crawford or Ethier to open up a spot for top prospect Joc Pederson. Regardless of what the rest of the offseason holds, it's clear the new front office has wasted little time putting its stamp on the Dodgers.