Phase 1 of #Win4Vin is complete: The Los Angeles Dodgers are once again National League West champions.
It wasn’t an easy ride. In fact, matters appeared desperate when the Dodgers dropped eight games behind San Francisco on June 26. The roles have since reversed, with the Giants eight games out and eliminated from divisional contention, while L.A. will win at least 90 games for the fourth straight year.
Andrew Friedman and the front office have been heavily criticized for most of the season. In the end, they proved why they’re working for a premier MLB franchise. Not every move has paid off, but the overall body of work is impressive.
Sometimes the best moves are the ones you do NOT make, however, and that showed up big time in the second half of the season. A look at a few non-deals that have the Dodgers not only primed for a playoff run, but set up to have a spot in the postseason every year in the foreseeable future.
1) Passing on re-signing Zack Greinke
Early in the year, it appeared the Dodgers had goofed. The team had virtually no starting pitching beyond Clayton Kershaw. Even Johnny Cueto looked like a Cy Young contender in San Francisco, while Los Angeles took the “cheap” route.
The “cheap” route produced the best strikeout rotation in MLB history. Kenta Maeda, the biggest free agent pickup of the offseason, leads the team with 171 strikeouts (Kershaw obviously missed time, but is second with 162). Maeda isn’t the lone rookie pitcher making an impact though. The team has had 60 games started by rookies and is more than 10 games over .500 in those contests. The other four key rookie starters are Julio Urias, Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart and Jose De Leon. When you consider the team is getting that much out of first-year players, the division title – and job done by Dave Roberts and Rick Honeycutt – is even more commendable.
With such a treasure chest of arms, along with more on the way, Greinke isn’t as missed as we once thought. The Diamondbacks ace has a 4.17 ERA, 4.11 FIP, 134 strikeouts and is surrendering 1.3 homers per nine in 158.2 innings. All of those are significantly worse than any year he had in Los Angeles. Even when accounting for a hitter-friendly ballpark and new environment, that contract has the look of an albatross. There were rumors the Dodgers were pursuing a reunion, but why? L.A. needs a second ace, but is investing that money ina 32-year old Greinke the right move now? Arizona did Los Angeles and San Francisco a favor by overpaying Greinke. Even when he improves, and he probably will, the Dodgers are better off investing elsewhere. Not retaining Greinke turned out to be one of the better moves the franchise has made recently.
2) Keeping and promoting Yasiel Puig
I have been of the opinion it’s time for Puig and the Dodgers to part ways. I went so far as endorsing a Ryan Braun acquisition, and the team strongly considered a move for him. But sending Puig to the minors and calling him back up may be the best shot in the arm this team could get.
Los Angeles has been playing fantastic in the second half. Puig’s demotion didn’t seem to bother the team. But his behavior and play since coming back has won many, including me, over. Namely, his incident with Giants ace Madison Bumgarner. Teams need guys who have fight, who have spirit, who have energy. Puig didn’t instigate anything, but he was clearly in Bumgarner’s head. What if the Dodgers and Giants met in the NLCS? As unlikely as that is, imagine the storyline there. To follow that, Puig once again captured fans’ hearts with a hastag: #DontLookAtMe. The team went so far as to wear shirts with the slogan on it. Puig has been, perhaps for the first time ever, a breath of fresh air. His demeanor isn’t controversial right now. Instead, he could be a crucial piece of the Dodgers playoff run.
The Puig-Dodger marriage is still more likely over than not, but things change quickly in sports. As it stands today, Puig is earning his way back into this team’s plans.
3) Not Trading Corey Seager
This wasn’t ever a real consideration, but it needs to be mentioned. Seager was undoubtedly asked about in most trade negotiations the Dodgers have had in the last couple years. L.A. could’ve had Cole Hamels, Johnny Cueto, Chris Sale, who knows, by moving Seager. From the outside perspective, it appears the franchise never even considered it. That’s the most brilliant non-move of them all.
Roberts declared Seager the Rookie of The Year and MVP after his team clinched the West. He’s got a fair case too: Seager is slashing .313/.371/.523 in his first full year in the Majors. His defense, initially considered to be a flaw, has been anything but. It likely won’t happen this year, but a MVP award is in Seager’s future. He’s the building block of the franchise, and Friedman deserves some level of credit for opting to retain him over making a “win now” move, even if it was the obvious choice.