Offseason Outlook: Los Angeles Dodgers

The Dodgers' climbed from the bottom of the NL West all the way to the top thanks to a 42-8 midseason tear.  After reaching the NLCS, L.A. hopes to take the next step in 2014.

Guaranteed Contracts

Arbitration Eligibles (service time in parentheses)

Contract Options

Free Agents

Jerry Hairston, J.P. Howell, Carlos Marmol, Ricky Nolasco, Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker, Juan Uribe, Edinson Volquez, Brian Wilson, Michael Young

The Dodgers got their offseason started in a big way last Tuesday when they signed Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28MM contract that could reach $32MM via incentives.  The Dodgers were supposed to be the Yankees' biggest foe in their bid to re-sign Robinson Cano, but the deal seemingly takes them out of the running.  It's worth noting, however, that landing Cano is just improbable at this stage, not impossible.  In theory, the Dodgers could move Hanley Ramirez – who could see a new deal with the club this winter – to third base and play Guerrero at shortstop, but Guerrero's defensive skillset is better suited for the other side of the bag.  However, it has been rumored for the last few months that L.A. wasn't going to make a serious play for Cano and Magic Johnson pretty much confirmed that line of thinking earlier this month.  Besides, the Dodgers figure to have some pretty serious expenses ahead of them.

The Dodgers hope to lock up Clayton Kershaw for the foreseeable future and at some point during the season they went to their star left-hander with a $300MM offer.  The 25-year-old backed out of the talks because he apparently had reservations about the length of the deal (it was said to be a "lifetime" contract) and didn't want to have an unnecessary distraction during the year.  Regardless, the two sides will meet at the negotiating table this winter and whether or not the deal breaks the $300MM barrier, it is all but guaranteed to be the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, topping CC Sabathia's $161MM pact signed in 2008.

More immediately, the Dodgers have to figure out what to do about their managerial situation.  Don Mattingly's contract option for 2014 has vested, but the Dodgers seem to be waffling on whether they want him back and the skipper says he'll honor the deal, but he wants a multi-year pact to avoid lame duck status.  The coaching staff is now more or less set, meaning that the Dodgers are probably either looking to retain the former Yankees great or go with someone in-house.  Third-base coach Tim Wallach is said to be a strong candidate if there is a change in the dugout.

Los Angeles has a number of free agents this season and they'll probably have at least a few holes to fill.  Both second baseman Mark Ellis ($5.75MM option, $1MM buyout) and third baseman Juan Uribe can hit the open market and while Guerrero's arrival can help fill one position or the other, he can't do both.  Odds are, Guerrero will be slotted in at second base, displacing Ellis from the starting lineup, but the Dodgers could welcome the 36-year-old back as a reserve.  Uribe turned over a new leaf in 2013 (.278/.331/.438 with 12 homers) and gave the Dodgers a solid everyday play in the hot corner.  Given the lack viable third base options available on the open market, it would be wise to re-sign the veteran.  The trade market for third baseman is headlined by Chase Headley, but the Dodgers will be hard-pressed to pry him away from one of their divisional rivals.  Thinking outside of the box, they could call up the Brewers and see if they can work out a deal for Aramis Ramirez in which Milwaukee eats a good portion of his $20MM salary.  If they want to play musical chairs with their infield by putting Ramirez at third, they can go out and get a shortstop instead.  Stephen Drew will be a free agent and Jhonny Peralta is available and unlikely to return in Detroit.

The Dodgers will also have some housekeeping to do when it comes to their infield depth.  Michael Young, Jerry Hairston Jr., Nick Punto, and Skip Schumaker are all eligible for free agency.  Young could conceivably be their third base answer if Uribe isn't retained, but they'd probably prefer someone who can do more defensively.  Punto would offer that defensive acumen, but he's lacking at the plate.

The Dodgers' rotation is quite strong at the top with Kershaw, Zack Greinke, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, but there are some question marks beyond that.  Chad Billingsley and Josh Beckett could fill the No. 4 and 5 spots, but they'll both be recovering from surgeries.  Re-signing free agent Ricky Nolasco would be a great way to shore up the back end of the starting five and the Dodgers would almost certainly welcome him back if they knew they could have the pitcher they saw from July through early September.  The wheels came off a little bit in his final few starts of the year, but those rough outings only bumped his ERA to 3.52 with 7.8 K/9 and 2.2 BB/9 in 15 starts and one relief appearance for L.A.  In September, when Nolasco had a 2.07 ERA in 74 innings for the Dodgers, Tim Dierkes estimated that he could see a three-year, $36MM contract.  Talking to Dierkes now, he's considering upgrading that to a four-year, $52MM deal.  If the Guggenheim group is still willing to spend big, they can replace Nolasco with the likes of Ervin Santana or Japanese standout Masahiro Tanaka, whom they're said to be high on.  Both players will cost them a pretty penny, but they'll have some breathing room with Ted Lilly and Chris Capuano coming off the books.  Who knows, they could even be players for Rays ace David Price if they want to make an enormous splash.

A.J. Ellis seems likely to be back behind the plate as the Dodgers' starting catcher, but it's not a sure thing after he had some hiccups in the postseason.  There are talented backstops to be had on the open market like Brian McCann and Jarrod Saltalamacchia and both guys can bring a level of offensive firepower that Ellis does not.  Of course, they'll both require quite a bit of coin at a time where catching around baseball is rather thin.  Tim believes McCann is in line for a five-year, $80MM deal while Saltalamacchia should see something in the range of $36MM over four years.  If the Dodgers want to be a little more fiscally responsible (hey, why are you laughing?) they'll find less expensive veteran options like A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Ruiz.

Much of the Dodgers bullpen will return in 2014, but two key members – Brian Wilson and J.P. Howell – might not.  Wilson could very well take his talents and his beard elsewhere after pitching extremely well (0.66 ERA with 13 strikeouts and four walks over 13.2 innings) in his brief time with the Dodgers.  Howell was also sharp (2.03 ERA with 7.8 K/9 and 3.3 BB/9 in 67 appearances and figures to be one of the most sought-after left-handers this winter.  If one or both go, they can look into setup men like Jesse Crain and LaTroy Hawkins.  

That pretty much covers the Dodgers' holes, but they have quite an enviable talent surplus in the outfield with Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford.  The Dodgers could plug their other holes by moving one of the four.  It goes without saying that Puig is staying put.  Crawford is probably staying put too, seeing as how he's owed a small fortune between now and 2017.  One would probably think that Ethier is more likely to be moved than Kemp, but from the outside it looks like either one could be moved depending on how the market plays out.  Ethier has been maddeningly inconsistent but Kemp should bring in a greater return, injury concerns and all.  There is an option C, of course: keeping all four.  The Dodgers know that they can't bank on the health of Crawford or Kemp, so having four high-level outfielders would be a wonderful luxury to have.

After piecing together a payroll big enough to make a Jerry Bruckheimer film blush, the Dodgers are eager to put it all together in 2014.  With some patching up, they can carry their second half surge into a strong wire-to-wire effort next season.

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