Hanley Ramirez was never really coming back to the Dodgers, the league leader in stolen bases, Dee Gordon, was traded for a pitching prospect who was then traded for a second baseman in the last year of his deal, and arguably the best hitter in the second half of 2014, Matt Kemp, was traded for a catcher with a suspension in his past. Also traded was the team’s fourth starter in Dan Haren and a defensive whiz in Miguel Rojas. Brian Wilson was released and the biggest acquisition for the bullpen came in a trade for 38-year-old Joel Peralta. Instead of big names like Max Scherzer, Russell Martin and Andrew Miller, the Dodgers have signed Brandon McCarthy, Juan Nicasio and Chin-hui Tsao among others.
So wait, this was the product of the brain team that the Dodgers assembled?
Everything is going to be okay.
While it looks like the Dodgers have disassembled their NL West champion team and are heading for mediocrity in 2015, it’s not that bad. Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins replace Gordon and Ramirez, and significantly improve the defense while maintaining some offense. While the new duo won’t steal 64 bases combined or hit 25+ home runs, they will drive the ball, bring leadership and prevent runs from scoring. Rollins finished 2014 with a higher WAR (3.9) than Ramirez (3.5) and made half as many errors in over 200 innings more at short. Kendrick is a .292 career hitter that hit .293 in 2014 and while he may lack the overall range of Gordon, is a better defender. Gordon and his speed were quite flashy, but his best season was last year and he hit .289, which is less than Kendrick’s career average. Gordon also faltered in the second half last year, hitting .275 after July 6 and stealing just 22 bases in that time. Much of his ballyhooed year came in the first half of the year, which is what made him an All-Star.
First things first, I was a Matt Kemp fan since Day 1 and never left his side. Despite his injuries, I knew once he was healthy that Kemp would return to the MVP-caliber numbers from 2011. So that impressive streak in the second half last season was no surprise. Well then, why trade him? Because of a few reasons and one is defense. Kemp has never been an impressive defender, even with his Gold Glove award in 2009. The only season he finished in positive for Defensive Runs Saved came in 2008 with his low point coming in 2010 when he was negative-35. Last year he played all three outfield spots, was negative in DRS at each spot and finished negative-23 on the year. Many expect Joc Pederson to take over in center and his defense has been praised by many, including manager Don Mattingly. Health is another reason and we learned that the slugger has arthritis in both his hips. The arthritis may not affect him for at least a few years, but it’s a scary thought to know that he can go down at any moment. Lastly, Kemp was never truly happy with his move from center. Although he got comfortable in right field, Kemp believed himself to be a center fielder and he just can’t man the position anymore. The Dodgers had to rid themselves of at least two outfielders this winter, and Kemp just happened to be the one that brought back some value and payroll relief.
Don’t forget, the Dodgers didn’t just give Kemp away. They got a piece that helped them land Rollins, a potential starter in Joe Wieland and a significant upgrade at catcher in Yasmani Grandal. A.J. Ellis struggled last year at the plate and on defense, but returned on his merit and deep friendship with Clayton Kershaw. Grandal is not a defensive-minded catcher, but he does excel at one thing: pitch framing. His ability to get extra strikes will help the staff and limit runs. Also, he adds some pop to the lineup and at 26, offers the Dodgers a catcher of the future.
The bullpen was the scapegoat of the NLDS and rightly so, as they allowed runs in three of the four games. Wilson, who was the late-season sensation in 2013, never got back into form last year and was relegated to light duty. J.P. Howell was the second-best reliever last year, but it appears that fatigue got the best of him later in the year. So with all the bullpen worries, the Dodgers were sure to jump in on Miller, David Robertson or others, right? Wrong. They traded for Peralta, acquired Chris Hatcher as a throw-in from the Marlins, claimed Nicasio off waivers and signed Tsao and Sergio Santos to minor-league deals. Bullpens are usually built, not bought and that’s the thinking of the front office. Howell, Peralta and Kenley Jansen are a solid base. Add youngsters Paco Rodriguez, Pedro Baez and Carlos Frias to that and there’s six relievers that can get outs. Nicasio may never become a starter again, but showed some promise out of the bullpen for the Rockies last season. Tsao recently hit 95 MPH in a workout, Santos is a career 3.89 reliever. Brandon League may get traded, but if he doesn’t, he had a solid year in 2014. While the bullpen won’t have the flashy names many wanted, the depth and options will give Mattingly some room to find his late-inning guys.
Finally, the flash of the Dodgers was gone from free agency this winter. Some of the big names on the market were outfielders, which they don’t need, they lost out on relievers, and the main starting pitchers are still out there. While I still support and advocate a Scherzer deal, the reality seems to be that the Dodgers aren’t that interested in him. They also lost out on Russell Martin, although it was reported that they were in the mix. What’s lost on some fans is that despite the flash and grandeur from past winters, Ned Colletti rarely put the big picture into play. The Dodgers were seemingly one-deep at most positions, and injuries caused them to panic and trade away prospects for quick help. Prospects, no matter the potential, were traded last season for a few months of Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia. Let me repeat, Roberto Hernandez and Kevin Correia. Now the Dodgers are picking up players all over, and setting themselves up for potential injuries. A pitcher goes down, the Dodgers have Nicasio, Tsao, Santos, Wieland or Mike Bolsinger. What’s lost from the big money is the small moves that will help keep the farm intact and potentially uncover a gem that can help.
So if you’ve thrown your Dodger hat down in disgust, vowed to stay away from Dodger Stadium or renounced your true fandom, just remember that In Friedman We Trust and the Dodgers will again be World Series contenders in 2015. They just look a bit different.