2014 Los Angeles Dodgers Team Preview
For most franchises, winning six playoff games as the Dodgers did in 2013 would be a fantastic achievement. For baseball’s new biggest spender, however, losing four games to two to the St. Louis Cardinals in the NLCS constitutes a disappointment. The season was not without its highlights, as Clayton Kershaw rode a 1.83 ERA to his second NL Cy Young award in three seasons before inking a historic $215 million contract in January. Nicknamed “The Wild Horse” by legendary broadcaster Vin Scully, Yasiel Puig debuted on June 4 and left us all wondering what took so long for the Dodgers to bring him up. Injuries were a big story, however, as Matt Kemp once again dealt with injuries and played in just 73 games as a result. Hanley Ramirez tore a thumb ligament in the World Baseball Classic and dealt with other in-season injuries on his way to just 86 games. Zack Greinke saw a month go by between his second and third starts after Carlos Quentin treated him like the Seattle Seahawks did the Broncos' wide receivers in the Super Bowl.
If healthy, this is a team that should cruise to the NL West division title in 2014. Dan Haren replaces Ricky Nolasco as the team’s No. 4 starter, and the organization went back to the well that is Cuba for the second time in as many years, signing Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal to be the team’s second baseman. Former Cleveland closer Chris Perez was brought in to help solidify a bullpen that also returns Brian Wilson. Overall, no huge changes for a team that didn't need to make any. With deep pockets and a farm system starting to make strides, there’s really no reason other than injuries why this team won’t contend for its first World Series title since 1988. The Giants and Diamondbacks appear likely to pose the biggest threat, but once again, the Dodgers have the financial wherewithal as well as the farm system to address any weaknesses.
Lost Mark Ellis (Cardinals), Nick Punto (A’s), Skip Schumaker (Reds), and Ricky Nolasco (Twins) via free agency. Lost Jerry Hairston and Michael Young to retirement.
A bunch of bench guys, an aging second baseman, and a starter replaced by Dan Haren. That was the extent of the Dodgers’ losses this offseason. While bench depth is important, the Dodgers will surely work that out prior to Opening Day.
Re-signed Juan Uribe to a two-year, $15 million deal.
With no major-league ready prospect ready to step in, the Dodgers re-upped Uribe after the third baseman batted .278/.331/.438 in 132 games, a second consecutive time he’s performed admirably in a contract year. Uribe offers excellent defense and some power, but can he be counted on in a year in which he’s not an impending free agent?
Signed Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million deal.
Wait, so $10 million for a guy coming off a 4.67 ERA, a year in which his innings count dropped to a career-low 169.2 (in a full season)? Let’s dig a bit deeper and go beyond ERA. Haren’s 8.0 K/9 was his best mark in three years, while his 1.6 BB/9 was below his 1.9 career mark. The 28 home runs were a killer, but the move to Dodger Stadium should help to minimize that flaw in his game.
Re-signed Brian Wilson to a one-year, $10 million deal.
Wilson was brought back not to close, but to pitch the eighth inning in front of Kenley Jansen. After allowing just one run in 13.2 innings for LA during the regular season, Wilson went on to toss another six scoreless in the postseason. Due to injuries, he’s tossed just 15.2 regular season innings since 2011, so there is a question whether his arm can hold up over 60 innings this year. Either way, he should still be one of the first setup men off the board.
Signed Chris Perez to a one-year, $2.3 million contract and re-signed J.P. Howell to a two-year, $11.25 million deal.
Perez gives the Dodgers four guys with significant closing experience. He saved 25 games for the Indians last year, but ultimately lost his job as closer and finished with a 4.33 ERA. Perez is at least two degrees of separation from the closer's role in Los Angeles, leaving his fantasy value minimal at the start.
Signed Chone Figgins and Justin Turner to minor league deals.
Figgins' last three years have gone as follows: .188 avg, .181 avg, out of baseball. It's safe to say he’s a long shot to even make the roster, but we thought we’d throw him a bone and at least mention the name. Turner is a replacement-level infielder who could find himself as the team’s Opening Day second baseman, should Alex Guerrero struggle this spring.
1. Yasiel Puig RF
2. Carl Crawford LF
3. Hanley Ramirez SS
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Matt Kemp CF
6. Juan Uribe 3B
7. A.J. Ellis C
8. Alex Guerrero 2B
The big news in February came from manager Don Mattingly, who intimated that he was leaning towards leading Puig off in order to do the whole RH-LH-RH-LH-RH thing through the first five spots in the order. That, of course, would limit Puig’s RBI opportunities, but potentially allow him to approach 30 stolen bases. Guerrero is the big wild card here, as he’ll have to prove in March that he’s worthy of starting with the big club on Opening Day. Candidates to be short-term fill-ins would be Justin Turner, Chone Figgins, and Dee Gordon. Note the absence of Andre Ethier – more on him later.
1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Zack Greinke
3. Hyun-Jin Ryu
4. Dan Haren
5. Josh Beckett
The first four spots are set in stone, but depending on the health of Beckett, there could be an open competition for the No. 5 spot. Contenders could be Ross Stripling, Zach Lee, Stephen Fife, and Matt Magill. Chad Billingsley is due back from Tommy John surgery sometime in early June, so he could factor in at some point as well. Given Beckett’s big contract, he’ll be the guy if he proves healthy this spring, though looking at the calendar, the Dodgers won’t need a No. 5 starter until around April 19. Beckett’s velocity was just fine last year (92 mph average fastball), and though a 5.19 ERA obviously isn’t ideal, his ratios were solid (8.5 K/9, 3.1 BB/9). He could be somewhat of a sleeper.
As for the rest of the group, this looks to be a top-two or three rotation in baseball. Ryu is reportedly in better shape this spring (yeah who isn’t, right?), as he looks to avoid a sophomore slump. Kershaw/Greinke is as devastating a 1-2 punch as there is, and Haren should thrive in Dodger Stadium with his home run tendencies being minimized to some extent.
Closer: If you’re a Kenley Jansen owner worried about the presence of Brian Wilson, don’t be. Jansen is the guy. Jansen has yet to close for an entire season, recording 53 saves over the last two years, a number that he could approach this year alone. With a 111:18 K:BB in 76.2 innings a year ago, Jansen may not be the first closer off the board (Craig Kimbrel), but once someone selects Kimbrel and the closer run begins, Jansen will be drafted in short order.
Key Bullpen Members:
The pecking order should shape up as follows:
Closer: Kenley Jansen
Top setup man: Brian Wilson
Seventh inning guy: Chris Perez
Top LHR: J.P. Howell
Each of the last three guys on that list were free agents this offseason, but recognizing the value of a deep bullpen, the Dodgers brought back Wilson and Howell while plucking Perez from the Indians off a down year. Paco Rodriguez seems likely to be the second lefty out of the bullpen despite being inexplicably left off the playoff roster. Rodriguez had a banner rookie year after being the first 2012 draftee to make it to the big leagues that same season. He posted a 2.32 ERA, and though he was devastating versus lefties (.131 BAA), “Paco” also held right-handed hitters to a .202 mark.
The rest of the bullpen is expected to consist of Jamey Wright, and assuming the Dodgers carry 12 pitchers, Chris Withrow. Withrow was particularly impressive a year ago, riding a fastball that averaged 96.1 mph to a 2.60 ERA and 11.2 K/9. He has the upside of a future closer, but is not necessarily a lock to make the Opening Day roster. Wright checks one important box for GM Ned Colletti – he’s 39. All kidding aside, Wright was excellent for the Rays last year, posting a 3.09 ERA and 65:23 K:BB in 70 innings. Can he repeat that after putting another 70 innings on that arm? Seems unlikely.
Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:
How will the outfield situation play out?
If Don Mattingly were to say that he’s planning on going with an outfield of Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Yasiel Puig as many games as possible, where would that leave Andre Ethier? There are the 10 interleague road games providing DH opportunities. There are certainly going to be injuries, but how many is obviously unknown. At some point, the Dodgers are going to have to consider trading an outfielder not named Puig, and that could be something we see once a key player, such as a pitcher, gets hurt. Otherwise, Ethier is going to lead the team in pinch-hitting appearances while providing very little fantasy value.
Who’s the fifth starter?
We talked about Josh Beckett already, and we’ll talk a little Ross Stripling in a bit, but what about the other candidates? Here are a few:
Matt Magill – Magill didn’t fare well in his six starts last season, recording a 6.51 ERA and 28:26 K:BB in 27.2 innings. A lack of control plagued Magill in the minor leagues as well, so this isn’t a case of having big league butterflies. Magill clearly needs more time in Triple-A to fine tune his control, so don’t expect him to be an option until later this season.
Stephen Fife – Fife had a 3.86 ERA in 10 starts (and two relief appearances) for the Dodgers last year, so he’s probably at least earned some level of trust with his manager. Fife doesn’t have the upside of a Zach Lee or Ross Stripling, but if the Dodgers need a fill-in early in the season, Fife is probably the guy.
Zach Lee – Lee has come out and said that he’s coming to camp to compete for a job, and while his confidence is admirable, he’s likely going to open the season in Double-A or Triple-A. Lee finished with a 3.22 ERA last year and profiles as a No. 3 starter.
Free agent? – Ervin Santana and Ubaldo Jimenez are out there, but the Dodgers seem unwilling to part with their first-round pick at this point. They could bring in lesser free agents as camp fodder, but it’s tough to see anyone not currently in the organization being the team’s No. 5 starter.
Trade? – It’s likely David Price is and will be very available, but the only way that LA meets Tampa Bay’s asking “price” is if someone like Zack Greinke gets hurt for an extended period. Otherwise, a trade prior to July seems unlikely.
Do the Dodgers have another Yasiel Puig in 2B Alex Guerrero?
Guerrero inked a four-year $28 million deal this winter, and there were some reports that the Dodgers wanted to give him more years, but Guerrero was confident enough in his abilities to take the shorter deal with a shot at a bigger payday after the 2017 season. He has above-average power for a second baseman, with scouts predicting 20+ homer potential. There is some speed here, but don’t expect more than 12-15 steals. What will make or break Guerrero is whether he can adapt to big league pitching and lay off the stuff off the plate. It’s one thing to post a .402 OBP in Cuba as Guerrero did last year, but this is the big leagues. There's a chance Guerrero opens 2014 in Double-A and tries and force the Dodgers to bring him up quickly, similarly to Puig last year.
Can Matt Kemp get/stay healthy?
Kemp’s fantasy status has taken a hit from being an obvious top-five pick to more of a lottery ticket. There's plenty of risk involved no matter where you take him, though the potential payoff could be huge. Kemp has recently stated that his status for Opening Day is in doubt, particularly given that the Dodgers kick off the season early, March 22-23 against the Diamondbacks in Australia.
The rotation looks to be deep and talented, though Josh Beckett is a bit of a question mark coming off surgery. GM Ned Colletti was reportedly looking for help in the form of Bronson Arroyo, but he signed with Arizona. Ervin Santana is a possibility should the organization become more concerned about Beckett’s situation.
There are no obvious weaknesses here other than a track record of injuries to key players. Second base could become a liability depending on how Guerrero progresses, but top to bottom, this looks to be a championship caliber team.
Rising: Yasiel Puig is already a star, garnering serious All-Star consideration despite having been in the league just over a month at the time the fan voting took place. Puig, of course, started out white-hot, batting .436 with seven home runs in 101 June at-bats. He hit a more modest .278 the rest of the way, though he did start to exhibit more patience at the plate as the season wore on. Puig is tentatively penciled in as Don Mattingly’s leadoff hitter, so he could surprise us by possibly approaching a 30/30 season if things break right.
Declining: Andre Ethier managed to stay healthy for most of the year, playing in 142 games and batting .272/.360/.423. While solid, those numbers are disappointing from a guy making $17 million a year and with a 31-106 season already under his belt. That year (2009) may wind up as his career season unless Ethier suddenly figures out left-handed pitching (.220, .222, and .221 against them the past three years). Assuming none of the other three outfielders are dealt prior to Opening Day, look for Ethier to log the most bench time of the four.
Sleeper: Alex Guerrero actually has a higher average annual salary ($7 million) than Yasiel Puig, but at least for now, Guerrero is not expected to have quite that ceiling. He batted .290/.402/.576 in his last season in Cuba and it looks as if he'll be asked to replace Mark Ellis as the team's starting second baseman. As to when he arrives in the big leagues, that's the big unknown right now. The Dodgers surely regret letting Puig rot for two months in the minors, so should Guerrero have an impressive spring, it's easy to see him being the Opening Day second baseman. If he struggles, LA fans get to look forward to the likes of Justin Turner, Chone Figgins, or similar ilk manning the keystone.
Supersleeper: Ross Stripling doesn’t get the notoriety of some of the other organization’s prospects, but he may be the first choice to open as the No. 5 starter should Josh Beckett not be fully recovered. Stripling, a 2012 fifth-round pick, had a bit of a breakout in 2013, posting a combined 2.82 ERA in 127.2 innings between the High-A and Double-A levels. He finished with an impressive 117:30 K:BB ratio and is already thought to be polished enough to potentially push for a big league job in 2014.
Corey Seager, 3B/SS– The organization's first-round pick (No. 18 overall) in 2012, Seager's professional career has gotten off to a strong start. Seager swatted 16 homers in 372 overall at-bats in 2013, though after dominating the Low-A Midwest League (.918 OPS), Seager posted just a .566 OPS in 100 at-bats in the High-A California League. He will likely be a third baseman long-term, but for now he appears to be sticking at shortstop in the lower levels of the minors. Look for Seager to conquer High-A in 2014 and finish the season in Double-A, with a mid-to-late 2015 debut possible. With Juan Uribe’s contract expiring after the 2015 season, the path is clear for Seager to be a starter come 2016, if not sooner.
Joc Pederson, OF – Pederson solidified his status as arguably the organization's top position prospect, batting .278/.381/.497 for Double-A Chattanooga. That line included 22 home runs and 31 stolen bases to go with 70 walks. Pederson was considered for a 2013 callup at times, but his big league debut will instead likely come in 2014. The Dodgers have a crowded outfield, but Pederson's ability to play center field should get him a look at some point this season, a timetable that could move up if the front office finds a taker for one of the team's high-priced veterans currently on the roster.
Julio Urias, SP – Urias emerged as one of the organization's top prospects last season, tossing 54.1 innings of 2.48 ERA ball as a 17-year-old for Low-A Great Lakes. It's quite rare to see someone so young have this level of success in full-season ball, so there is reason to be excited about his long-term upside. That said, he is still very young, and at a listed 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, he doesn't exactly have the mound presence of Randy Johnson. The Dodgers are expected to take their time with Urias, so it would be a surprise to see him finish 2014 at a level above High-A.
Zach Lee, SP – Lee had a solid season for Double-A Chattanooga, tossing 142.2 innings of 3.22 ERA ball with a 131:35 K:BB. Despite his lofty draft status and $5 million-plus signing bonus, Lee profiles more as a mid-to-back end rotation starter. He took a solid step forward this year with an 8.3 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9, and expect Lee to open 2014 in Triple-A, with a mid-2014 debut likely if the need arises in the Dodgers' rotation.
Chris Anderson, SP - The 18th overall pick in the 2013 draft, Anderson made his pro debut a success for Low-A Great Lakes, posting a 1.98 ERA while holding batters to a .201 average in 46 innings. His 50:24 K:BB indicates both an ability to miss bats and a need to work on his control, but with a big frame (6-foot-4), there's at least No. 3 starter potential here. He's likely to open 2013 in High-A, where he'll be challenged by the hitter-friendly nature of the California League parks.