2017 is about to be gone, and 2018 will be here. Where do the Dodgers go now? They won 104 games, showcasing enormous depth all the way up and down the 40-man roster. They came within one win of a World Series Title. One miserable, measly win! So close, yet so far.
What do they do now? Where can the Dodgers improve? Which free agents left can/should be targeted? Do we have any prospects coming up that can make an impact akin to Seager or Bellinger? Altogether, what can we expect from our Boys in Blue in 2018?
Well, the major free agents from this team are/were Yu Darvish, Brandon Morrow, Andre Ethier’s option was bought out, Tony Watson, Chase Utley, and Curtis Granderson. I can’t imagine there is any way that Granderson comes back. Utley wants to keep playing, but I doubt the Dodgers bring him back. I am hoping the Dodgers can bring him on in a role similar to Gabe Kapler’s in the front office/player development eventually. Ethier may or may not return to the Dodgers, depending on if he minds having a bench role. If he does return, he’ll serve a similar role he did down the stretch as a lefty, late-inning pinch hitter as well as an extra Outfielder. Brandon Morrow recently signed a two-year deal with the Chicago Cubs. Watson will likely go somewhere else as it seems Cingrani has taken on the role of our big lefty in the pen.
Then there is what to do with Yu Darvish. He is 31 years old and has a solid career line. He is likely to command a nine-figure salary, with annual salaries sitting around $25-30 million per year. Something I would imagine the Dodgers would try to avoid. Then again, money has been cleared up with the giant Charlie Culberson trade. The Dodgers are under the luxury tax threshold, and might clear more if they move Grandal and/or Kemp. Darvish would certainly bring stability to the starting rotation.
Unfortunately, there is the stigma he will forever carry in Dodger fans’ hearts and minds as the man who “single-handedly” doomed our chances of a World Series title in 1 1/3 innings in Game Seven. That is definitely not the case as there were many factors, but that’s a story for another time. Despite his solid regular season contribution to our team, and great NLDS and NLCS performances, I doubt he will return.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) December 26, 2017
So where can we improve elsewhere in this free agent class? Well, first we have to see where our weaknesses were, if anywhere (All of the following rankings are in the entire MLB). Our offense ranked 12th in runs scored, 8th in OPS, 7th in wOBA, and 4th in wRC+. All pretty darn good metrics considering key players kept getting hurt at various points in the season. Our defense was also top notch – third in fact by the metrics of Fan Graphs.
With regards to position players, we don’t have any clear needs. Our weakest areas are left-field and second-base, though Logan Forsythe improved down the stretch. He also performed admirably defensively there despite lacking the offense he’s shown in years past. Left-field, then, may be the only weak spot, but we have an abundance of internal options. Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Kiké Hernandez, and Alex Verdugo are all options there.
Unless the Dodgers trade for Christian Yelich, they will likely look internally to solidify left-field. There are zero, and I mean zero, attractive options to improve left-field from the free agent class. So what do we do? We build from within of course!
Run on @YasielPuig? Don’t.
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) December 27, 2017
What then about our pitching? We ranked third in fWAR, 2nd in ERA, and 2nd in FIP. Our starters were top five, despite being a parade of starters the entire year, and our bullpen was top three. So really, this team has no glaring weaknesses in that department.
Our rotation returns most of our key players that actually performed quite well this year. Kershaw (2.31 ERA, 175 IP), Wood (2.82, 147 IP), Hill (3.32, 135.2), Ryu (3.89, 122.2), Maeda (4.35, 126.1). We also have two X-Factors that could play very key roles in the rotation next year. Walker Buehler finally arrived and lit up radar guns and fans’ eyes with his dazzling power stuff. Despite lackluster counting stats, he showcased his plus-plus power fastball and curve. Even if he doesn’t start in the Majors in 2018, he will contribute at some point.
Dave Roberts said Walker Buehler will be a starter in 2018 after relieving for Dodgers in September.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) December 12, 2017
And let us not forget about the young Julio Urias, who should return sometime before the All-Star break in 2018. Before his injury, Julio Urias was one of the top pitching prospects and had a very promising 2016 campaign as a 19 year old! With how poised and confident he is on the mound, it is easy to forget he will only be 21 years old this season. If he returns and gets right back on track, we will have a young 1-2 punch that will be better than any other team.
This is not even factoring potential contributions from Brock Stewart, Ross Stripling, Trevor Oaks, or Dennis Santana. The former two have pitched decently in the past from the rotation. While the latter two were recently added to the 40 man roster. They all could see some time contributing to the rotation at some point this year.
Our bullpen was dynamite in the 8th and 9th with Jansen and Morrow. Cingrani cemented himself as the go-to lefty after twirling 19.1 innings of 2.79 ERA (1.86 FIP) ball. He also struck out 13 batters per 9 innings down the stretch for us. Fields did well in the regular season, but unfortunately didn’t get much of a shot in the playoffs – he should still have a role next season. As should Pedro Baez who, unfortunately, lost effectiveness and velocity over the season. The issue for these two is that they are prone to giving up the long-ball. Beyond that is a minefield of long-relievers like Stripling and Stewart, and sneaky newcomers like Parades.
Catcher is solid with Barnes, Grandal, and Farmer. First is Bellinger’s hands down. Second is likely Logan Forsythe’s, aka Logie Bear. Seager and Turner have the left side of the infield locked down. Taylor roams in center, with Puig flanking him in right. Like stated above the only potential “hole” is left-field. Verdugo will definitely get a shot there in Spring Training, but I would say to keep your eye on Joc Pederson, who showed a vastly improved approach at the plate this postseason. If he can maintain that approach, I would be more than happy with him in left-field. With Andrew Toles also on the return path from his season-ending knee injury, the “hole” seems like less of a problem.
At this point I can honestly say our team is excellent. Even if nothing major happens for the rest of this off-season, I still see the Dodgers as favorites in the NL West and National League as a whole. We have great talent already here in the majors, along with plenty of supporting players on the 40 man roster.
Additionally, prospects are coming up through the pipeline that will allow us to once again compete next year from that depth. Considering we could see improvements from more players, we could easily be looking at a sixth straight division title, another 100 win season, and hopefully, finally, a World Series Title after 30 years. Here’s to a long off-season, but hopefully not too long.
[button color=”red” size=”big” alignment=”center” rel=”follow” openin=”newwindow” url=”https://www.dodgersnation.com/okoyea-dickson-signs-rakuten-golden-eagles/2017/12/27/”]O’Koyea Dickson Signs With The Rakuten Golden Eagles[/button]