Like all other 29 MLB teams, the Dodgers will be looking to better themselves this off-season, and hope to put an improved team of the field in 2017. They had a very respectable year in 2016, claiming a 4th straight division championship and taking the Chicago Cubs to six games before losing in the NLCS. It was certainly a disappointment to fall short of a World Series yet again, but the consensus was that the Cubs were probably just the better team. To some, knowing that your club at least lost to a superior team may cushion the blow a little. To others, it may not. Regardless of whether the loss was any easier to take or not, the question now is pretty obvious: How do the Dodgers get better next year?
Well, the logical thought process would be to add players that could either fill existing holes on the roster, or improve in certain areas. But that may not be the most realistic option for the Dodgers next season. In order to improve, they may have to rely on the current players they have, and how much they can continue to develop, particularly the young guys.
This year’s free agent market was a problem for the Dodgers. However, the Dodgers were able to bring back their own players before trying to focus anywhere else. Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner were undoubtedly the highest priorities for the Dodgers, and fans were content with these major signings this winter. Rich Hill, who was considered the best starting pitcher on the market, re-joined Los Angeles before Jansen and Turner for a 3-year, $48 million contract. Now that all three have re-signed, the Dodgers can label this off-season as a ‘success.’
Now that the Dodgers were fortunate to bring back all of those guys, does it really make them better? Surely, it’s an important first step to try and get these guys to return, but it doesn’t necessarily make the Dodgers an improved team. All they would be doing is restoring a team that has already ben established as inferior this year. And being that there are really no other difference-making free agents available that fit the Dodger’s needs, they may have to look internally for improvement.
Of course, an off-season trade is also an option, and the Dodgers can never be counted out in that regard. But barring any major addition via trade, the most realistic way the Dodgers will get better next year is with their young talent continuing to develop. Below, players are broken down into different categories of expected improvement next year, and how much the Dodgers may depend on them to take the team to the next level.
Certain difference makers (high chance for growth/improvement): Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, Andrew Toles
Coming off his NL ROY award-winning season, one could say it might be hard for Seager to improve that much next year. His 2016 campaign saw him slash .308/.365/.512 while hitting 26 HR and leading the Dodgers offense in multiple categories, including WAR & wOBA. That kind of production may be hard to improve on, but given the fact that Seager is only 22 years old, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to think it’s possible. And if he does, the Dodgers will only be that much better.
One of the top prospects in the game last year, Julio Urias showed flashes of brilliance after being called up. And talk about “room for growth.” The kid is only 20 years old, with half a year of big league experience under his belt already. The sky certainly seems to be the limit for Julio, and his development into one of the game’s best pitchers could really put the Dodgers starting rotation at a whole different level. Sure, it probably won’t be an immediate process.
Urias will have his ups and downs and the Dodgers will be very cautious with their young gun, likely imposing some sort of innings limit on him next year. The same might be said for Jose De Leon, who briefly appeared for the Dodgers at the end of 2016. The hype around him might not be quite as loud as it is for Urias, but he too has a legitimate shot to be a very good major league pitcher. And if these guys can make significant strides in 2017, it could give the Dodgers a lethal punch at the top of their rotation.
Andrew Toles should be on this list too, he could be given a reasonable chance next season to contribute and could be the Dodgers starting left fielder and leadoff hitter. Playing in just 48 games after being called-up in July, Toles showed he had the ability to be an everyday player, hitting .314/.365/.505 with 3 HR in 199 ABs.
Toles also showed off his cannon for an arm, cutting down multiple runners trying to take the extra base on him. His speed could be a real attribute at the top of the order, but his playing time next year will depend on how much Dave Roberts gives him a shot against lefties. He didn’t get to face them much this year, and if they continue to employ lefty/righty matchup lineups, it may be hard to Toles to fully develop.
Possible key contributors (decent chance for growth/improvement): Yasiel Puig, Trayce Thompson, Micah Johnson, Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling, Adam Liberatore, Grant Dayton
All these players can contribute for the Dodgers next season if given the opportunity, and they all could make positive advancements in their game.
It seems to be the same story with Puig every year. Will he even be a Dodger next year, or will he finally be traded? Will he ever fully live up to his potential? If the Dodgers decided to pencil Puig into their starting lineup again next year, and have him be their full-time RF, there is always a chance he could return to that 2013 version of himself that we all saw when he first came up. And if he did, the Dodgers offense would be a completely different unit. But that’s a big ‘if’.
If Puig can’t improve, or isn’t on the team next year, perhaps the Dodgers will give a starting opportunity to Trayce Thompson. Before going down with a back injury this year, Thompson showed some real promise offensively, clubbing 13 HR in only 262 ABs. He began to slump a little before his injury, but there’s certainly room for Thompson to improve. He has the chance to be an everyday player with some pop, but like Andrew Toles, Thompson’s development next year will likely depend on how Dave Roberts wants to utilize him.
Rookies Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart were both surprise key performers for the Dodgers this year. There is very little idea what the starting rotation will look like in 2017 beyond Clayton Kershaw, but both these guys could be in the mix. Neither Stripling nor Stewart are expected to have the ceiling of Julio Urias or Jose De Leon, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be a vital part of the rotation if given the chance. With a year of experience under their belt, there’s also no reason to think they both won’t improve in 2017.
There are many other players that could develop further next season, and help the Dodgers. Adam Libertore and Grant Dayton were already key bullpen pieces last year, and there’s still room for growth in each of them. Micah Johnson has a real shot to earn the 2nd base job this spring, and could surprise some people.
Holding out hope (some chance for growth/improvement): Joc Pederson, Yasmani Grandal, Kenta Maeda
Although players like Joc Pederson, Yasmani Grandal and Kenta Maeda will all have a huge impact on how the Dodgers do next year, they’re not the players to count on for improvement and/or development.
Grandal is one of the better offensive catchers in the game, leading all NL backstops in HRs with 27 in 2016. He also has good value on the defensive side with his framing ability. However, he does strike out a lot, and doesn’t hit for a great average.
Like Grandal, Pederson contributes with the power bat (51 HRs in his first two MLB seasons) and also has a good OBP. He’s a little above league average in Center as well, but like Grandal, he strikes out a ton. Next year will only be Pederson’s 3rd full season, and he could certainly improve in the areas where he struggles, but at this point it might be time to accept the type of player the Dodgers have in Joc. While it shouldn’t be counted on, if Pederson or Grandal can shore up their game even more, it would sure be a boon for the Dodgers.
Kenta Maeda was a pleasant surprise for the first part of 2016, but faltered down the stretch and in the playoffs. It may have just been teams making the needed adjustments after seeing him multiple times, or perhaps he just tired out as the year progressed. However, Maeda may have shown his peak potential early on in 2016. The Dodgers shouldn’t expect anything more than a #3 type guy in the rotation, and they’ll probably be content with Maeda putting up similar numbers for next year.
Obviously, the chances probably aren’t great that all these players improve by leaps and bounds next year. But if even a few do, it will be a great benefit for the Dodgers, and really increase the chances that they can have a better ball club in 2017.