Winter Report Card: Los Angeles Dodgers
With barely more than a week before pitchers and catchers report, 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 2014. You can find all previously published Winter Report Cards here.
Los Angeles Dodgers
2014 Results: 94-68 (.580), first place in NL West, lost NLDS (Hot Stove Preview)
Key Departures: RHP Josh Beckett, C Drew Butera, 2B Dee Gordon, RHP Dan Haren, RHP Roberto Hernandez*, RF Matt Kemp, LHP Paul Maholm, RHP Chris Perez, SS Hanley Ramirez, SS Miguel Rojas, RHP Brian Wilson*, RHP Jamey Wright* (free agent, still unsigned)
The bulk of the Dodgers' activity came in a flurry of moves at the end of the winter meetings in early December. Specifically, Los Angeles worked out four trades during the meetings which, though technically separate, were interrelated in such a way that they played out like a pair of three-team deals.
First, the Dodgers traded Dee Gordon, Dan Haren, Miguel Rojas and cash to the Marlins for pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, reliever Chris Hatcher and utility man Kike Hernandez, then flipped Heaney to the Angels for Howie Kendrick. Then they traded Matt Kemp, Tim Federowicz and cash to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitching prospects Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin. Lastly, they flipped Eflin and minor league lefty Tom Windle to the Phillies for Jimmy Rollins.
With Hanley Ramirez having already departed via free agency, the net result of those deals was to:
- Replace the double-play combination of Ramirez and Gordon with Rollins and Kendrick;
- Replace Federowicz and Drew Butera (shipped to the Angels for veteran minor league centerfielder Matt Long) with Grandal;
- Upgrade their bullpen with Hatcher;
- Replace the slick-fielding Rojas on the bench with the 23-year-old Hernandez, who is younger, a better hitter and can play anywhere in the infield or outfield;
- Replace Windle, a soon-to-be 23-year-old lefty who was coming off an undistinguished season as a starter in High A, with Wieland, a 25-year-old righty still working his way back from July 2012 Tommy John surgery;
- Clear room in the outfield for top prospect Joc Pederson;
- Clear $69.5 million in payroll commitments (that's the $107 million left on Kemp's contract minus the $18 million of that the Dodgers agreed to pay as part of the trade and the $19.5 million they will be paying Kendrick and Rollins in 2015; the Dodgers will pay Gordon and Haren's salaries in full in 2015).
Kendrick is an obvious upgrade on Gordon, albeit one due to hit free agency in the fall. Due to Ramirez's inability to stay healthy, the Dodgers' shortstops hit just .254/.332/.394 last year, a line very similar to Rollins' .243/.323/.394. At 36, Rollins is no longer an impact player, but he remains a viable and potentially valuable everyday shortstop for a team that doesn't need him to be a star, which the Dodgers don't. With top prospect Corey Seager on pace to take over at shortstop in 2016, Rollins, also in his walk year, is fine veteran place-holder.
The Dodgers' catchers, primarily A.J. Ellis, Butera and Federowicz, hit a dismal .181/.283/.261 last year, the only position at which L.A.'s production was below league average (40 percent below per the park-adjusted sOPS+). Grandal, a career .245/.350/.412 hitter in the majors, was thus desperately needed. An excellent pitch-framer, Grandal should take over the bulk of the catching duties, though his poor throwing arm and pitch-blocking could keep Ellis in regular rotation. The 26-year-old Cuban and former first-round pick, who has a performance-enhancing-drug suspension and a major knee surgery in his recent history, has never started more than 67 games behind the plate in a major league season and will be under team control through 2018.
Hatcher, a hard-throwing righty who converted to pitching at the age of 26, had a breakout age-29 season in 2014 due to increased reliance on his sinker and splitter, which sent all of his peripherals heading in the right direction. He should be a welcome upgrade on the since-released Brian Wilson in both the pitching and beard departments. Wieland, who was expected to be part of the Padres' 2012 rotation, could prove to be important depth if he is finally back to full health after having a second surgery on his pitching elbow last March to remove loose bodies and repair an impingement.
In the outfield, Kemp had an impressive comeback season at the plate last year, but his speed is gone. Signed to his franchise-record extension as a centerfielder with 40/40 potential, he is now a lousy defensive rightfielder in his thirties who offers little on the bases. Pederson, meanwhile, is a strong defensive centerfielder with a career .293/.401/.510 line in the minors (despite consistently being among the youngest players in his league) and an average of 30 steals per season over the last four years. He won't turn 23 until late April, but if he can nail down the centerfield job (with Andre Ethier as his veteran caddy), thus pushing Yasiel Puig back to rightfield, the resulting improvement in team defense should compensate if Pederson is unable to replace Kemp's production at the plate. If Pederson fails, the Dodgers can move Puig back to center and get a solid contribution out of a platoon of Ethier and Scott Van Slyke in right.
That's all generally positive for the Dodgers. Where they ran into trouble was in spending the money they saved by trading Kemp. Paying the Marlins $10 million to take Dan Haren, who has contemplated retirement as an alternative to pitching for a team outside of southern California, was one thing. Giving Brandon McCarthy a four-year, $48 million deal was another entirely. Since rebooting his career in Oakland four years ago, McCarthy has averaged 24 starts, 154 innings, a 102 ERA+, and 1.6 Wins Above Replacement per season. That's what he did in his late twenties. He's now 31, and while he finally had a healthy season in 2014, posting career-highs in strikeout rate (7.9) and strikeout-to-walk ratio (5.30), he also posted an ERA+ below league average for the second straight season. Bad luck on balls in play (.328 BABIP the last two years) had a lot to do with that, but bad luck seems to be McCarthy's specialty given his extensive injury history. He may benefit from the move back to a pitcher-friendly ballpark, but he still represents a huge gamble and could very well prove to be the next Dan Haren (strong peripherals, poor results) even if healthy.
On top of that, the Dodgers signed McCarthy's former disabled-list-mate in Oakland, Brett Anderson, to a one-year deal worth $10 million. Anderson, whose fragility makes McCarthy look like Cal Ripken Jr., has averaged eight starts and 52 innings pitched over the last four seasons. Now 27, Anderson hasn't made 20 major league starts in a season since he was a 21-year-old rookie. The Dodgers thus spent $58 million of the $69.5 million the saved by trading Kemp on these two pitchers, whom they are expecting to fill the fourth and fifth spots in their rotation this year.
Unfinished business: Starting rotation
Contract aside, McCarthy might pull his weight as a fourth starter, but expecting anything out of Anderson is folly. The Dodgers did acquire Wieland, 27-year-old righty Mike Bolsinger (purchased from the Diamondbacks) and 28-year-old righty Juan Nicasio (via trade from the Rockies for minor league centerfielder Noel Cuevas) for depth and also have fading prospect Zach Lee and lefty Chris Reed on the 40-man roster coming off their Triple-A debuts. But there's not a pitcher in that group, Anderson included, who inspires confidence as the fifth starter of a team hoping to repeat as division champions. The back end of the Dodgers' rotation looks like a disaster waiting to happen.
Preliminary grade: B
The Dodgers upgraded their bullpen with Hatcher and Joel Peralta, upgraded at second base and catcher, lessened their outfield glut, found a solid place-holder at shortstop, added a nice bench piece in Hernandez, and unloaded a seemingly untradeable contract (though it's long since become clear there is no such thing as an untradeable contract in baseball anymore) while moving toward having young, team-controlled players up the middle at catcher, shortstop (in Seager) and centerfield. However, they then took that savings and sunk it into two very questionable pitching contracts that could undermine the upgrades made elsewhere. The Dodgers still look like the favorites in their division, but the last two spots in the rotation are a significant concern.