After another successful regular season capped off by a third consecutive National League Western Division title, the Los Angeles Dodgers had high hopes going into the 2015 Postseason. But a match-up between the NL Eastern Division champ New York Mets in the Division Series ultimately ended up being too much for L.A. as the Dodgers were eliminated in 5 games. Despite having the highest payroll in baseball over the last several years, the Dodgers have not been able to get over the hump and reach the World Series since winning it all in 1988. This offseason brought numerous priorities to make sure that the Dodgers would be taking a step forward in 2016 as opposed to a step back.
New Skipper in Town
The first step was to find a new manager after Don Mattingly left to become the new skipper of the Miami Marlins. After a wide and diverse search, L.A. found their man, former Dodger, Dave Roberts. This will be Roberts first full time job as a manager after serving as the San Diego Padres interim skipper this past season after the team fired Bud Black. Roberts is familiar with Los Angeles having played 3 seasons at Chavez Ravine, including being a part of the 2004 team that won the NL West crown. He also brings championship experience, having helped the Boston Red Sox win their first World Series title in 86 years during that same 2004 season after being traded from L.A.
With a new manager at the helm, the next priority for General Manager Farhan Zaidi and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman was to re-sign superstar pitcher Zack Greinke. The right-hander had a career year in 2015, putting up incredible numbers including a remarkable 1.66 ERA and finishing second in the National League Cy Young voting. While it seemed like the Dodgers were the favorite to retain Greinke, he instead elected to sign with division rival Arizona. The D’backs were able to lure Greinke with a 6 year, $206.5 million deal to bolster their starting rotation.
With Greinke gone, the Dodgers made a quick agreement with former Seattle Mariners right hander Hisashi Iwakuma on a multi-year deal. But after the Dodgers saw something alarming during Iwakuma’s physical, they decided to renegotiate the deal. Iwakuma refused and has since ended up back in Seattle on a 1 year deal. While Iwakuma would have been a nice fit, he certainly wouldn’t strike the same fear into opposing hitters as Greinke.
One thing that made the Dodgers especially tough over the last 3 years was the dominant lefty-righty combination of Clayton Kershaw and Greinke. With that gone, even more of the burden falls onto Kershaw’s shoulders, who showed some instances of fatigue over the course of last season. One bright spot for the Dodgers rotation is the return of Hyun-Jin Ryu, who missed all of last season with a bad left shoulder. Despite Kershaw’s dominance and the help Ryu will provide, the question remains whether or not the Dodgers will have enough on their pitching staff to still be World Series contenders.
One way the Dodgers figured they could help combat the loss of Greinke was to bolster their bullpen. They already have one of the most dominant closers in the game in right hander Kenley Jansen, but struggled at times to bridge the gap between the starters and Jansen. During the Winter Meetings, they tried to make a huge splash by acquiring Cincinnati Reds flame throwing lefty, Aroldis Chapman. The deal looked to be complete when reports of Chapman being involved in a domestic assault incident earlier in the offseason surfaced, halting all trade talks. While the deal could still be done eventually, it seems much less likely to happen in the near future.
After so many missed opportunities this offseason, everyone is waiting to see what the next move will be for the Dodgers. One thing they have done a good job of doing is acquiring young talent including prospects such as outfielder Trayce Thompson, second baseman Micah Johnson, and pitcher Frankie Montas, all from the Chicago White Sox. As good as these players are, they’re probably not ready to join current Dodger youngsters Corey Seager and Joc Pederson, and need some seasoning in the minor leagues.
Most people around baseball expect the Dodgers to use some of these prospects to go after Miami Marlins star right handed pitcher Jose Fernandez. This would just about fill the hole left by Greinke and keep the Dodgers rotation on par to where it has been over the last few years. But the Marlins will certainly be asking for a large package in return which the Dodgers might not be so reluctant to give up.
The Wild West
At this point, the Dodgers are looking much less like the powerhouse they’ve been recently. The division has certainly gotten better this winter after several moves by Arizona and San Francisco. Along with Greinke, the D’backs also acquired Atlanta Braves right hander Shelby Miller to add even more depth to their rotation. Combine that with an offense led by first baseman Paul Goldschmidt that ranked near the top of the National League last year, and Arizona is all of a sudden a popular pick to become division champs in 2016.
The Giants have been very active as well, signing former All-Star right handers Jeff Samardzija and Johnny Cueto to multi year deals. With 2014 Postseason hero Madison Bumgarner already in place at the top of the rotation and All-Stars all over the field including catcher Buster Posey and outfielder Hunter Pence, the Giants look to be a strong candidate to hoist the World Series trophy once again.
This leaves the Dodgers in unfamiliar territory as the underdogs trying to piece together a viable roster for the upcoming season. Despite the money that L.A. has to spend, there are still holes that need to be addressed in order for the Dodgers to stay atop the division. It remains to be seen if they will make the necessary moves to stay relevant and prevent a changing of the guard in the wild NL West.