The Dodgers left the Winter Meetings with Joe Kelly and a mountain of rumors. Names from Corey Kluber and Bryce Harper to DJ LeMahieu and Francisco Cervelli were all connected to the Dodgers. There were also rumors of trading Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, and Ross Stripling. Though so far, those have all just been rumors.
Most of the rumors probably have some truth to them. The Dodgers always cast a wide net to find potential deals to upgrade the team. For front offices, the Winter Meetings have become more of a time for collecting information than actually making deals.
The Dodgers have been busy talking to agents and other general managers. Andrew Friedman confirmed it in the most Friedman way possible.
Andrew Friedman said there’s “more clarity” on which deals he’s optimistic can be made.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) December 12, 2018
Although no trades or major signings were completed, they’re coming. Friedman said their main goals this offseason are to add to the bullpen, add a catcher to pair with Austin Barnes, and clear some of their excess depth in the outfield and rotation. They already made their major bullpen acquisition in Kelly, but there is more work to do. They will return to Los Angeles and figure out what deals are best for the team. So what’s next on their list?
If you’ve followed the offseason at all, you know the Dodgers have been connected to almost every available catcher. There have been multiple reports of trade talks for JT Realmuto, Francisco Cevelli, and Tucker Barnhart. They are also reportedly interested in free agents Wilson Ramos, Martin Maldonado, and Nick Hundley. Don’t expect the team to land Realmuto as the Marlins have been asking for Cody Bellinger in the deal. They also likely only want a stopgap as 2 of their top 5 prospects are catchers and both are pretty close to making their debuts.
The player that makes the most sense is Cervelli. He shouldn’t be too hard to acquire because he has 1 year left and the Pirates already have their replacement. Cervelli is coming off a strong season where he hit .259/.378/.431 with 12 home runs, a 125 wRC+, and a 3.3 WAR in 104 games. He is due to make $11.5 million next season. Pirates beat writer John Perrotto is reporting that the teams are in talks for a trade. He also said the trade could include Ross Stripling. A deal of Stripling for Cervelli and Richard Rodriguez or Adam Frazier could make sense for both teams. Rodriguez would help strengthen the bullpen and Frazier would be a nice platoon bat for second base.
— John Perrotto (@JPerrotto) December 13, 2018
We all know the Dodgers have about 170 outfielders who deserve playing time. Ok, maybe it’s only 8. But the point stands that they have way too many for the roster and need to trade at least 2. They’re also reportedly trying to acquire Bryce Harper, which makes a lot of sense, even though they have a crowded outfield.
The two outfielders who are most likely to be traded are Puig and Kemp. Puig is going to make about $11 million next season and Kemp is going to make $20 million. The Dodgers would love to clear that salary for their pursuit of top level players such as Harper and Corey Kluber. They’ve reportedly discussed a deal with the Reds which would send Kemp and Wood to Cincinnati for Homer Bailey and prospects. This deal would open up about $12 million for the team. They’ve also been shopping Puig to just about every team looking for an outfielder.
If they’re serious about their pursuit of Harper, they need to move 3 outfielders. The 3rd most likely outfielder to go would be a tie between Pederson and Verdugo. They have held onto Verdugo in every trade discussion but they also haven’t been in a rush to open a spot to play him like they did with Seager, Bellinger, Urias, and Buehler. He also has more value than Pederson in a trade. It’s really hard to get a gauge on their plans for him. They need to let him start or trade him. If they decide to trade Verdugo, he could be the key piece to land Kluber.
If they want to keep Verdugo, that would mean Pederson is the odd man out. He has 2 years of team control left and could be a decent piece for a team who wants to add some power to their lineup.
Why Harper makes sense
Watch this video.
Bryce Harper had to put in work to get his 29th homer of the year. ?pic.twitter.com/BAOGYBse3P
— Stadium (@Stadium) August 14, 2018
Now for the real reasons. The Dodgers have a lot of outfielders, yes, but they don’t have any true impact outfielders. Bellinger (120 wRC+, 3.6 WAR) has that potential but he isn’t there yet. Pederson (126 wRC+, 2.7 WAR) and Puig (123 wRC+, 1.8 WAR) are solid players but replaceable. Verdugo is still pretty unknown since he hasn’t produced at the major league level. Kemp is a DH that struggled to produce offensively down the stretch. There are a lot of questions for the outfield and no real long term plan.
Adding a 26 year old Harper would be an instant upgrade for the offense and help stabilize their outfield for years to come. In a down year, Harper hit .249/.393/.496 with 34 home runs, a 135 wRC+, and 3.5 WAR. In his best year, he hit .330/.460/.649 (!) with 42 homers, a 197 wRC+ (!!) and 9.3 WAR (!!!). This is a guy you want to have in your lineup for a long time.
The Dodgers have 9 starters for 5 spots and they want to add another ace to that. So the team is going to need to move a few starters. Buster Olney said they are prepared to move Alex Wood ($9 million) and Rich Hill ($16 million).
Dodgers have talked to other teams about moving two outfielders among the group of Kemp, Puig, Pederson, Bellinger, and as they look to re-shape payroll, they are also are prepared to move starting pitchers Rich Hill and Alex Wood.
— Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN) December 11, 2018
Wood seems the most likely to go. He only has 1 year remaining and he doesn’t have a spot in the rotation. The Hill rumor is surprising because he’s been one of their best starters since being acquired but moving him does open up a lot of payroll space. There was also the Stripling rumor that was discussed earlier. If they move all three of them, the rotation would have Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Kenta Maeda, Julio Urias, and Dennis Santana. They would need to get that deal done for Kluber or add someone else. The most likely scenario is Wood and Stripling getting traded. Hill is probably worth more to the team than he is in a trade. There is also a good chance that they end up acquiring Kluber which would give them the best rotation in baseball.
The team has to decide who they plan to play at second base. If they decide to go with their in-house options, they should look to acquire a left handed hitting platoon option. I mentioned Adam Frazier earlier and he would be a really good fit for the team. They could also have some interest in Derek Dietrich as a platoon option. They could also look to sign an everyday player from free agency. Jed Lowrie, DJ LeMahieu, Asdrubal Cabrera, Daniel Murphy, Josh Harrison, and Brian Dozier are the top free agents available.
From that list, DJ LeMahieu is the guy that stands out as an intriguing target for the team. Hearing that and depending on your view analytics, you’re either thinking “Why? He isn’t good at all,” or “Yes! They need more players like him!” If you like him as a player now, you’re already sold on the idea and you can skip the next paragraph.
If you’re more analytically inclined, you should hear me out. What if I said he could be the next breakout star? LeMahieu has the 6th most batted balls with an exit velocity above 95 mph since the start of 2017. The players ahead of him are Manny Machado, Christian Yelich, Francisco Lindor, Mookie Betts, and Marcell Ozuna. That’s a pretty good list to be a part of. He also has an incredibly high contact rate. His main problem is he hits too many ground balls and goes to the opposite field too often. If he could get his launch angle up and start pulling the ball more, he could be a clone of Justin Turner.
Obviously it’s easier said than done so there is a lot of risk in signing him, but he has a lot of breakout potential if he can change his swing. He’s also an elite defender so that only adds to his value. He could be the steal of the offseason.
I expect the team to go with Taylor or Hernandez at second base but if they do decide to acquire someone, LeMahieu could be their guy.
There are a lot of potential deals in play for the Dodgers. Most of them are connected to each other so expect a flurry of moves after the 1st one happens. Based on all the rumors, the team is looking to add impact players. Friedman still has a lot of work to do but this is an exciting offseason to be a Dodger fan.
My best guess
If I had to guess their moves, I would say they trade Kemp, Puig, Verdugo, Wood, and Stripling while acquiring Harper, Cervelli, and Kluber. Here is what the team would like if this happens:
- Corey Seager SS
- Bryce Harper RF
- Justin Turner 3B
- Max Muncy 1B
- Enrique Hernandez 2B
- Cody Bellinger CF
- Francisco Cervelli C
- Joc Pederson LF
- Corey Kluber
- Clayton Kershaw
- Walker Buehler
- Hyun-Jin Ryu
- Rich Hill
- Austin Barnes C
- Andrew Toles OF
- David Freese 1B/3B
- Chris Taylor Utility
- Kenley Jansen
- Joe Kelly
- Pedro Baez
- Dylan Floro
- Kenta Maeda
- Caleb Ferguson
- Scott Alexander
- Tony Cingrani
Of course everything in the offseason can change in a minute.
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