As the offseason is primed to begin in just a few short days, many have begun to analyze some of the Dodgers potential moves during the winter. We’ve looked at reworking the the team through trade and free agency, how the Dodgers could replace Kenley Jansen and whether the front office should re-investigate the Puig-for-Braun trade.

With so many questions in the offseason after another stall in the playoffs, many Dodger fans are questioning this front office strategy and whether or not is the right one going forward.

Often mischaracterized as a “moneyball” franchise, the Dodgers front office leans heavily toward the analytical side of baseball. Moneyball, in its original strategic state, involves finding potential assets that are undervalued on the market and acquiring them because finances are limited. The Dodgers, however, are not generally referred to as a team with financial limitations. If one is to suggest that “moneyball” has now become synonymous with “analytically driven,” then fine, though it should be noted that 28 other baseball teams invest heavily in analytics and the team that doesn’t (Diamondbacks) has just poached a heavily analytics-driven General Manager from the Boston Red Sox.

An often assumed position is that the Dodgers do not value traditional scouting and traditional performance statistics, but that couldn’t be further from the case. In addition to employing many analytically-driven individuals, the Dodgers also employ many within the organization that come from the more traditional scouting based side or are former players.

The Dodgers scouting director is Billy Gasparino, a former baseball player and national cross-checker for the Blue Jays and Padres. Director of Player Development Gabe Kapler is often known as a forward thinker and has grown to embrace analytics, but he was a player before he was an analyzer. Josh Byrnes cut his teeth in baseball under Dan O’Dowd, a known traditionalist. The key to success in baseball is taking as much information as possible and making sense out of it. Advanced analytics shouldn’t be the end all of every decision, and with such a diverse front office group, the Dodgers are able to make informed decisions viewed from multiple angles.

The Dodgers have made some very “moneyball” type moves, but they’ve also failed to land any of the big tickets they had become known for under the previous front office group. This is a valid criticism and a reason the team gets to referred to as “moneyball,” but it has to remain in context. Players don’t always go to the highest bidder in free agency. Andrew Miller, famously a free agent in 2014 and the desire of fan bases the world over, spurned his highest offer, accepting less money to go the Yankees, as reported by Bob Nightengale.

And of course, the same player was available via the trade market this year and the Dodgers were still unable to acquire him. It’s important to note, though, that this isn’t MLB “The Show.” The Dodgers can’t turn on force trades. Since those outside the front office aren’t privy to the conversations that went on, any speculation that the Dodgers weren’t in on Andrew Miller is just that. Even if an offer were made, the Yankees could have preferred what the Indians were willing to offer, even if the Dodgers had offered better prospects. Trading and free agency are a two-way street.

This isn’t to say that everything this front office has done has been good. The reality is far from that. They have made ill-advised long-term signings to players with extensive injury history (Brandon McCarthy), failed to sign a first round draft pick (Kyle Funkhouser) and signed or acquired some players who performed below expectations. But that happens to every team during every year. Remember, 6 teams opted to not choose Clayton Kershaw in the 2006 draft, and Mike Trout wasn’t drafted until the 25th pick in the 2009 draft. And if the Brandon McCarthy signings are bad, what does that make the Ryan Howard signing or the Prince Fielder contract?

The difference for the Dodgers front office is they have the capital to withstand gambles and mistakes. Perhaps they have attempted to use “moneyball” tactics to justify signing undervalued players on the market as opposed to big ticket items, and some of the those dealers haven’t paid off. However, deals like Joe Blanton, who was signed during the offseason and was easily one of the biggest bargains of the offseason, have worked out great. Brett Anderson version-1 was great, almost making up for the atrociousness that was Brett Anderson version-2.

They’ve also succeeded by way of trade. Grant Dayton served as an excellent setup man and he was acquired for basically nothing. Adam Liberatore has been worth 1.0 Win Above Replacement and the person he was traded for, Jose Dominguez, hasn’t been positive at all. After Andrew Heaney’s arm blew up and Dee Gordon tested positive for PEDs, the Howie Kendrick trade that also brought Kiké Hernandez, Austin Barnes and Chris Hatcher has also begun to swing the Dodgers way. Hatcher has mixed some flashes of talent in with a strong amount of putrid performances, and Hernandez had a rough second year with the Dodgers, but in a smaller sample size during 2015, he outperformed Dee Gordon on offense while playing multiple defensive positions.

Granted, Kendrick re-signed with the team in the offseason, but one could very easily argue that the compensation pick attached to him as a free agent hurt his leverage on the open market. And this is yet to even give Austin Barnes a proper chance to prove he’s worth something, which should come during the 2017 season. Though the trade often gets remember for Jim “Dumpster Fire” Johnson and Mat Latos, Alex Wood and Luis Avilan have been the catch of a trade that that would challenge even the strongest Dodger fans to name all players involved. There have also been trades that could have the potential to spiral into bad, depending on what happens with the prospects traded for Rich Hill and Josh Reddick. But both players were strong contributors in the Dodgers playoff run, so they did their part to accomplish the goal for which they were acquired.

The biggest point to reiterate is a front office shouldn’t be judged over a 2-year sample size. Unlike the other 3 major sports, baseball franchises are not immediately redefined by a single draft pick. Baseball players rarely make the majors the same year they are drafted, let alone the year after. The Dodgers have made the playoffs each of the 2 years while under Friedman control, though it should be noted they were helped by the decisions of the previous front office. However, the farm system still rates in the top 5 by most publications even after graduating Julio Urias and Corey Seager.

The Dodgers spent over 45 million dollars on international free agents during the 2015 signing period, though many of these players will be unable to contribute for up to 4 or 5 years. However, internationally it hasn’t all been good. The Dodgers blew more money on Hector Olivera than on Brandon McCarthy, and other players like Pablo Fernandez and Yaisel Sierra have proven to be just about worthless. Baseball is all about the long game, more than any other sport. Even the World Series Cubs had to rebuild by losing 100 games sandwiched by two seasons of more than 90 losses. That wouldn’t fly in Los Angeles.

Another oft-repeated point of view is that the Dodgers front office has a desire to strip payroll. The problem with this complaint is two-fold. The first problem is that front office doesn’t generally dictate what a team’s payroll will be, as that lies on ownership. Ownership never planned to spend 300 million a year on payroll, as their strategy was to begin to drive and develop players internally, which leads us into our second problem. As rookies replace veterans, their cost lowers exponentially. The drop from Jimmy Rollins salary (11 million) to Corey Seager’s league minimum (550k) dropped the payroll, but upgraded the roster. Moving from Kemp to Pederson accomplished the same goal. As a team brings up younger players who perform at or better than aging vets, they tend to play those vets out. This inherently brings payroll down. There shouldn’t be a Dodger fan alive that would prefer to have Rollins for 11 million over Seager at 550k.

Overall, this front office has been far from perfect. They’ve missed a lot in free agency, and their strategy of assembling talented players with injury concerns during 2016 almost buried the team. But they’ve continued the franchise-high division winning streak, maintained a top 5 farm system while graduating talent including the likely rookie of the year and have a future team outlook that industry-consensus feels should be strongly competitive for at least the next 5 years. The division title isn’t the goal, but the World Series can’t be won without first making the playoffs, and the front office has yet to accomplish this ultimate goal. They’ve made some moves that are easy to disagree with, but it’s very hard to argue at this point in their tenure that their strategy hasn’t been, at the very least, effective.

The Possibility of A Dodgers And Royals Trade

17 Responses

  1. Jeffrotall

    The reason this new regime hasn’t signed any  high dollar free agents is because ownership is still paying for the bad signings of the Ned Colletti regime. Matt Kemp, Andre Eithier, Jason Schmidt, Carl Crawford, etc. etc.

    Reply
  2. Skybandit

    The two WS teams this year had team payrolls in the mid to lower third among all MLB, with no position player exceeding $12M except for Mike Napoli. The winning formula, exemplified this year and Royals last year, is to develop cost-controlled position players and bring in key ace starting pitchers as free agents or trades. Unfortunately, Dodgers are still burdened by old paradigm big salaries (team payroll already at -$190M even before signing their own free agents). Re-signing Turner, Jansen and perhaps Hill will push team payroll to over $220M, which appears at or above their ideal maximum. If $200-$220M/yr is indeed their self-imposed budget, then fans will have to until after the 2017 season, and after 2018 season when $100M from Ethier, Crawford, Gonzalez (the old Red Sox trade) along with Guerrero and Kershaw (if he opts out) will all come off the books leaving the Dodgers with >$80M/yr to go after Aces like Arrieta. In 2019, the FO should finally be able to assemble a team that truly represents their baseball philosophy.

    Reply
  3. Socalbum

    Skybandit perhaps I am misreading your opening sentence (“…2 WS teams…team payrolls in the mid to lower third among all MLB”), but the Chicago Cubs had the 5th highest payroll this season ($177MM) including Lester at $20MM, Heyward at $15MM (going to $21.5MM in 2017), Montero $14MM,   Where do you find the Dodgers 2017 payroll at $190MM?  Letting free agents walk like JP Howell, Anderson, Utley, Rivera, Blanton, Hill, Reddick, Fien, and Chavez will reduce payroll by approximately $45MM, the $29MM hit from Hector Olivera contract is gone, as is the $4.75MM Jose Tabata contract, the $1.5MM Brandon Beachy deal, and those that are likely to be non tendered (Van Slyke, Tsao, and Coleman).  No doubt the contracts will be added (Turner and Jansen alone could have a net increase around $15MM), arbitration awards (or new contracts), and acquisitions.

    Reply
  4. BCRobitaille

    Great article Brandon. But “Kike outperformed Dee Gordon on offense”… c’mon now. No. He. Did. Not.

    Reply
  5. Skybandit

    Socalbum You’re correct in terms of Cubs payroll this year. What I was referring to was their 2017 team payrolls, which for the Cubs is 7th and dropping with no significant salaries left to sign other than Chapman.  Indians are 22nd with really only Napoli and MIller’s to negotiate.  Dodgers’ committed 2017 payroll (~$190M, #1)  is according to Spotrac and does not include any pending free agents you’ve named. Expect at least $30/yr with Jansen, Turner, HIll or equivalents.

    Again the point I was trying to make was two-fold: the Ownership appears to have an upper payroll limit of ~$200-210M (or more likely, just ahead of the Yankees’ payroll). The $300M payroll was never sustainable and we the fans falsely assumed it belied “win WS at all cost” mentality. Secondly, Cubs are clearly the long-term model FO is adopting but a full implementation of that paradigm will not fully manifest until 2019 season, when Ned Colletti’s moves are all off the books.

    Reply
  6. Socalbum

    Skybandit Socalbum always difficult to get the whole story about payrolls.  For example, in 2017 Heyward and Zobrist contracts increase by $6.5MM and $6MM respectively, Hammel by $3MM if team exercises his option, Rizzo by $2MM, and so on.  Team will also have to significantly increase Arrietta’s contract.  Dodgers net increase for Turner and Jansen will be around $15MM and I don’t believe Dodgers will re-sign Hill unless it can dump Kamir and/or McCarthy’s contract(s).

    Reply
  7. 2B15Lopes

    The Dodgers FO is so far successful. Kasten wanted to replicate what he did in Atlanta and the team is well on their way. LA has 4 straight division championships. From 1991 – 2005 the Braves only missed the playoffs once. The playoffs are a crap shoot so getting there every year is bound to pay off sooner or later. Dodgers are the best in the west 4 years in a row and the 3rd best team in baseball according to how the playoffs went. We lasted longer than the AL NLCS loser. I’m behind the FO, what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. This year was a success. We were able to put to rest the “Even Year” BS from the fans of the evil ones, win the division… again, and we’ve got a bright future.

    Reply
  8. Maycolita

    Rebuilding and failing, is like a guy who drops the ball and stares at his glove.  A guy who blames the lights, blames the sun for an error.  Countless excuses why his plan didn’t work out.  Sometimes you just have to admit failure.  Two years to get pitching.  Stated he was going after elite pitching.  Didn’t do that.  Every other team did, except Andrew.  He’s cheap and the Dodgers are into cheap while making more money.  What has been successful has been Colletti’s picks.  Friedman’s failures are way too many for two years on the job.  They is what happens when Guggheim decided to stick there nose into baseball.  If winning the pennant is your goal, I suppose Andrew is just what the doctor ordered.  Winning the division is like a people on The Price Is Right, who gets excited when they see that the next prize is a car.  Sure, you made it to the table, but you have to win it before you get excited.

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  9. Maycolita

    Skybandit
    Let’s not forget, or pretend, the Dodges can afford any amount of money it takes.   $ BILLION from Time Warner.  That’s 8,000 millions!!!!    Thats not including advertisement.  
    The Dodgers are like a rich man from Beverly Hills trying to wheel-and-deal on a senior meal at Carrows.

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  10. Skybandit

    I don’t think that’s correct. The Guggenheim Group did not get to where they are by throwing money away. And tbh, they should be able to field the best team in MLB with a $200M team payroll. Era of $30M+/yr for a starting pitching should come to an end. All big market teams are now emulating Theo Epstein and the Cubs.. invest heavily in the farm system, develop culture from ground up and then bring in a few key free agents.

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