Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Dodgers

After somewhat quietly spending over a hundred million dollars in free agency, and not so quietly committing about double that to extend their best pitcher, the Dodgers return a high-priced, star-studded team that will be disappointed with anything less than a championship.

Major League Signings

  • Alexander Guerrero, 2B: four years, $28MM.
  • Erisbel Arruebarrena, SS: five years, $25MM.
  • Juan Uribe, 3B: two years, $15MM.
  • J.P. Howell, LHP: two years, $11.25MM.
  • Brian Wilson, RHP: one year, $10MM. Includes $9MM player option for 2015.
  • Dan Haren, RHP: one year, $10MM.
  • Chris Perez, RHP: one year, $2.3MM.
  • Jamey Wright, RHP: one year, $1.8MM.
  • Paul Maholm, LHP: one year, $1.5MM.
  • Total Spend: $113.85MM (Including Wilson option)
Notable Minor League Signings
Trades and Claims
Notable Losses
Needs Addressed
After the ownership change, massive spending, and public attention on the game's apparent new force, the Dodgers had a mandate going into this offseason: lock down homegrown ace Clayton Kershaw. GM Ned Colletti got it done, signing the big lefty to a record-setting pact that will keep him in Los Angeles through his age-32 season … at least, unless he opts out two years prior to gain a chance at another massive payday. Either way, the Dodgers avoided the scenario (however unlikely) of losing one of the game's very best players after the upcoming season.
For a team with championship aspirations, another key issue was the contract situation of manager Don Mattingly, who seemed unhappy to be entering the year without a guarantee extending to the future. The club put an end to any possible problems in that arena by giving Mattingly an extension that covers the 2014-16 seasons.
Beyond taking care of their own, the Dodgers did face several roster decisions, especially after declining the options of Capuano and Ellis (the latter somewhat more surprisingly than the former). That left openings at both second and third as well as some innings to fill at the back of the rotation and the pen. And, of course, there was the question whether Los Angeles would make a play for a top-end free agent, with Robinson Cano, Brian McCann, and Masahiro Tanaka all looking like possible targets for the west coast financial powerhouse. 
But the club did not end up making any top-dollar acquisitions. While it most looked like a player on Tanaka, Los Angeles seemingly pulled out of engaging in a real bidding war with the Yankees. Nevertheless, while landing far short of the Yanks' extraordinary outlay through free agency, the Dodgers did still manage to guarantee over $104MM through free agency (plus an additional $9MM promise to Wilson through his player option), the fourth-highest tally in the league. That was accomplished through volume: Colletti and company gave out as many guaranteed deals as did the Yankees (9), but promised just 18 years at an average annual value of $5.83MM through those contracts. (New York, by contrast, purchased 29 total seasons at the average cost of $16.24MM per.)  
That spending matched up — theoretically, at least — with the needs just outlined above. Uribe will reprise his role at the hot corner on a fairly modest contract, considering his production levels last year. (Of course, detractors would point to his less-than-stellar work for a stretch beforehand.) Haren and Maholm will provide rotation depth, especially with uncertainty still surrounding Josh Beckett and Chad Billingsley. The latter figures to start the year in the pen, but provides a nice depth option at quite a low price, especially when one considers that Jason Vargas landed four years and $32MM.
Maholm will join Wilson, Howell, Wright, and Perez to form a deep unit in front of outstanding closer Kenley Jansen. (Indeed, the club just designated the seemingly useful Javy Guerra for assignment.) Of course, it is fair to wonder whether Wilson's deal was worth the risk: the 32-year-old threw less than 20 innings last year after returning from his second Tommy John surgery, yet got arguably the best contract of any free agent reliever. (His $19MM total guarantee falls $1MM of that given Joe Nathan by the Tigers, but Wilson's second year is a player option — giving him upside if he performs — while Nathan gave up a third-year option.)
The two largest commitments — Guerrero and Arruebarrena, a pair of Cuban prospects who signed for a total of $53MM — were expected to provide some answers up the middle. The defensive specialist Arruebarrena looks like a long-term investment: a high-floor prospect who will try to develop his bat in the upper minors. But Guerrero was seemingly signed to occupy the open slot at second. Said to have an MLB-ready bat at age 27, Guerrero entered camp with only fallen prospect Dee Gordon and a series of minor league free agents standing between him and the Opening Day roster. 
Questions Remaining
If second base was a question mark entering the offseason, it is a much greater one (in relative terms) now. Having declined the option of the solid-but-unspectacular Ellis, and seen that Guerrero was in need of seasoning before he can handle an everyday MLB role at a new position, Los Angeles is left with the prospect of starting Gordon at second. The risk is not difficult to spot: soon to turn 26, Gordon has posted a .256/.301/.312 line in 669 MLB plate appearances, and advanced defensive metrics have rated his glovework at short as below average. While he has speed to spare (66 career stolen bases), he may not profile as much more than a replacement-level player.
Can Gordon reclaim his former promise? Will Guerrero put it together once given some time to adjust in Triple-A? The answers could ultimately prove favorable to the Dodgers, but these are not questions that this team hoped to be facing as it lands in Sydney to prepare to kick off the season. It is tough to imagine that the team is not rethinking somewhat its decision to give Ellis a $1MM buyout rather than paying him $5.75MM to stick around for another season.
Similar issues seem present in the bench, where the Dodgers are reportedly looking to make additions at this late hour. Tim Federowicz is not a terribly exciting second catching option to pair with a solid-but-limited starter in A.J. Ellis. (Ellis had a tough year at the plate in 2013, delivers little pop, and has not been a very good pitch framer.) Otherwise, the team seems to have settled upon a relatively marginal mix, which at this point appears likely to include Scott Van Slyke, Justin Turner, Mike Baxter, and Chone Figgins. While there are things to like about each player, it would be difficult to say that there is much impact among that group.
Of course, there is still one source of possible impact off of the bench, although it could also be a source of trouble. With Matt Kemp still working back from injury, the oft-discussed four-way outfield situation has yet to come to a head. At some point, presumably, the team will be faced with managing the return of its highest-paid position player when three other well-paid players (Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Yasiel Puig) have started the year with everyday jobs. If no injury, performance issue, or trade intercedes, the team will ultimately need to work out a way to manage four players who each "[want] to play every day," as Kemp himself said.
Finally, it is worth remembering that the Dodgers have yet to lock down shortstop Hanley Ramirez, who has been incredible since joining the club (at least while he has been on the field). There has been little reported movement on that front in recent weeks. Another big year could well leave Ramirez as the prize of the 2015 position player free agent market, and it may take a big contract to lock him up at this point. While Ramirez says he wants to stay with the organization long-term, it is still far from clear what both sides' parameters are.
One thing to keep an eye on, as well, is how the Dodgers' new TV network manages the negotiations to distribute the club's games in the Los Angeles market. There is a tendency to assume success with the announcement of each new television contract, but there is still plenty of risk in the execution of the entity's business plan. While the Dodgers reportedly have some protections in place to guarantee their income stream, the details remain hazy. 
Deal of Note
Much as I wanted to find a creative way to highlight something else, it is tough to ignore a contract that delivers the highest-ever annual salary for a Major League ballplayer — all the moreso when it is an extension for a pitcher. The Clayton Kershaw contract is, in some respects, the least-interesting mega-deal one could imagine: He has established himself as the game's best pitcher and is just entering his age-26 season. The Dodgers just signed an unfathomably large new TV deal and are one of the league's true glamour teams. Nobody seems surprised by the number ($215MM), large as it is.
On the other hand, the deal is certainly notable for the fact that it includes an opt-out clause permitting Kershaw to reach the open market after five years. (MLBTR's Tim Dierkes examined the history of opt-out clauses, in light of Kershaw's massive payday.) Relatively rare in the first place, the opt-out clause in Kershaw's deal is the first given to a pitcher in an extension scenario. (Only Vernon Wells and Elvis Andrus received extension clauses before Kershaw.) Having taken on $215MM of risk on one man's left arm, the Dodgers will not reserve for themselves the upside of his last two seasons if things work out. 
In the end, however, Kershaw may have had unprecedented bargaining power for a player. His incredible performance, stature, and youth — combined with the situation of his current team and his own proximity to free agency — left him situated as well as one could reasonably hope to drive a whole new kind of bidding war. Giving up that possibility was always going to cost a lot of money, and the Dodgers managed to secure Kershaw without clearly overspending relative to his demonstrated ability.
What do you buy for the team that has everything — or, at least, has the money to buy everything it does not have? That was the question seemingly facing Colletti in the offseason, and it was interesting to see how he responded. The club spent a lot of money, but its largest single commitment fell shy of those made by teams like the Astros, Brewers, Royals, and Twins.
Many have noted the potential value in the contracts given players like Haren, Maholm, and some of the bullpen additions. But while the Dodgers spent the fourth-most money in the league, it remains to be seen whether the club maximized the impact of those dollars in on-field results. The Wilson contract was certainly a risky proposition. With such a talented and expensive roster, it is fair to ask whether some of the team's still-sizeable outlay should have gone to a premium free agent at an area of potential impact, such as McCann. Alternatively, perhaps, with a bench set to be populated by several players picked off of waivers or added on minor league deals, some cash might have been well spent on achieving more production from the non-regular segment of the roster. 
Most of all, of course, Los Angeles faces a big hole at second. If the club has anything less than a strong start and the keystone looks to be a part of the problem, there will be intense pressure to act decisively to find a solution. That is rarely a good situation to be in. Likewise, the club will have to tread cautiously in managing its four outfielders, a situation that could result in friction. Though predictions would be unwise — the matter depends upon a multitude of hard-to-pin-down factors — suffice it to say that the scrutiny is already primed. 
It has become popular to lampoon the Dodgers for their free-spending ways, and indeed the club did manage to spend a princely sum through free agency. But the outlay was of quite a different character than the club's bold series of trades and free agent signings before the 2013 season. Does this signal an end to the organization's seemingly limitless dispensing of cash? A change in strategy? A reflection of the front office's evaluation of the talent and market rates being paid? It is hard to know, but we can expect that many such questions will be asked if the Dodgers do not ride their league-leading $225MM+ payroll all the way to a parade through downtown Los Angeles.
Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

49 Responses to Offseason In Review: Los Angeles Dodgers Leave a Reply

  1. WhoKilledTheRallyMonkey 1 year ago

    Still trying to buy that WS title

    • BlueSkyLA
      BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

      Everybody is trying to buy a title. Some are simply spending more on it than others.

      • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

        Some franchises try to develop WS titles, for example the Rays, Cardinals and Pirates, other franchises, for example the Dodgers and Yankees, try to buy WS titles.

        • Knockdown 1 year ago

          So spending on the draft isn’t buying a title? Everyone buys titles. Whether you do it in FA or the draft you are still spending money.

          • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

            Draft signing are totally different from FA signing. It is true that drafted player demand signing bonuses but they are only allowed to negotiate with one team, the team that drafted them. Also draft signing bonuses are much much smaller than FA contracts. It a totally different approach.

        • grabarkewitz 1 year ago

          Who is to say that the Dodgers are not also trying to build from within? They spent big to guarantee a money flow, made sure to buy some time while the front office rebuilds the farm and it is very likely the will now spend heavily on draft picks and international players. Seems to me with the Kershaw extension they intend to keep the best.

          • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

            Guaranteeing Cuban players 25+ MM certainly isn’t an approach to building a farm system any other team is taking…. Its a whole new approach to buying a title

          • BlueSkyLA
            BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

            Funny, but that’s just the opposite of true.

          • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

            Care to cite precedent?

          • BlueSkyLA
            BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

            Nope, because no “precedent” is required. These players are being paid as advanced prospects, which makes perfect sense since none of them are 19 years old.

          • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

            So your saying the dodgers are the first team to spend this much on “advanced prospects?”

          • BlueSkyLA
            BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

            I’m not saying that at all. I am saying that I don’t have to cite a precedent, because it’s a fundamentally meaningless question.

          • Fred 1 year ago

            20-25mm over 5-6 years is basically less than what they’ll receive through pre-arbitration and arbitration, if they are of any worth

          • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

            Pre-arbitration and arbitration contracts are not guarantied 5-6 years in advance 70-80% of draft picks will never reach arbitration or stick in the MLB

          • Fred 1 year ago

            That’s the thing, though… these players aren’t draft picks/amateurs. They’ve played at the highest level in Cuban and International tournaments. Guerrero and Arruebuena were free agents and should be treated as such. Both will most likely spend no less than a year in the minors.

          • WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

            Sure…. The dodgers though Guerrero would be their starting 2B this year, doesn’t look like that’s going so well.

          • BlueSkyLA
            BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

            Right, they should be understood as advanced prospects in the sense that they are a year or so away from being MLB ready, for various reasons.

          • grabarkewitz 1 year ago

            So, the Cubs, Rangers and Jays spending over limit for sixteen year olds is less reprehensible than the Dodgers filling a massive depth issue on their farm with a ML-ready glove at shortstop. I won’t argue they very likely overpaid but I will argue that the aforementioned teams also overpaid for sixteen year olds whole very likely won’t return the investment. Whether you spend on sixteen year old or over twenty year old Cubans it is still player development.

        • BlueSkyLA
          BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

          None of which is free, despite the implications to the contrary. The reality is, most teams spend as much as they are able to spend on “buying a title” given their revenue limitations (with some obvious exceptions). The other factoid worth mentioning in this context is that the new ownership is also in the process of rebuilding a farm and scouting system that was once one of the best in baseball, but was badly neglected under the two previous owners.

        • TommyL 1 year ago

          >>Does this signal an end to the organization’s seemingly limitless dispensing of cash? A change in strategy?<<

          Anyone who cared to listen to Dodger ownership would see that they are carrying out the strategy they announced on day one. Their first stated objective was to put a winning team on the field, regardless of cost. That they did by securing Hanley, pulling off the big trade with Boston and signing a few free agents like Hyu and Grienke. They made it to the NL championship game, so mission accomplished.

          They also announced their long term strategy was to rebuild the farm and re-establish their former position of dominance in Latin America. They start by signing Puig, Guerrero and Arruebarrena. Overpays? We'll see. But rest assured Latin American players and their agents are sure to be inviting the Dodgers to all of their parties in the future.

          Going forward, I think we'll see the Dodgers being more selective but never afraid to make a monetary commitment to keep a player in LA, ala Kershaw, or acquire a star that fills a hole in the organization.

          All and all, it's a good time to be a Dodger fan.

        • denz 1 year ago

          Those players being developed will want their money at some point.

          Kershaw is an example.

    • Fred 1 year ago

      *Still trying to improve their team

    • Guest 1 year ago

      You either pay now or later. How long will that rookie helping you win play for nothing?

    • denz 1 year ago

      You pay now or later. How long will that rookie helping you win play for nothing?

  2. BlueSkyLA
    BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

    Good article. One small correction: I believe Young officially retired. Also, I’m not sure if you meant to imply that the Dodgers take on risk with the media deal. If so, that impression should be corrected. The team’s money is guaranteed. TWC has the burden of figuring out how to make money on it, including the thorny problem of selling it to other providers.

    • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 1 year ago

      Thanks. I meant to note that Young had retired. As for the TV deal, that is interesting. Reports definitely suggest some kind of guarantee is in place. Of course, that does not mean there is no risk. Would need to see the precise terms — which are left pretty vague from what I’ve read — to assess (e.g., does the guarantee flow from the network to the Dodgers, from Time Warner to the Dodgers, for how long, are there caps/out clauses/etc?).

      • BlueSkyLA
        BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

        Some of this we’re probably never going to know, but according to the LA Times (from an article I read about two weeks ago), the media revenues to the team are guaranteed. This issue comes up pretty regularly in the local media now and will probably generate even more press as the season gets underway, since TWC has so far failed to sell the broadcast rights to any other major provider.

        • Jeff_Todd_MLBTR 1 year ago

          I tracked down an early article on the subject and added reference to the post. Thanks very much for raising, it is good to be aware of.

          • BlueSkyLA
            BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

            Yes, that covers it. I’m not sure if the revenue sharing issue has ever been resolved.

  3. grabarkewitz 1 year ago

    I think the lack of huge signings, in comparison to the Yankees, Rangers and others, is that the Dodgers could follow the Yankee lead and say to heck with the penalties and spend the dividend in the International Market. It is still the most team-friendly to build a farm system as you don’t have as stringent penalties for overspending and the allure of college baseball is nearly non-existent.

  4. Declining Ellis’ option remains the Dodgers’ most puzzling move of the offseason. I like what they’ve done but their infield depth could be a problem.

    • WhoKilledTheRallyMonkey 1 year ago

      They were overly confident in Guerrero’s ability to shift from SS to 2B. Not the worst bet to make but it didn’t turn out well.

      • The option wasn’t that expensive though and they could have trade him if Guerrero was ready. A 5 million dollar bench piece on that team is hardly that big of an overpay.

    • Sky14 1 year ago

      That’s a bold statement, considering this off-season included the Fister deal.

      • What does Fister have to do with the Dodgers?

        • BlueSkyLA
          BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

          Better yet, what does he have to do with second base?

          • I assume the poster thought I was referring to the entire offseason, not just the Dodgers.

          • Sky14 1 year ago

            Could of swore it said “the most puzzling move of this offseason” but perhaps I was mistaken.

            As for Ellis and the Dodgers, my assumption is they didn’t want to commit to Ellis thinking they could possible get an upgrade. If they didn’t they could resign Ellis.

          • BlueSkyLA
            BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

            We could have sworn the story was about the Dodgers.

            Anyhow, the Dodgers signed Guerrero before declining the option on Ellis. Yet, Guerrero was in many respects an unknown, especially given that he was being asked to switch positions. In those circumstances picking up the option on Ellis would have been relatively cheap insurance. If and when Guerrero is ready to take over, Ellis is marketable. The question is why the Dodgers didn’t play it that way.

  5. Thizzie 1 year ago

    Will Sam Demel make the team?

    • thegrayrace 1 year ago

      No. He’s probably 10th or 11th on the bullpen depth chart. Seth Rosin, Chris Withrow and Jose Dominguez are among the pitchers fighting for a spot that are probably ahead of Demel.

  6. Curt Green 1 year ago

    Teams like the Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels will always be vilified for out bidding for the best players. When they lose, it shows that all their money did not matter. Teams like the Cardinals and Rays, that develop talent from within, receives my respect since they have to work harder to produce a solid team. A salary cap would really show who has the best front office.

    • meep 1 year ago

      Well if you notices dodgers kind of have to spend. Since the former ownership failed to to get good prospects. But the new owners have nicely started to get good prospects. So down the road dodgers prospects will start to come

  7. Anthony Hughes 1 year ago

    What concerns me about this Dodger team is the defense. Bad defensive teams almost never win the World Series, especially if it’s their up-the-middle defense that is the problem. The only passable defensive center fielder the Dodgers have is Joc Pederson, and he isn’t going to be playing. Hanley is below-average at SS, to put it nicely, and they figure to be playing an out-of-position Dee Gordon or an out-of-position Alex Guerrero at second base for most of the season (and Justin Turner, who will probably start against most lefties, isn’t good on defense either). I feel fine with A.J. Ellis catching, but I’m very concerned about the defense.

    • thegrayrace 1 year ago

      Hanley was actually above average defensively last season (0.7 dWAR), though whether he can keep that up is certainly questionable.

      Defensively, Uribe is one of the best 3B in baseball (1.8 dWAR last season, second only to Nolan Arenado among third basemen). Adrian Gonzalez is widely regarded as an above average defensive 1B.

      2B is the only real concern for me defensively. Dee Gordon could do very well there, because his main issue defensively has tended to be his wild throws from SS, and moving to 2B should cut down those considerably. He obviously has spectacular range. I’m fairly optimistic about him on defense (more pessimistic about him providing anything of value on offense). Guerrero didn’t look too terrible out there, either.

  8. BlueSkyLA
    BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

    It’s a question lacking in relevance or meaning. If you’re going to lay traps don’t complain when someone notices and refuses to step into it.

  9. WashingtonRancors 1 year ago

    Let me simplify it for you, has(or is) any other MLB team spending 25+ MM in guarantied contracts on “advanced prospects”?

  10. BlueSkyLA
    BlueSkyLA 1 year ago

    Same question, same answer.

  11. vtadave 1 year ago

    I take it you have heard of Yeonis Cespedes and Jose Abreu? Yes, both needed no minor league time, but as I think we saw last year, neither did Puig. Guerrero’s bat is just fine, but he’s learning a new position and if the organization wants him to do that in the minors, fine.

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