It’s that time of year again! Chatter and conversation begin to sweep over the sports nation like birds flocking towards the north in search of milder climate and all brothers and sisters of Dodgers Nation know exactly what time it is. Galoshes and raincoats are swapped for spikes and windbreakers as it is time for Dodger baseball again.
Winter is a time of much renovation around the league, but a lot of Dodger fans are probably thankful that not much has changed. For the most part, the fellas will be going into the 2017 season with a lot of familiar faces. Most notably third baseman Justin Turner, closer Kenley Jansen and the veteran reborn, starting pitcher Rich Hill, are all set to return this season. All three players were crucial to the Dodgers’ postseason run in ’16 and Andrew Friedman, along with Farhan Zaidi, rewarded all three by extending multi-year contracts to the Dodger stars.
There was at least one notable change to the team. Upper management found a way to upgrade the infield and lineup by acquiring second baseman Logan Forsythe from Tampa Bay for the young pitching prospect Jose De Leon in a one-for-one swap. In doing so, the Dodgers addressed their noticeable inefficiencies versus LHP and improved their offense overall.
Finally, the Dodgers made a decision to bring back the veteran leader, second baseman Chase Utley. The So-Cal native signed a one-year deal worth $2 million with the Dodgers. This is a move most appreciated by the young shortstop and reigning N.L. Rookie of the Year Corey Seager, who went on record before the signing, stating that he would be disappointed if Utley did not return in 2017. By signing Utley, Seager will get at least one more season under the tutelage of the seasoned pro. Furthermore, Utley had a pretty decent year, batting .252 with 14 homers in 2016.
All is now Dodger history, but what lies ahead for the Blue Crew?
Is it now or never for the Dodgers championship hopes?
Not to incite any unnecessary panic, but it could be.
By resigning Turner, Jansen and Hill, the Dodgers have re-cemented their foundation in offense, starting pitching and relief pitching.
Turner is one of the best clutch hitters that the Dodgers have. Last season, he drove in 90 runs by batting an impresive .325 with RISP. Jansen has been a premier closing pitcher in the majors for more than a few seasons and is now the all-time Dodgers leader in saves. Last, but not least, Rich Hill has found new life upon the pitcher’s mound. Before being traded to the Dodgers last season, Hill was the A.L. Cy Young favorite, despite his recurring blister issues. In his time with the Dodgers, he flirted with a perfect game in Miami late last season and delivered a stunning shutout versus the soon-to-be world champion Chicago Cubs.
With all this being said, I’m confident in saying this is the best Dodgers ball team we have seen since the 2013 campaign. The Dodgers made it all the way to the NLCS before being ousted by the Cardinals and between the current and aforementioned rosters, a lot of similarities can be drawn.
Corey Seager is a prolific shortstop now whereas the Dodgers had a mighty Hanley Ramirez in 2013. In a lot of spots, the Dodgers are actually much better. At third base, we now have Justin Turner which I consider a more-than-modest upgrade over Juan Uribe in ’13. The Dodgers also have some great youth on their current roster whereas the roster in ’13 included an ailing and overall bust in Matt Kemp and Carl Crawford. The Dodgers have also improved at second base, now with Logan Forsythe over Mark Ellis in ’13.
Not only are they better than they were then, but the Dodgers are going to be better than they were last season.
Only by severe penalty handed down by the gods of baseball would the Dodgers see as many injuries as they saw last year. Through the 26 some-odd injuries, first year manager Dave Roberts flourished, exercising any and all resources to put out a lineup for all 162 games. His impression of the dutch boy at the dam eventually earned him a well deserved manager of the year award in the National League. With this in mind, the Dodgers young core is going to continue to grow.
Young pitching phenom Julio Urias, N.L. Rookie of the Year Corey Seager and powerful center fielder Joc Pederson are all trending upward towards improving on the season before. This amount of young talent hasn’t been seen since the early 90s when the Dodgers had young stars in Eric Karros, Mike Piazza and Raul Mondesi all rising to the top as the league’s youngest and brightest.
But why is it now or never?
“So what?” You might ask.
Well… Clayton Kershaw has one… and soon.
Kershaw will be able to opt out of his current seven-year, $215M deal that was inked in 2014 after the 2018 season, but let’s look at the big picture. Clayton and Ellen Kershaw now have two beautiful children and all four of them could be considered the unofficial royal family in Los Angeles at this point. With roots planted firmly in L.A., it’s hard to imagine him ever wanting to void the remaining years of his contract, especially with a world championship still on his to-do list.
But there’s a problem.
The dollar is inflating in Major League Baseball and has been for quite some time. You needn’t look any further than Zack Greinke’s deal in Arizona to see that Kershaw’s once mind-boggling contract is becoming more and more pedestrian. Last offseason, Greinke signed a deal worth more annually than Kershaws deal in 2014. Greinke will be making just over $34M annually versus Kershaw’s $30M, roughly.
And if you still think I’m nuts, next offseason, fans will see sports’ first half-billion dollar athlete in Bryce Harper, mark my words. My reaction this offseason when he asked $400M of the Nationals to keep him in Washington?
“I can’t believe he asked for so little.”
This is not a commentary on Harper’s talent, nor Greinke’s or Kershaw’s; this is a commentary on the economy surrounding Major League Baseball and its talent.
So this presents a theoretical question, at least in my mind.
“Would Kershaw ditch his $30M a year for a possible extension worth $40M+ annually after 2018?”
Well … wouldn’t you?
Perhaps such an offer will come from the Dodgers, but what if it comes from Clayton and Ellen’s home state of Texas?
If you want a short list of athletes who have left formidable teams to return to their home state of Texas: Nolan Ryan, Roger Clemens and Andy Pettite.
That is why it is now or never for the Dodgers.
Now, given this is all theory and hearsay, the Dodgers could in theory win a World Series sans Kershaw. I wouldn’t count on it though.
The combination of young talent, veteran leadership and Clayton Kershaw makes this Dodger team the most likely out of all others in recent history to win the last game of the season. That’s why I say it’s now or never.