What lies ahead for the Dodgers this offseason?

To date, I still haven’t watched Game 6 of the NLCS. Clayton getting hammered along with the Satan’s Redbirds celebrating in front of their faces isn’t anything I’m tempted to see. Still, as a lifelong Dodgers fan, I still feel compelled to feel the deep, searing pain that my brethren felt that night, like a case of viral meningitis to my Dodger Blue spine.
 
But thus far, I’ve left that noose on my DVR for another day. I’ve been instead looking towards this offseason, hoping that the Guggenheim Group’s second offseason as owners of the Dodgers can put them one step closer to a title—hell, at this point, I’ll be happy with a mere pennant. After all, I haven’t seen the Dodgers win one since I was four years old.
 
LA went into the winter with remarkably few holes. As I noted in my hazy post-mortem piece days after Michael Wacha threw a curveball into my soul, the most frustrating part of the Dodgers’s playoff run was that aside from being luckier, there wasn’t much the team could do to improve upon last year’s team. Without an errant Joe Kelly fastball to Hanley’s ribs, a better bounce off the Busch Stadium outfield and one key pinch running substitution, the Dodgers could very well have gone to the World Series. My bleeding blue heart, it seems, was the victim of a luck.
 
That being said, there aren’t a lot of ways GM Ned Colletti could improve on this team. Many incumbents are staying put, and further salary commitments have finished nailing down most starting roles: first base, shortstop, catcher, all three outfield positions, closer and three starting pitching slots.

Oddly enough, the most pressing offseason matters might not even be about bringing on new blood. First and foremost is signing Clayton Kershaw to an extension, as he’s set to become a free agent next winter. The other was settling coach Don Mattingly’s job insecurity, but for the moment Donnie Ballgame is reportedly content to finish out his contract in LA.

That all being said, in order of importance, what are the offseason priorities for the Dodgers?

Figuring what to do with four outfielders that are owed over $300 million dollars over the next six years

There are two schools of thought here:

1)      Between Crawford, Kemp and Ethier’s extensive recent injury history and Puig’s future injury history because he might actually think he’s Wolverine, the Dodgers need another sure-handed outfielder in house in case of injury. Thus, keeping all four guys might not be the most optimal situation to begin the season, but the disabled list will most likely even everything out…just like it did at the end of last season.

2)      Seeing as the team has needs on their bench, at second and third and in the starting rotation, trading any of these guys (and perhaps eating a significant chunk of money) could see a return that would help everyone.

There’s a lot to both sentiments. On one hand, this is a franchise that clearly doesn’t care how much they’re spending. Keeping an eight-figure salary on the bench won’t be a huge problem for the Dodgers, a luxury which I’m relieved to write about. Keeping another Major Leaguer on the bench will solve a few of the reserve issues (which I’ll get to in a minute), as well as fortify the team in advance of a seemingly inevitable injury between the four of them.

On the other hand, keeping an eight-figure salary on the bench could be a potentially toxic element for the locker room, in addition to degrading the return from a starting-caliber player that will no doubt suffer in performance from sitting four times a week.

Right now, I’m leaning towards dealing one of the players, with the two most likely candidates being Ethier and Kemp. Ethier proved his worth last year after manning center field with such proficiency, making him potentially attractive to any team looking for a versatile outfielder with lefty poop—not a plentiful commodity. He’s still owed almost $70 million, but a chunk of that would no doubt be paid by the Dodgers after a trade. Kemp, though two years removed from being a MVP candidate is still just two years removed from being a MVP candidate. The Dodgers might have to eat up to $60 million of his remaining $160m, but could see a fairly significant return of prospects for a guy that was once questionably the league’s best player. Mostly because of the money owed, I’d peg Ethier as the one to get dealt, though he provides a vastly lower upside than Kemp.

More to that point, the Dodgers could possibly have a viable injury alternative even if one of those guys goes down: Joc Pederson. The team’s best prospect looks Major League ready, and with another Spring Training could prove the back-up needed if these injury-prone outfielders falter.

Obviously, this is only the most important offseason priority if they indeed decide to trade one of these players. With Pederson in place and the team supposedly willing to eat some contract money, I see a pact in the team’s immediate future.

Starting Pitching

Again, with Kershaw, Zack Greinke  and Hyun-Jin Ryu filling out the top three spots in the rotation, this offseason check box falls down the list. These three can, as we saw a month ago, seal a playoff series victory on their own. However, the team needs to get to October in the first place, which is why having two more solid (though not necessarily spectacular) starters is still very important.

The Dodgers have essentially checked this off the list by signing SP Dan Haren to a one year, $10 million dollar deal. Haren is certainly a risk coming off of two straight inconsistent seasons, both of which saw his ERA drop one run in 2012 and two runs in 2013 in the second half. The deal is a gamble for LA, but it seems that they’ll be able to handle any potential faltering from their new starter. Filling out the fifth spot would be a combination of the recovering duo of Chad Billingsley (from Tommy John surgery, expected back in May to June) and Josh Beckett (from a nerve issue that requiring removing a freakin’ rib, expected to be ready opening day), as well as young hurlers like Stephen Fife and Zach Lee. Even still, with Haren’s recent up and down performance, as well as injury history of three of their four fifth starter candidates, I could see the Dodgers sign yet another starter.

Left-handed relief

It’s quite simple, really: the Dodgers had two dependable lefty relievers last season, Paco Rodriguez and JP Howell. The former lost steam right as the playoffs came around and the latter is now a free agent. Though Rodriguez was fantastic for nearly the entire regular season, he’ll still be a 23 year-old second year hurler that could very easily continue his struggles from the end of last year. The Dodgers must find another lefty to compliment Rodriguez, a situation that could easily be remedied with re-signing the excellent Howell.

Completely rebuilding the bench

Effective reserves Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker have already signed elsewhere (with Oakland and Cincinnati, respectively), while Jerry Hairston and Michael Young may not be options based on their heavily declining skill sets. Incumbent reserves will most likely include 1B/OF Scott Van Slyke and back-up catcher Tim Federowicz .

The Dodgers must find a lefty power bat off the bench, a slick fielding utility man and an outfielder that’s better than Nick Buss and/or Dee Gordon.  Again, many of these holes could be allayed by keeping all four high-paid outfielders or dealing one for parts.

A decent third baseman and second baseman

Again, like starting pitching, the front office should be looking for proficiency rather than dominance. The Dodgers are stacked offensively, with a line-up core built around Puig, Gonzalez, Ramirez and two of the Kemp/Ethier/Crawford core. With these two infield spots, LA has to be looking for two options that will hit at a replacement level (or better as a bonus) but field the hell out of the ball—essentially what Juan Uribe and Mark Ellis did last season. More importantly, the signings should be of the stopgap variety: coming up quickly will be prospects Alexander Guerrero (a Cuban import who is reportedly Major League ready) and Corey Seager, who look to be the team’s infielders for the next half-decade or so.

The front office has two solutions looking them in the face: Uribe and Ellis. Both players could very well have played their very last solid Major League season and thus aren’t expected to get anything more than a two year deal, max. Luckily for the Dodgers, one more year of dead contract money wouldn’t seem to bother them—thus, signing Uribe to a two-year, $10 million dollar deal could be harmless if Seager proves to be ready at the end of 2014.

Again, none of these needs are as dire as say, the Kansas City Royals and Anaheim Angels’ need for multiple starting pitchers, or Detroit’s necessity for a closer. However, if the Dodgers complete some simple tasks such as filling out a bench with a few solid fielders, finding a lefty reliever and finding one or two solid, but not necessarily spectacular fielders, as well as just staying pat with their outfield situation, they will have just as good, if not a better shot at finding their way to the World Series in 2014.

 

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