It has become a common refrain that the Dodgers’ ownership and front office, despite access to pools of money and the urgency of a growing title drought, doesn’t do nearly enough to put the optimal product out on the field.
I’m not here to disagree with that. The last two off-seasons, geared more around resetting the competitive balance tax rate rather than upgrading a team on the verge of a championship, have been frustrating. Unfortunately, this one might not shape up to be much different, despite much hype to the contrary.
Dodgers ownership become a circus . since they arrived. just Google there ownership members. no clue about Baseball. too many losers. Friedman/Robert’s are they formula to go nowhere.
— Jorge A Araujo (@jorge_1962) October 28, 2019
Still, it hasn’t been all for naught in the Guggenheim and Friedman eras. While much of the team’s makeup in recent years has been based on retaining marquee players and building from within, there have still been some huge signings and trades that have ensured their annual success.
Here’s a look back at some of the best transactions that have shaped this decade of Dodger baseball.
February 5, 2014: Justin Turner is Plucked Off the Scrap Heap
No one could have known it at the time, but this pickup just before the beginning of the 2014 season would be a transformative one for the franchise. After several years as a utility infielder for the Orioles and Mets, Turner was adrift in free agency when bench coach Tim Wallach saw him playing at a Cal State Fullerton Alumni game.
Impressed, Turner was signed to a minor league contract, and was added to the major league roster in March. He showed his potential in limited capacity in 2014, still being lodged behind Juan Uribe at third. But after Uribe was traded in 2015, the hot corner has belonged to Ginger Jesus since then. As his beard grew, so did his legend, regular and postseason.
Whether or not he relinquishes his position to Anthony Rendon this off-season, it’s impossible to overstate how much this seemingly nondescript transaction for a then-nondescript player impacted the Dodgers in the long run.
December 16, 2017: Reacquiring Matt Kemp for Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir, and Charlie Culberson
After the heartbreak of coming so close to a championship only to fall short, in 2017 it seemed logical the Dodgers would have a busy off-season to ensure they’d take the final step in 2018. Instead, they focused more on pruning salary for the luxury tax.
The one big moment from that off-season was fittingly this shocking salary dump, which brought back former MVP contender and franchise idol Matt Kemp while unloading a bevy of bad contracts. Considering the clubhouse acrimony that led to his trade to San Diego in 2014, it seemed to make little sense.
The move was all the more curious as the Miami Marlins were desperately seeking to unload NL MVP Giancarlo Stanton, a Dodger fan in his youth who seemed destined to be the blockbuster move many felt the team needed. Instead, Stanton went to the New York Yankees for pennies on the dollar, while the Dodgers settled for an aging Kemp, who some speculated would be moved in another deal.
Against all logic, it ended up being the right move in all regards. Kemp, after shedding tons of weight, dialed it back to 2011 with a season that earned him his first All-Star Game start and NL Comeback Player of the Year. He helped lead the Dodgers back to the World Series while Stanton didn’t even make the AL All-Star roster. The Yankees were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.
In a reversal last off-season, Kemp was shipped off with three others to Cincinnati in yet another salary dump — one that netted some big time prospects. However, his comeback campaign in 2018 nonetheless proved of tremendous value to a second consecutive pennant winner.
December 21, 2018: Trading Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood, Matt Kemp, and Kyle Farmer to Cincinnati for Homer Bailey and prospects
This one might not be universally beloved by a good number of fans, given it centered around moving fan favorite Yasiel Puig. Furthermore, despite clearing $17 million in payroll space, it didn’t result in the blockbuster singing of Bryce Harper, but rather the fairly pedestrian (if sensible) one of A.J. Pollock.
By every measure, this massive salary dump worked. Matt Kemp quickly flamed out in Cincy and was released. Puig, continuing his path as the modern day Dick Allen, wore his welcome out fast and was traded to Cleveland as part of the Trevor Bauer swap. Alex Wood barely pitched at all.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers won 106 games and were more fundamentally sound both offensively and defensively. Right field was primarily manned by Gold Glove-winner Cody Bellinger, an upgrade in and of itself. While releasing Homer Bailey immediately, they still got top prospects Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray, shoring up an already stellar farm system.
This isn’t to ignore the many great moments Puig made for in his six seasons in Dodger Blue. But some moves can be addition by subtraction, and this was one of them.
December 8, 2012: Signing Zack Greinke to a 6-year, $147 million contract
The obvious choice for number one, for many reasons. First, it was the largest contract ever given to a right-handed pitcher in baseball history, and a statement move within the first year of the Guggenheim era that the Dodgers were a financial behemoth ready to spend big to field a contender right away.
Second, it gave the team its greatest 1-2 pitching punch since Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale. Clayton Kershaw’s Hall of Fame career may dominate our perception of the 2010s in Los Angeles, but don’t forget how close (and sometimes better) Greinke’s performance was right behind him.
In 2015 in particular, Greinke was arguably the best in the rotation, with a 1.66 ERA and the longest scoreless inning streak since Orel Hershisher in 1988. Of course, Greinke opted out after his historic 2015 season, signing with Arizona. But that didn’t negate how crucial he was in aiding the first Dodgers era to witness three consecutive (and still counting) postseason trips.
Another reason the Greinke signing is the best move of this era is that it’s a reminder of the value of spending big on an elite free agent SP. While the front office was still headed by Ned Colletti during this time, it still happened within the first year of Guggenheim ownership. Since then, big spending has been reigned in during the Friedman era, a direction which admittedly has plenty of benefits.
Seven years later, however, the Dodgers would do well by making a similar move this winter. Especially with Walker Buehler cemented as the new ace, and Hyun-Jin Ryu likely to walk, now is the time for the Dodgers to emulate the Greinke signing by offering a similar contract to Gerrit Cole or Stephen Strasburg. One big free agent ace in almost a decade isn’t going to cut it.