Just as a reminder, here are the cutoffs that we are looking at:
Last year’s recap:
Lost in National League Division Series in 5 games to the New York Mets.
Total WAR: 43.4
Top 12 WAR: 38.8
Top 16 WAR: 43.8
Every time I look at the Dodgers roster I wonder how they were able to clear all of the hurdles in order to be a World Series contending team. Between the huge contracts to Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford, the odd relationship with its manager, the team’s lack of depth in the rotation behind Kershaw and Greinke, and this team’s lack of a bullpen the Dodgers just did not seem like a World Series team to me. Regardless of all of my worries, this team was equipped to handle the postseason and now I have tasked myself with making sure they can get back there with some immovable parts that must mean some tough decisions.
1. Re-Sign Zack Greinke to a five-year contract
If it weren’t for the fact that he is 32 years old, Greinke would have set himself up for a seven or eight-year deal, but he will still get paid quite well for his performance in 2015. If you’re wondering, I had originally written down Johnny Cueto here, but I’m guessing that the Dodgers will go after the man they had last season and only go after others if it is clear that they won’t get him, so I decided to give them Greinke instead. Ignoring the fact that Los Angeles will regret this deal four years from now (and maybe not care), the problem with this signing is that they will have to pay for last year’s numbers when he will not come anywhere near those statistics in 2016. The big indicator here is that Greinke only gave up 148 hits in 222.2 innings last season. I would argue that that is unsustainable even if he had a history of doing that but here are the past four seasons for him:
2011: 161 hits in 171.2 innings
2012: 200 hits in 212.1 innings
2013: 152 hits in 177.2 innings
2014: 190 hits in 202.1 innings
Even when a pitcher is on the top of his game, there are far too many cheap hits or ground ball singles that get through the hole for him to post such a low hit total in consecutive years. It is remarkable that he even did it once, but it the numbers indicate that Greinke just got lucky instead of being good at not giving up hits. If he had been striking out a lot more batters, then there would be a reason for such a low hit total since so few balls are put in play. However, Greinke struck out just over eight batters per nine innings last year, which is respectable but nothing special. I’m not saying that Greinke isn’t a good pitcher, it’s just that he’s not that good. You can expect somewhere somewhere in the 3 range for his WAR, as that is typically where he has been in the past five years, save for that down year in Milwaukee in 2011. He maintains a low walk rate and doesn’t give up too many home runs, so you can expect him to stay one of the better number two pitchers in the game right behind Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers will have to bank on health in filling out the rest of the rotation, but keeping up that good one-two punch at least until Julio Urias is ready would be a good place to start.
2. Trade A.J. Ellis and Alex Guerrero plus cash to the Los Angeles Angels for Joe Smith
If the Angels re-sign Chris Iannetta then this trade would not happen, but Ellis is a better overall catcher than Iannetta is. Iannetta holds a significant edge in pitch framing, but Ellis is the better hitter and does other things better behind the plate. With the exception of 2014, A.J. Ellis has produced quite well at the plate, keeping his strikeouts down, showing an ability to draw walks, and he has the power to hit double digit home runs and drive in 50 runs. He would be better than anyone that the Angels could find on the free agent market to give the everyday job to. Add in the fact that Iannetta has had injury troubles and would be difficult to count on for too many games, and trading for Ellis might represent an upgrade anyway. As for Guerrero, the Dodgers need to get rid of his spot and the Angels have a vacant left field and third base, two positions that Guerrero plays (albeit poorly). Although the Angels have a lot of money on their payroll, I have a feeling that they are going after one of the big free agents to fill their left field spot, leaving third base to Guerrero, where he was slightly better defensively last season. Guerrero came into the league with a lot more promise, but has been a bit of a dud since getting called up to the majors. He is 28 years old now and flashed some power in the beginning of the 2015 season, showing that he could hit 20 dingers if given the everyday job. I actually think that the Angels would get the most value out of him if they put him at second base, which was the position he played upon signing with the Dodgers. They started Johnny Giavotella there last season, so there is definitely room for an upgrade, and they could try calling up Kyle Kubitza to fill the third base void, but Guerrero probably will struggle in the field wherever he is. His twenty home runs will mean much more out of a second baseman than they will out of a third baseman or left fielder. In this trade, the Dodgers would cover most of Guerrero’s salary for the 2017 season, so the Angels would be receiving an upgrade at two positions here for a relief pitcher and not have to worry about salary commitments too much.
As for the Dodgers, they have no need for Ellis with Yasmani Grandal performing the way he is and Guerrero is a spare part when they have 26 outfielders on their 25-man roster. They can’t move Ethier or Crawford and won’t move Puig or Pederson, so Guerrero has to go. The relief pitcher they are getting in return will help them fortify a bullpen that really has no known commodities after Kenley Jansen. Smith does not walk many batters and strikes out around 7.5 per nine innings. He is sometimes labeled a bit unfairly as a righty specialist given his submarine pitching, but he strikes out about the same amount of righties as he does lefties, he just struggles a bit more with control against left handers. Still, they only hit .240 against him, so its not as though he can’t be trusted against batters from both sides of the plate. Also, he has only given up 33 home runs in 518.2 innings, which is an area where Dodgers relievers struggled mightily last season. He could immediately start out as the eighth inning man and help get the ball to Jansen, while the Dodgers would only be giving up two pieces that they no longer have any use for.
3. Sign David Freese to a three-year contract and keep Corey Seager at shortstop
Ask five different people what they think about David Freese and you might get five completely different answers. Talking about his career is like talking about some event where you remember various parts but can’t put it all together. He was once a highly touted prospect who took a while to put it together, but he did so on baseball’s biggest stage. He then had a good year to follow his October theatrics, but hasn’t been as good since then. Along the way, he has also sustained multiple injuries. Although he has had a drop-off in production since he slashed .293/.372/.467 in 2012, he has still been a good player. He continues to show some power, hitting 14 home runs in 121 games last season and has hit at least 25 doubles each year since 2012, but his main improvement has come defensively. In 2013, he had -14 defensive runs saved, which is a metric produced by Baseball Info Solutions, but in 2014 he had -9 DRS, and cut it down to -2 DRS in 2015. His DWAR stood at an even 0 in 2015 after being in the negative the past two seasons. He is 32, so it is unlikely that his fielding will improve from here on out, but it won’t decline sharply from last season. I don’t think Freese will cost too much in free agency, although the only reason the Dodgers care about that is they want to know whether or not they can move him when he is less effective at 35. The point is, they wouldn’t have to spend too much money to get a productive player at one of the few positions where they don’t have a prospect just about ready to enter the major leagues. In theory, Seager could play third, but he is going to stay at shortstop not just to make room for Freese, but that will also maximize the value of his bat. A great-hitting shortstop not named Carlos Correa is very hard to find while there are quite a few good-hitting third basemen in the league now. Corey Seager has mashed at every level in the minors and there is no indication that he won’t do so in the majors. He also displays enough range to play shortstop, so I would stick him there unless he proves that he can’t play the position. If the Dodgers were only going for this season, Seager could play third and they could sign a player like Ian Desmond, but that just wouldn’t make sense for the long-term plan for Seager, so signing Freese would be a good alternative. They can maximize the value out of the player who could be the future of this team while getting a productive player to cover third base in the interim.
4. Trade Enrique Hernandez to the Seattle Mariners for Tony Zych
In a perfect world, the Dodgers would be able to keep Hernandez as a reserve outfielder. However, with so many pieces out there that won’t be moved, Hernandez must be on his way out, or the Dodgers would risk staying vulnerable in the bullpen. In the World Series Push article that I did for the Pirates I had Hernandez going to Pittsburgh in exchange for Jared Hughes, but I also outlined reasons to be skeptical of Hughes’ recent success. Seattle has some good pieces in the outfield in Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith, but they could use another good fielder out there in Hernandez. They just re-signed Franklin Gutierrez, but he can’t play everyday, so this trade will at the very least give them someone who can play more often in center field and hit a little bit while also being able to back up the other two outfield positions. As I mentioned in the Pirates’ piece, Hernandez has a tendency to put the ball in play, which the Mariners struggled with last season, leading to a team that should have scored more runs with Cruz, Robinson Cano, and Kyle Seager in the middle of the order. Going back to Los Angeles would be relief pitcher Tony Zych, who only has pitched 13 games in the major leagues. The Mariners don’t value him that highly and his ERA bounced up and down quite a bit in the minors. But as mentioned before, the Dodgers’ bullpen had trouble keeping the ball in the park, and Zych does a really good job of that, as he has never given up more than three home runs in a single season. He also kept his FIP down pretty well, and he has posted good strikeout numbers in a few seasons (although not consistently), so he represents a nice upgrade over what the Dodgers had last year. He won’t dominate anyone, but he should be a good middle relief pitcher for a few years, and the Dodgers could really only turn to J.P. Howell or Kenly Jansen last year when they ran into trouble.
5. Platoon Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke in left field
Now that the extra pieces are gone, the Dodgers have to figure out what to do with what is left over. Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig are both definite starters but Ethier, Crawford, and Van Slyke are not everyday players. Ethier was actually pretty productive last season, hitting 14 home runs with a .366 on-base percentage. However, he has been terrible against southpaws over the past three seasons, batting just .217 against them. In fact, the only one of the three able to do anything against left handed pitchers has been Van Slyke, who has posted a very nice .388 OBP against them over the past three seasons. Whenever the Dodgers are facing a lefty, Van Slyke should be the starting left fielder. He earned .9 DWAR last season in just over 500 innings in the field so he should be able to hold up pretty well defensively. Admittedly, that looks a bit like an outlier as he has been just around average defensively over the rest of his career, but that is not a problem with the speedy Joc Pederson patrolling center. Now it comes down to which immovable contract can hit righties more between Ethier and Crawford. Eithier has the slight edge on defense but his slash line of .286/.370/.458 crushes Crawford’s .294/.333/.428 in the past three years. The Dodgers will take the one getting on base 3.5% more often, as they should. Crawford will be relegated to a backup role where he might have some use as a pinch runner, but that is about it. As for Ethier, he should continue to hit right right handed pitching well and be productive in a platoon role while Van Slyke takes on the southpaws.
6. Sign Tyler Clippard to a two-year contract
Clippard may end up costing more than two years, but they should go to three only if necessary. Then again, they should do that if necessary. This team has money. What they don’t have is reliable bullpen arms. Clippard has been very reliable since going to the bullpen, posting a combined 4.5 WAR over the past three seasons. That number would have been higher if the Mets hadn’t overworked him last season the moment that they traded for him. He had 1.0 WAR in 38.2 innings in Oakland then he was traded on July 27 from which point he was overworked in typical Terry Collins fashion to the tune of 32.1 innings during his 63 game days with the team. In other words, his 1.2 WAR from last year has a good chance of increasing but you shouldn’t expect dominance from Clippard. He’ll give up some runs and keep his ERA just under 3, but you can count on him throughout the course of the season. Despite the fact that teams are starting to understand just how valuable a bullpen is, they have yet to find a lot of guys who can keep pitching well for 162 games. Clippard is one of those guys and would make a good addition to this new Dodgers’ bullpen.
7. Start Jose Peraza at second base
Peraza was oddly shipped to the Dodgers from the Atlanta Braves as part of the Alex Wood, Mat Latos, and Hector Olivera trade. Peraza was considered by many, at the time, to be the Braves top prospect as a middle infielder who can hit for a high average, run, and play good defense. As the Braves attempted to get younger everywhere else, they wanted the 30-year old Olivera so badly that they were willing to part with this 21-year old prospect. Even if Olivera does have a lot of power, as many suspect he does, I still can’t understand why Atlanta was willing to give up a player so good and young when it was rebuilding. Part of the thinking was that he’d be blocked by Jace Peterson and Andrelton Simmons, who is now an Angel. Anyway, the Dodgers somehow wound up with someone who should have a pretty good career in exchange for a 30-year old “prospect.” Peraza has almost no power, and he may not even hit that well at the start. Eventually I would be surprised if he doesn’t have a career average above .275, but for now he is a really good fielder and can steal 30 bases per year. As discussed in other articles, WAR values stolen bases pretty highly and his good defense will erase any slow progression with his bat. He doesn’t walk much, but he doesn’t strikeout either, making him a good player towards the bottom of the order. Because they’re the Dodgers, they may look for a more expensive way to replace Howie Kendrick (or just re-sign him), but that would block Peraza from the spot he deserves a few years down the road, so their best option is to just plug him into the starting lineup. If not, they’re probably not going to find a significantly more productive player for next year, and will just be delaying the development of the double play combination of Seager and Peraza. They should let Peraza see what he can do at the major league level and just stick with any hiccups along the way.
The Final Team and Projections
Yasmani Grandal (1.6) – Really good defensive catcher who draws a lot of walks.
Austin Barnes (.7) – He should be a pretty good hitter and showed decent framing skills in limited time last season.
Adrian Gonzalez (3.9) – He has had three straight seasons of 3.9 WAR. Why not make it four?
Jose Peraza (2.7) – Speed and defense will get him here.
Carlos Torreyes (.3) – This team has no other options, but at least he doesn’t strike out.
David Freese (2.0) – He is usually an under-the-radar good player.
Justin Turner (2.8) – He has a really good OBP, but the home runs will come back down.
Corey Seager (3.3) – Another young shortstop on his way to stardom, Seager has dominated all levels of the minors and will continue to produce in the big leagues.
Andre Ethier (2.2) – Against righties only he will do fine.
Joc Pederson (2.8) – He walks a lot, and that seems to be a forgotten skill in today’s MLB.
Yasiel Puig (2.4) – His declining soft hit percentage is worrisome.
Scott Van Slyke (1.6) – He has been really good against lefties.
Carl Crawford (0) – He can’t be moved.
Clayton Kershaw (7.3) – With all due respect to Jake Arrieta and Zack Greinke, the only reason that Kershaw did not win another Cy Young is because voters got tired of giving it to him.
Zack Greinke (3.7) – He will never come near last season’s stats again.
Alex Wood (2.8) – Expect his strikeouts to rebound from last year and he will continue to be an underrated starting pitcher.
Hyun-Jin Ryu (2.7) – When he plays, he’s good.
Brett Anderson (1.2) – He really was not that good last year as he got lucky with an unsustainably high strand rate and a really low strikeout rate.
Mike Bolsinger (.5) – Walks a lot of batters but could have use as a long relief pitcher.
Kenley Jansen (1.8) – At least he’s still great.
J.P. Howell (1.2) – He has posted three straight good seasons out of the bullpen.
Yimi Garcia (1.1) – He strikes out a lot of batters, although home runs are a concern.
Joe Smith (1.3) – He really got unlucky last year giving up more runs than the number of baserunners against would indicate.
Tony Zych (.6) – Keeps the walks and home runs down, which might be good enough.
Tyler Clippard (1.1) – Consistently good, not great.
Here are the numbers for the Dodgers: