Over the past four seasons, the Los Angeles Dodgers have had what many franchises would consider success. Unfortunately, the success is overshadowed by the “can’t win the big one” stigma. Ask the 1990s Atlanta Braves what that’s like, with 14 consecutive division crowns and only one championship to show for it. Ask the Utah Jazz what that’s like, with two Hall of Famers and a decade of success that ended with no rings.
The Dodgers don’t want to underachieve as those old Braves teams did, nor do they want to be remembered in the same light as the 90s Jazz. The Dodgers don’t want to be looked at as the west coast Yankees, but sans hardware. Bottomline is the Dodgers don’t want to be synonymous with playoff ineptitude.
They’ve changed managers. They’ve changed players. They’ve added payroll. They’ve cut payroll. The deck has been shuffled again and again. Yet the result remains the same: watching the World Series from the couch.
Los Angeles is at a crossroads. Its roster is assembled to win now, but the presence of youngsters such as Corey Seager and Julio Urias, plus one of baseball’s deepest farms, have the organization playing more of the long game. Truth is, the team is already in position to stay competitive for the long haul. It can afford to dip into its pool of prospects for immediate help. The time has come to make the splash. The winter meetings are days away and the trade tree is ripe for the picking.
The Dodgers aren’t strangers to big trades, from Mannywood to the great salary dump that resulted in the first time Boston fans ever applauded Magic Johnson. But the Dodgers are strangers to the Fall Classic – they haven’t participated since 1988, despite boasting the MLB’s biggest payroll and quite possibly the best pitcher of all-time. The Angels, Marlins (twice), Royals, Twins, Blue Jays (twice), White Sox, Diamondbacks and A’s have won it more recently than the boys in blue. The Rockies, Rays, Astros and Padres have visited the big one more recently than the Dodgers. Their arch nemesis in Northern California has won three times in that span.
With the core group in place, headlined by Clayton Kershaw and Seager, there won’t be a better point to go all-in. Go get the championship so many have waited to see.
It starts with a bonafide No. 2 starter, a void left by Zack Greinke’s departure a year ago. If L.A. can acquire Chris Sale without including Urias, it best do so. If it deems Sonny Gray or Chris Archer a better candidate, go for it. Don’t enter 2017 with Kenta Maeda as your No. 2. He’s a fine regular season starter, but he ran into a brick wall in the postseason. Don’t waste time or money on a Scott Kazmir-type either.
Trading for a second ace has been discussed ad nauseam. Here’s why it’s indelible to the team’s chances:
Chicago Cubs: Chicago has a solid trio of Jon Lester, Jake Arrieta and Kyle Hendricks anchoring its championship rotation, plus John Lackey, who would’ve been L.A.’s second best pitcher for the majority of the year. He’s Chicago’s fourth starter.
Washington Nationals: Max Scherzer and Stephen Strasburg are as good a 1-2 punch as anyone. Lucas Giolito is essentially their Urias. Tanner Roark is a great middle of the rotation arm. Note that Washington is frequently mentioned as a Sale suitor. The franchise places high priority on pitching, and if it acquires Sale, it’s going to be a much tougher out than last season’s NLDS.
San Francisco Giants: L.A. has won four straight division titles, but the Giants have been the bigger playoff threat. It starts with Madison Bumgarner, but adding Johnny Cueto mirrors a move the Dodgers should make this winter. Jeff Samardzija, while grossly overpaid, is a good middle man. Matt Moore was a solid midseason pickup and came up big for the team when he was needed most. Unless San Francisco swings a starter for an outfielder, that group is here to stay.
New York Mets: They’ve been beaten and bruised, but Noah Syndergaard, Jacob deGrom, Matt Harvey and Steven Matz is the best rotation in baseball when healthy, and that doesn’t include the potential that could come from Zach Wheeler.
And that’s leaving out the St. Louis Cardinals and Pittsburgh Pirates. The point is, L.A. needs to match that firepower. Can Urias be that guy? Yes, but asking that of him so soon isn’t optimal. Do you want to win in 2017 or 2019? If the former, hesitation isn’t an option. You aren’t getting through the National League with Clayton Kershaw, a 20-year-old and guys like Maeda, Kazmir and McCarthy. It was extremely impressive that the Dodgers got as far as they did in 2016. The opposition will improve, and a sneaky contender (Colorado, Miami) could emerge as well.
The offense needs to be more second half and less first half in 2017. The hot-cold bats got L.A. off to a slow start, but when they came around it was game over in the NL West. Justin Turner is in limbo, while Chase Utley (probably), Josh Reddick and Howie Kendrick are gone. Our own Trevor Vernola proposes the Dodgers pursue Andrew McCutchen. We’ve talked Evan Longoria and Logan Forsythe. Vernola and other media have written about Ryan Braun.
The same things are always brought up with Braun. He’s from L.A., he’s right-handed, he’s a needed power bat, he cheated and lied, his contract isn’t good, etc. What hasn’t been brought up is his performance against the Dodgers’ primary playoff foe. In the last two seasons, Braun has amassed 103 at-bats against the Cubs. He’s slashed .344/.401/.703 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI.
A proven Cubs killer is available, but some fans would rather stay bitter about 2011. Braun would be a tremendous asset to the club over the next few years. And his contract – $76MM over four years – is less than what he would receive as a free agent, so that hitch is blown a bit out of proportion. That’s not a franchise crippling contract on the level of an Albert Pujols or Miguel Cabrera. It’s a deal the Dodgers could take, especially sending near offsetting salaries. Even if the Brewers picked up nothing on it, Braun’s contract is substantially better than the $110MM+, four year deal Cespedes just signed. Braun was used a specific example, but there are plenty of game-changing options for the Dodgers to investigate. But rumors are just that; fans need moves of substance.
As for the prospect cost, L.A. continues to poach minor league talent at an unbelievable rate. More so than its payroll ability, the team has been sensational at building the farm, even with a few blown risks (which the monetary power does mitigate). Moving highly regarded prospects is not a move anyone likes making, but if a guy like Sale and/or Braun helps you win the World Series, who cares? The Dodgers can replenish that talent quickly. The purpose of the sport is to earn the trophy, not hoard prospects.
On a personal note, I cannot relate to many of you. I grew up a Braves fan (so I guess I actually can relate to a childhood of playoff disappointment). I’m viewing it objectively. I know from my interactions with many life-long L.A. fans, you are starved for a title. There are Dodgers fanatics across the country who never saw Kirk Gibson’s homer. There are older supporters who long to witness their team return to baseball’s pinnacle. The organization has the means to do it, even with the recent news. It is time to hunt down that overdue championship that Los Angeles and the fan base deserves. The Dodgers needn’t be playoff laughing stocks anymore. Swing for the fences and go stop the Cubs’ dynasty before it begins.