Los Angeles Dodgers
Overview (Present Rank: 9th | Future Rank: 7th)
The Los Angeles Dodgers have a much brighter outlook now than they did just four years ago. With Frank McCourt calling the shots, the Dodgers were stuck in mediocrity. McCourt was forced to sell the team and the Mark Walter-led group (that included Magic Johnson) purchased the team for an astounding $2,000,000,000. There might be a lot of zeros in that number, but the only zeros LA’s ownership group cares about is the amount of World Series rings the Dodgers have won since Fernandomania was alive and well in 1988.
LA has broken records for the highest payroll in professional sports history over the last few years. After including bonuses, luxury tax, and everything, the Dodgers paid an astounding $300MM last year. Los Angeles has made it clear they’re gunning for a title and are loaded with a roster very capable of accomplishing the feat. With the best farm system in baseball, the highest payroll in professional sports, and a stacked Major League roster with depth at every position, the Dodgers have one of the brightest futures of all 30 MLB teams.
*Detailed analysis conducted April 4, 2016; rankings and charts updated throughout the season.
Three years after the Reds shipped Yasmani Grandal to San Diego in favor of Devin Mesoraco, the Padres traded him to Los Angeles in favor of Derek Norris. Entering his prime at 27 years old, Grandal is ready to show both of his former teams why they made the wrong choice. Grandal got his first All-Star nod last year thanks to a tremendous first half. He continued stroking after the “Midsummer Classic” until shoulder inflammation slowed him down considerably.
Up until August 7, Grandal was batting .295/.400/.513 which dropped all the way to .234/.353/.403 by year’s end as he tried to play through the pain. Grandal underwent surgery immediately after the postseason giving the Dodgers and fantasy owners alike hope that he’ll be healthy going forward. If he isn’t slowed down by injuries this year, there’s no reason to believe he can't go back to his 2015 first half level of production at 27 years old which would make him one of the best offensive catchers in the game.
The Dodgers have an ideal backup catcher in A.J. Ellis. He’s a guy who walks almost as much as he strikeouts (32/38 in 2015), gets on base (.355 OBP), and receives love for his defense (45% caught stealing rate) as well. He doesn’t have the bat to warrant a starting role anymore, but he’s a nice backup to have around, especially with Grandal’s injury concerns. Austin Barnes’ emergence might make Ellis expendable a year from now though.
Los Angeles acquired Barnes, their No. 8 prospect (according to Baseball America) in the seven-player trade headlined by Dee Gordon last winter. While Gordon won a batting title in Miami, the Dodgers are still waiting on the results of their pieces in the trade. Barnes is a bit of a late bloomer at 26 years old, but that might be more the fault of the Marlins organization for holding him down in the minor leagues for too long than of Barnes himself. Now that he's in California, Barnes will give Los Angeles an elite pitch-framer with the potential of being a top-tier defensive catcher some day. He’s done nothing but hit in the minor leagues making it likely he does the same at the Major League level making him a threat on both sides of the ball. While he doesn’t own much power in his swing, he has more speed than the average catcher with the versatility to play second or third base if needed.
Future Outlook: Yasmani Grandal or Austin Barnes?
Deciding between the two promising catchers is a decision the front office will have to make pretty shortly. Grandal is only under control for three more years, but Barnes will be ready for Major League at-bats some time this year. If Grandal can stay healthy and produce like he did pre-shoulder inflammation, Grandal is the easy choice as a potential top-5 catcher. If Grandal’s injury problems continue, Austin Barnes might be the man for the job. He might never reach top-5 production, but he’ll be a solid all-around catcher with few weaknesses. Holding onto Grandal for a couple of years before acquiring other assets in return for the soon-to-be free agent while simultaneously opening a spot for Barnes to take over behind the plate could be a best-case scenario here.
The Dodgers proved they were going for it all no matter what the cost was on August 25th, 2012. In perhaps the biggest trade in August history, LA acquired Adrian Gonzalez along with Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett, and Nick Punto (and all of their hefty contracts) in exchange for James Loney, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, Ivan De Jesus, and Jerry Sands. The only relevant name involved in the trade three and a half years later is the five-time All-Star, Gonzalez. While Cal Ripken Jr. somehow managed to play in 2,632 consecutive games, this generation’s iron man looks more like A-Gon. The 33 year-old has played in 156 games or more in each of the last ten years. He’s an All-star, a Gold Glover, and a Silver Slugger, but he’s yet to win that coveted world series ring, and that’s what Gonzalez cares about most.
If Gonzalez’ incredible streak of durability runs out, LA will likely plug Scott Van Slyke in at first base. Van Slyke is naturally an outfielder like his father Andy, but with a crowded outfield, an ability to play first base only increases Van Slyke’s value to the team. He destroyed lefties off the bench two years ago, but came down to earth last year. While injuries surely played a factor, Van Slyke was never much of an impact player even when healthy. He’s likely relegated to bench duty for the rest of his career.
The 20 year-old first baseman crushing minor league pitching is poised to be much more than a bench player in his career. After a slow start to his professional career, Cody Bellinger demolished High-A pitching for 30 HR’s and 103 RBI’s despite only being 19 years old. However, his 150 SO’s in 128 games highlight the fact he must improve his approach at the plate with contact issues being his only obstacle from achieving greatness. He already has the power necessary to be an elite first baseman, and at 6’4”, 180 lbs (with reports of him already gaining 20-30 lbs), he still has room to add more. Bellinger’s athleticism will make him a stalwart defender at first with a rare ability to play the outfield as well.
Future Outlook: Stick with Gonzalez until Bellinger is ready to take over
The Dodgers are looking at a perfect time line at first base. Right when Gonzalez’s monster 7yr/$154MM contract expires in 2018, Bellinger will likely be ready for Major League at-bats. Bellinger is the team’s No. 5 prospect (according to Baseball America), and will only see his stock rise if he repeats his 2015 performance in Double-A this year. If Bellinger emerges as a viable option even quicker than 2018, President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman will have to decide if he wants to trade A-Gon to a first base needy team in exchange for assets elsewhere or keep him in tact as the team prepares for another playoff run. Cody Bellinger's development is the key here.
When LA traded Andrew Heaney for Howie Kendrick last offseason, many analysts were wondering what the hell the Dodgers were doing. Kendrick only had one year left on his contract while Heaney had the tools to be a frontline starter alongside Kershaw for years to come. Never doubt Andrew Friedman though. The proven baseball executive knew acquiring Kendrick meant he could either re-sign him for below market value or get one year of prolific second base production and net a compensatory pick in the first round for him if he left elsewhere in free agency. After inking a 2yr/$20MM deal, it’s safe to say Friedman went with the former...with the latter still an option two years from now.. Brilliant move. Kendrick has consistently given his team .290/.340/.400-like production with 10ish home runs and 60ish RBI’s. If he can still do that in his age-32 and age-33 seasons, the trade will be considered a win from LA’s standpoint.
When the Dodgers acquired Chase Utley from Philadelphia, they did it with the postseason in mind where they would benefit from Utley’s career .898 OPS in the playoffs. While his slide that broke Mets’ Wilmer Flores’ leg caused a new MLB rule, he didn’t do much else. With Kendrick back in Hollywood, new manager Dave Roberts can use Utley sparingly in the regular season, then unleash him when it matters most in October. If LA wasn’t the most wealthy team in the league, a $7MM salary might have been too much for him at this stage in his career, but that’s just chump change for the richest team in the National League.
Los Angeles didn’t make many bold moves to it’s offense this offseason, but the biggest deal they did orchestrate was getting involved in the three-way trade that sent Todd Frazier to the White Sox. While they gave up three quality prospects, they got an even better package in return featuring an infielder (Micah Johnson), an outfielder (Trayce Thompson), and a pitcher (Frankie Montas). Johnson is blocked the next two years by Kendrick, but could assert himself in the role if he continues to produce in the minor leagues. As it stands now, Johnson projects to be a fringe starter, more likely becoming a utility man off the bench.
Willie Calhoun is another intriguing option in the minor leagues with a chance of taking over once Kendrick is no longer with the team. Calhoun has showed rare power for a second baseman, but he doesn’t have much else in his arsenal that’s major league ready. Calhoun has some issues with his swing, primarily lunging at pitches too often and not using his back legs to drive pitches out of the ballpark. If he can make some adjustments, he could be a viable option by the time Kendrick is no longer in LA.
Four years and $28MM later, Alex Guerrero is looking like a waste of time and money. Signed out of Cuba in 2013, he didn’t start accumulating service time until this past year so he won’t be eligible for free agency until 2021. The 29 year-old has serious pop to his bat (11 HR’s in 219 AB’s last year), but struggles to get on-base and has no natural defensive position. His 25% strikeout rate is also very alarming. Guerrero needs to give permission to be sent to the minors because of language in his contract. With a multitude of better options in front of him on the depth chart, he might not be wearing Dodger blue for long. (EDIT: The Dodgers have officially released Guerrero [6/8/16]).
Future Outlook: Find Howie Kendrick’s long-term replacement
The Dodgers re-signed Howie Kendrick for a below market deal equaling $20MM over the next two years. The real question the dodgers have is who’s going to take the position over when Kendrick’s contract expires. Micah Johnson figures to be the primary candidate, but he hasn’t proven worthy of a starting role and neither has Willie Calhoun. Enrique Hernandez’s versatility makes him a candidate anywhere on the infield. If Guerrero can get his stuff together, he could be one as well, but that’s looking more unlikely by the day. Most likely the Dodgers will go out-of-house to solve this problem. Having Austin Barnes move over to second base could also be a potential option as well if he doesn't become their future catcher.
The future is now for the Los Angeles Dodgers... Corey Seager has arrived. The No. 1 prospect in all of baseball made his Major League debut for the Blue Crew last year as a September call-up and made quite the impression finishing with an outstanding .337/.425/.561 slash line in 98 at-bats. Shy of the 130 AB plateau, Seager still has rookie eligibility and heads into 2016 as the NL Rookie of the Year favorite. Last year’s ROY favorite, Kris Bryant won the award unanimously after lofty expectations, and Seager will hope to do the same. Seager is primed to join Francisco Lindor, Carlos Correa, and Xander Bogaerts as this generation’s group of elite shortstops the league hasn’t witnessed since Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Nomar Garciaparra, and Miguel Tejada were running the show in the early 2000’s.
Future Outlook: Greatness awaits...
From top draft pick to top prospect, it’s only a matter of time before Seager evolves into a top MLB player as well. It still remains to be seen if Corey Seager will stay at shortstop, but his bat will play up at any position he plays. Many scouts believe his lack of excellent range will move him to the hot corner, but it could be years from now before that becomes a reality. Seager looks like a perennial All-Star regardless of what position he plays, but if he can stick at shortstop, he’s that much more valuable.
Despite compiling an exceptional .314/.382/.492 batting line in his two years on the West Coast, Justin Turner remains one of the most underrated hitters in all of baseball. Now 31 years old, Turner still has plenty left in the tank. The versatile infielder only managed to hit 15 home runs in his first 1,129 career at-bats, but a vigorous offseason workout routine translated into 16 dingers in 2015 in only 385 at-bats. Turner has already gained the respect of new manager Dave Roberts and plans to start the season batting third in the lineup. With studs all around him, Turner could produce even better numbers this year.
Andrew Friedman essentially transformed Dee Gordon into their second baseman (Howie Kendrick), their catcher of the future (Austin Barnes), a productive reliever (Chris Hatcher), and most importantly the versatile Enrique Hernandez. Hernandez went under the radar at the time of the deal, but his presence brings much value to the Dodgers. Roberts can place him anywhere on the diamond and get solid results in return. His ability to crush southpaws will give him at-bats if he’s platooning with Andre Ethier in left field or if one of the starting infielders go down. Just 24 years old, Hernandez could still show signs of improvement and force the Dodgers to give him a starting role, or trade him to a team that will.
Future Outlook: A third baseman is needed for the future
Justin Turner will be a free agent at year's end. Enrique Hernandez hasn’t shown the ability to hit righties enough to warrant a full-time starting gig yet. The Dodgers will need to make third base a priority in the offseason. Right now, LA is focused on winning a title in 2016 with Turner and Hernandez providing a great 1-2 punch to accomplish that.
Don’t be surprised if Friedman makes a run at trading for his former franchise player Evan Longoria during their time in Tampa Bay. The Rays have always been willing to trade an expensive, productive player for younger, more inexpensive players, and the Dodgers have an excessive amount of them. Friedman would be wise to also spend resources on acquiring an elite prospect to man the hot corner in the 2020’s and beyond, especially if he can't land Longoria. Using one of the team’s top picks in the upcoming draft wouldn’t be a bad idea to accomplish that.
Yasiel Puig has seen his fair share of the spotlight in his young three-year career. As a 24 year-old, Puig experienced a down season by his standards in 2015. After slashing a combined .305/.386/.502 in his first two years against Major League pitching, Puig faltered to a .255/.322/.436 batting line last season. After being one of the game’s most electric superstars, people aren’t sure of what to expect from Puig in 2016. If Puig can get back to his dominant self, the Dodgers have themselves an elite player for the next four years at a fraction of his actual value. If he can’t regain his value, the Dodgers could be looking to move the enigmatic superstar considering their excessive depth at the position.
Puig isn’t the only young stud in the Hollywood outfield. ‘Mannywood’ isn’t posted on the left field wall anymore, but Joc Pederson is creating his own power-hitting legacy in center field. Pederson was an early Rookie of the Year candidate last year that was boosted by a second place finish in the Home Run derby. A sharp drop-off in production after the All-Star break culminated in a disappointing .178/.317/.300 batting line in 180 second half at-bats. Pederson isn’t a natural center fielder, but with Ethier and Puig manning the corner outfield spots, the Dodgers have no choice but to keep the sluggish Pederson in center. He could give up at-bats against southpaws to Carl Crawford or Trayce Thompson if he continues his 2015 struggles against them, but he has potential to overcome those weaknesses and evolve into a solid all-around hitter with middle-of-the-order potential.
Andre Ethier was once a middle-of-the-order hitter and had a flashback to those prosperous days in 2015 as a 33 year-old. After finding himself in the middle of trade rumors all season long, Ethier just kept on hitting. He still has $38MM in guaranteed money coming his way over the next two years with an additional $17.5MM vesting option for 2018. His improved discipline (16.9% strikeout rate; 9.7% walk rate) could be a sign 2015 wasn’t a fluke. Like Pederson, Ethier struggled immensely against opposing lefties. If he hits close to the .200/.229/.244 line he put together against them last year, that will open up opportunities for Crawford, Thompson, and even Scott Van Slyke to form a platoon with the 10-year veteran.
While Carl Crawford and Trayce Thompson are fighting for the same at-bats, they have vastly different skillsets. Crawford is an established player with a hefty $142MM contract attached to his name while Thompson is a rookie making below $500K this year. The 25 year-old made the most of the 122 at-bats he was given in Chicago last year by posting a .295/.363/.533 slash line in his Major League debut. Both players will serve as depth options for LA in 2015 while Thompson has a great chance of gaining a starting role in the near future. (EDIT: Carl Crawford was released by Los Angeles [6/13/16])
Down on the farm, the Dodgers have more depth than stars with Starling Heredia, Mitch Hansen, Jacob Scavuzzo, and Johan Mieses all having a shot to make an impact in the Dodgers outfield in future seasons. Alex Verdugo, however, has separated himself from the competition. The 2014 second round pick has absolutely destroyed minor league pitching in his professional career en route to being named the Dodgers’ Minor League Player of the Year in 2015. With an exceptional ability to hit, run, field, and throw, Verdugo could be a fixture atop the Dodgers’ lineup for years.
Along with Yadier Alvarez, Yusniel Diaz received a huge signing bonus that will limit the Dodgers from spending internationally for a couple of years, but it could be worth it based on Diaz’ potential alone. He has a quick bat with a great swing path that could help him become an above-average hitter, but has little strength to emerge as a power hitter. What he lacks in power, he makes up for with speed that could lead to 20+ SB’s annually and great defense in center field.
(EDIT: With Yasiel Puig struggling in 2016, the team sent him to Triple-A, and acquired OF Josh Reddick along with LHP Rich Hill from the Oakland A's for a package of prospects including RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Frankie Montas, and RHP Jharel Cotton. Click here to read more about what Josh Reddick will bring to the Dodgers in 2016 [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: There can only be 3
As of now, Andre Ethier, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig represent the starters for Dave Roberts’ club in 2016. All three players come with question marks of their own, as do their backups Carl Crawford, Trayce Thompson, and Scott Van Slyke. With numerous quality outfielders in the minors, President Andrew Friedman will have a good problem on his hand in a couple years. Much can change between now and then, but Puig and Pederson seem locked into an outfield spot for years to come. When Verdugo is ready for the show, he’ll be awarded a spot as well. With only three outfield spots available in Dodger stadium, everyone else could become trade bait.
Any starting rotation that starts with the greatest pitcher of this generation is clearly going to be the favorite to rank first among left-handed starters. The seventh overall pick the Dodgers used to secure the services of Clayton Kershaw in 2006 might go down as the best draft pick in franchise history. He’s already accumulated three Cy Young awards, a MVP, a Gold Glove, and five All-Star appearances in his eight-year career. After barely missing the 200 Innings mark in 2014 for the first time since ‘09, Kershaw responded with 233 innings of pure dominance.
Thanks to the historic seasons of Jake Arrieta (22-6, 1.77 ERA, 0.865 WHIP) and Zack Greinke (19-3, 1.66 ERA, 0.844 WHIP), Kershaw was unable to win his third straight Cy Young award. Now 28 years old, it’s amazing to think that Kershaw has possibly not yet reached his max potential. If he keeps pitching at this unfathomable rate, he’ll surely opt out of his monster $215MM contract after the 2018 season and set records making money like he’s setting records on the field.
Before the Dodgers were spoiled with Greinke as their No. 2 starter, they relied on Hyun-Jin Ryu to be their go-to guy the day after Kershaw tosses another gem. Unfortunately for LA, Ryu has suffered shoulder problems that prevented him from pitching in 2015 at all, and will keep him on the shelf for the majority of the 2016 season as well. It remains to be seen if Ryu can get back to the level of success he was enjoying in his two big league seasons. The Dodgers still have $23.5MM invested in him over the next three years, so they’re hoping he can get close to .
The Dodgers brought in Brett Anderson as a reclamation project before last season. Anderson rewarded them with 180 innings of 3.69 run ball. He then accepted their qualifying offer for $15.8MM in 2016 which will be shortened by yet another back injury making it unlikely he receives the same qualifying offer after this season.
Scott Kazmir got his own career back on track in 2013, and has only improved since then. After inking a 3yr/$48MM deal this past offseason, Kazmir will bring another veteran presence to the rotation. Kazmir is four years older than Anderson with a better track record, but showed signs of decline down the stretch after being traded to Houston. The Dodgers only need one of them to be productive. If both can make an impact, that’ll be the cherry on top for this stacked left-handed rotation.
Another big acquisition Friedman made was acquiring Alex Wood from Atlanta in the huge three-team, 12-player trade last July. Wood has flashed frontline stuff, but after posting a 2.78 ERA in 2014, he saw his ERA jump up a whole run to 3.84 in 2015 because of a lack of velocity. He is as good as any No. 4 starter out there right now, and at 25 years old, he’ll likely continue to get better. He’ll likely settle in as a mid-rotation starter until his team control expires after the 2019 season.
The Dodgers’ most prized pitching prospect in their stacked minor league system is Julio Urias. Ranked among the top five prospects in all of baseball by many outlets, Urias receives praise for his polished repertoire at such a young age (19). Having a pitcher that can maintain a 2.77 ERA in Double-A at only 18 years old is practically unheard of, but that’s exactly what Urias did last season. No pitcher in any MLB organization has a brighter future than Urias. His well-commanded fastball combined with his sharp curveball, slurving slider, and neutralizing changeup gives scouts reason to believe he’ll be a contender for multiple Cy Young awards throughout the 2020’s. After tearing up Double-A last year, it could be even sooner than that.
The Dodgers don’t have any other lefties with frontline starter upside, but Andrew Friedman had a very successful first draft with the Dodgers. Other than taking some high-risk choices in the first few rounds he snagged great values in the 11th and 13th rounds with the selections of Imani Abdullah and Michael Boyle. Abdullah is a projectable righty out of high school while Boyle is a more polished southpaw that’s closer to being ready for the show.
Boyle’s signability caused him to fall all the way to the 13th round, but Baseball America ranked him 132nd (4th round) on their annual top-500 list. The 6’3” lefty has some life on his low-90’s fastball as well as a pair of promising offspeed pitches that led to a strong start in his professional career (1.91 ERA, 46K/11BB in 47IP). If he can make some adjustments to his mechanics and consistently keep his fastball low in the zone, he could settle in as a back-end starter for LA as the decade dwindles down.
(EDIT: Dealing with an unprecedented amount of starting pitcher injuries, the Dodgers acquired LHP Rich Hill and Josh Reddick from the Oakland A's for a package of prospects including RHP Grant Holmes, RHP Frankie Montas, and RHP Jharel Cotton. Despite dealing with lingering injuries himself, Hill has been a dominant starter for Oakland, and will look to keep that going in Los Angeles as the Dodgers go for the NL West crown down the stretch [8/1/16]).
Future Outlook: From Kershaw to Urias, the present and future are bright
Not only do the Dodgers own the best left-handed pitcher in baseball right now (Kershaw), but they also have the best left-handed pitching prospect in baseball too (Urias). Even if Kershaw opts out of his contract after 2018, the Dodgers have the resources to retain him, and the motivation to keep him as a Dodger for life. A rotation featuring Kershaw and Urias at the top could be lethal over the next 5-7 seasons. Combined with mid-tier starters like Anderson, Kazmir, Wood, and Ryu and the Dodgers could put together a formidable rotation of just lefties. No other team in the league can say that.
Considering the excess amount of quality lefties in the organization, most people assume the Dodgers wouldn’t have many valuable righties. In reality, LA is stacked with talented righties all across the board. They signed their highest profiled prospect, Kenta Maeda out of Japan for a possible $90MM if he earns simple incentives. It would be foolish to expect Maeda to follow Yu Darvish as a Japanese sensation, but a Hiroki Kuroda-like comparison that can be an effective mid-rotation starter is more realistic.
McCarthy will join Maeda at some point in 2016 in the lefty-heavy rotation. After 14 starts of excellence in the Bronx, the Dodgers handed out a 3yr/$48MM contract to the now 32 year-old. McCarthy only started four games while wearing Dodger Blue before going down with his second Tommy John surgery. The Dodgers proved with all these starting pitching additions they can’t rely on him anymore.
Someone who the Dodgers were forced to rely on last year was Mike Bolsinger. No executive ever thought much of the 28 year-old thanks to a fastball that’s below 90 MPH. However, his ability to command and develop his offspeed pitches has led to his evolution as a valuable spot-starter. With an abundance of bigger names ahead of him on the depth chart, Bolsinger will have to count on injuries and underperformance to get another opportunity with the big league club.
Among all the highly regarded prospects in LA’s farm system, Jose De Leon is the cream of the crop. His above-average fastball, deceptive changeup, and quick delivery have made him strikeout artist in the lower levels of the minor leagues (12.3 K/9 in 2015). Starting the season in Double-A should see him make an appearance at the big league level within the next year or two.
Behind De Leon on the prospect list lies Grant Holmes and Frankie Montas. Generally viewed as top-10 prospects in the system, Holmes and Montas both project to be No.2/No.3 starters. Montas headlined the Jose Peraza three-team trade that included Todd Frazier, Micah Johnson, and Trayce Thompson among others. Montas’ smooth delivery and high velocity give him a higher ceiling than Holmes, but Holmes’ size and depth in his curveball gives reason to believe he can be just as good.
The Dodgers went all out on the amateur free agent market last year guaranteeing them harsh restrictions over the next two signing periods. However, they believed Yadier Alvarez was worth the $16MM it took to sign. The 6’3” righty is very lanky with a need to put on weight to keep him durable through a whole season as well as potentially adding a couple ticks to his velocity. His breaking ball is filthy and a developing changeup rounds up his repertoire giving him a chance to fill a mid-rotation role in the 2020’s.
Imani Abdullah gives the Dodgers another young, high-upside righty in their system. Like Alvarez, Abdullah has a lanky frame (6’4”, 205 lbs.), but with much more polished command. He comes over the top with his delivery which helps keeps batters guessing. His smooth, repeatable delivery could help him develop into a mid-rotation starter to go alongside Alvarez in the 2020’s.
Zach Lee, Ross Stripling, Walker Buehler, and Chase De Jong are more names that could join LA’s rotation in the next five years, although none possess the ceiling or track history that De Leon, Holmes, or Montas do. Chris Anderson and Jharel Cotton are two other names to consider. Both players look destined for the bullpen in the long run thanks to their high effort delivery and/or lack of command.
(EDIT: The Dodgers strengthened their injury-prone rotation by acquiring Bud Norris (and two irrelevant minor leaguers) from the Atlanta Braves for two promising relief pitching prospects in Caleb Dirks and Phil Pfeifer [6/30/16].
Future Outlook: You can never have enough pitching
You’ve heard the saying before, “you can never have enough pitching.” It’s exactly what Friedman preached in his time in Tampa Bay, and he has brought that mindset with him to the West Coast. Friedman has added plenty of international pitchers to the organization including Maeda, Alvarez, and Yasiel Sierra. Combined with De Leon, Montas, and Holmes, the Dodgers have plenty of talent in the farm system that can throw from the right side. McCarthy has been a waste of money thus far, but if Maeda can live up to his billing, the Dodgers are in great shape for the foreseeable future.
Strikeout artist Kenley Jansen anchors the National League’s best bullpen. After allowing the 12th most runs among relievers last year, Friedman made bullpen upgrades a priority this offseason. He wanted to make a splash, which is why he went after the Cuban Missile, Aroldis Chapman. However, the deal fell through because of Chapman’s domestic violence dispute which led to him missing the first 30 games of the season. Had the Chapman trade gone through, LA would have arguably had the best two relievers in the game shutting things down in the eighth and ninth innings.
Without Chapman, Chris Hatcher will look to pick up where he left off in 2015. After returning from an oblique injury in August, Hatcher went on to post a 1.31 ERA down the stretch. Paired with Pedro Baez in the setup role, the Dodgers will have to rely on one of the two to close games if Jansen goes down. Considering the volatile results that come with relief pitchers as well as the fact neither Baez nor Hatcher have thrown over 130 Major League innings, that could be a concern.
Despite the reputation as a lefty specialist, J.P. Howell has actually faced an even amount of righties and lefties in recent years. Besides 2015 when he allowed a .318/.368/.455 slash line to opposing righties, he’s had an even amount of success against either sided batter as well. Howell’s now had four consecutive successful seasons making it likely 2016 will be his fifth.
After being a key piece in the Royals’ dominant bullpen, Louis Coleman has seen his stock drop in the last couple years. Coleman went from a 0.61 ERA in 21 IP in 2013 to a 5.56 ERA in 34 IP in 2014 to only three Major League innings in 2015. Coleman pitched 64 innings in Triple-A with impressive results that led to the Dodgers taking a flyer on the 30 year-old in hopes he returns to form in 2016.
In addition to Coleman, LA also brought in Joe Blanton to bulk up their bullpen. After a mediocre career as a starter, Blanton threw the majority of his pitches as a reliever in 2015 with excellent results. Going with a slider 37% of the time now, Blanton’s career may be revitalized as a Major League reliever, or 2015 could have been a complete fluke considering the small sample size. This year will tell us if Blanton has a place on a big league roster or not going forward.
Luis Avilan is a tough player to figure out. He got off to a great start posting a 1.69 ERA and a 0.980 WHIP in his first 101 innings of big league action with Atlanta. Over the last two years though he’s owned an inferior 4.28 ERA, 1.355 WHIP, and a 3.92 FIP. He came to the West Coast in that monster three-team trade also including Alex Wood last July. At only 26 years old, Avilan hopes to get rid of the ‘lefty specialist’ label and become an all-around productive reliever.
Only 25 years-old, Yimi Garcia has been groomed as the Dodgers closer of the future. Given three save chances in 2015 when Jensen went down, Garcia disappointed by blowing two of them. He didn’t perform well in clutch situations, but he was only a rookie. As he gains more experience, he could emerge as the Dodgers’ best option if Jansen goes down in 2016 or departs as a free agent after the season.
With a crowded rotation and bullpen already intact, Carlos Frias’ role becomes unclear. He started 13 games for Los Angeles last season with subpar results. His stuff plays up better in the bullpen thanks to his mid-90’s heater. Frias might not wow anybody, but he can be another reliable arm in the Dodgers’ pen until he’s eligible for free agency after 2020.
Adam Liberatore, Caleb Dirks, and Ralston Cash are all pitchers likely to throw some innings in an LA uniform this year. While they’ll all start in the minor leagues, their performances could get them to the show in 2016. None of them embody anything extraordinary, but could be decent relievers if given the opportunity.
(EDIT: Caleb Dirks headlined the return the Braves received for Bud Norris and will be an impact reliever in the future for the Atlanta Braves now [6/30/16]).
Jacob Rhame and Josh Sborz are in the same boat as those three players when it comes to the next couple of years. However, both of them have a higher ceiling thanks to their fastballs that can touch 98 MPH. Both players are equipped with a plus slider that will only get better as they continue to throw from the mound. While Rhame will likely settle in as a middle reliever, Sborz has the potential of being a closer or superior setup man.
Future Outlook: It all comes down to Jansen
Before Jansen, the Dodgers haven’t had a player save 25 games in consecutive seasons since Eric Gagne in 2004. While the Dodgers don’t have to endure rough seasons from Juan Nicasio, Joel Peralta, or Jim Johnson anymore, they still want to retain the productive relievers. Jansen is becoming the definition of a consistently productive reliever. He’ll likely receive the biggest contract ever given to a relief pitcher (until Aroldis Chapman breaks that record a few days later). LA’s got the cash, and they’ll be wise to give it to a young, effective reliever with an outstanding track record. Yimi Garcia, Josh Sborz, Chris Hatcher, and Pedro Baez make it bearable in the future if Jensen isn’t brought back, but the Dodgers will likely look for more bullpen help either way.
OVERALL OUTLOOK: Mo’ money, less problems
The Dodgers have had the highest payroll in the Majors for the last three seasons now. While 2016’s playoffs are yet to be determined, Los Angeles has failed to win a single playoff series in either of the last two years with that lucrative payroll. Now in 2016, it’s time to put that staggering $246MM payroll to use. LA has the best pitcher on the planet in Clayton Kershaw. They have marquee players in their lineup including Adrian Gonzalez, Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, and rookie sensation Corey Seager. The Dodgers will feel confident in any close game they’re in with an elite closer like Kenley Jansen ready to shut down the opposing team. While it is an even year for the Giants, the Dodgers are too stacked to not reach their fourth consecutive postseason. It’s up to Clayton Kershaw to finally get past his postseason struggles and channel his inner-Madison Bumgarner by dominating when it matters and leading this team to their first World Series championship since 1988.