Looking back at the 2015 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers, it is not hard to make a lengthy list of positives. The pitching staff sported two of the best pitchers in baseball in Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke, and the offense had the eighth-most home runs in franchise history. The team won the National League West for the third straight season, the first time in franchise history that the Dodgers made the postseason in three consecutive years. Joc Pederson had the most home runs by any Dodgers rookie not named Mike Piazza, Adrian Gonzalez had his highest home run total since 2010, and Andre Ethier had a bounce-back year amid uncertainty about his future. Oh yeah, and Corey Seager showed us a glimpse of the future, batting .337/.425/.561 in 113 plate appearances in the last month of the season.
Unfortunately, there are plenty of negatives to balance out the ledger. After stealing 138 bases as a team in 2014, the team had only 59 steals in 2015, the fourth-lowest number since in the Los Angeles era. Shortstop Jimmy Rollins hit a game-winning home run on Opening Day, but his struggles began almost immediately and he ended up with the worst season of his career, hitting .224/.285/.358 for a 78 OPS+ and a WAR of -0.1. Of the eight projected starters going into the season, Gonzalez was the only one who didn’t lose time to injury or ineffectiveness. Pederson made the All-Star team and finished second in the Home Run Derby, but he struggled mightily on offense after the first two months of the season and ended up serving as more of a platoon player in center field. Yasiel Puig struggled with injuries the entire season, playing only 79 games and returning too late to get into enough of a groove to be any help in the postseason. Carl Crawford, Howie Kendrick, Justin Turner, and Yasmani Grandal also missed significant time due to injuries, and Kiké Hernandez and Jose Peraza, who were thrust into starting roles after Kendrick’s injury and Pederson’s struggles, both spent time on the disabled list, too.
On the pitching side, Kershaw and Greinke were fantastic and Brett Anderson was a solid number-three starter, but the rest of the rotation struggled. Hyun-jin Ryu didn’t throw a pitch in the regular season after shoulder surgery, and Brandon McCarthy started only four games before an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. Mike Bolsinger was fourth on the team with 21 starts, and while he pitched relatively well, he averaged just over five innings per start, which was not enough for a team with a struggling bullpen. Kenley Jansen was fantastic as usual, although he missed the first six weeks of the season and had a home run rate nearly 50 percent higher than his career mark. Among the other relievers, only J.P. Howell had a great season; Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, Juan Nicasio, Luis Avilan, and Chris Hatcher all showed signs of dominance, but they also all struggled with inconsistency.
And of course, the biggest negative of all: The Dodgers were knocked out of the playoffs in the first round for the second consecutive year, extending their streak to 27 years since they won (or appeared in) the World Series. This was the team’s ninth playoff appearance since they last appeared in the World Series, tying the Atlanta Braves and the Oakland Athletics for the longest such streaks.
With another October disappointment comes a lengthy postseason wish list for the team with the highest payroll in baseball. Here are a few things on that list:
At least one front-line starting pitcher
Zack Greinke is sure to exercise his opt-out clause and become a free agent. I still think it is likely that he will be back in Dodger Blue next season, but it’s not a guarantee. The reason I say “at least one” is because even if the Dodgers do re-sign Greinke, they still need to add a starting pitcher, and when money is no obstacle as is the case with the Dodgers, there’s no reason not to go big. Free agent Brett Anderson just completed his first healthy season since he was 21 years old, so it might make sense to re-sign him to a reasonable contract. Hyun-jin Ryu should be ready for Spring Training next year, so a rotation of Clayton Kershaw, Greinke, Ryu, Anderson, and Alex Wood is solid enough that they don’t necessarily need another superstar. But considering the overall health concerns with Ryu and Anderson and a probable regression for Greinke, the rotation would certainly be more stable with David Price, Jordan Zimmermann, or Johnny Cueto on board.
Adding Price would make the Dodgers’ rotation extremely lefty-heavy, but he’s David Price, so it’s worth it. I’d prefer Zimmermann over Cueto, partly due to age and partly because it seems like a lot of work for me to learn to like Cueto.
And if Greinke doesn’t re-sign with the Dodgers, the need for one of those big stars is just intensified. Replacing Greinke with Price would give the Dodgers a projected rotation of five lefties, which would be an interesting twist for a team that once went 681 consecutive games with a right-handed starting pitcher, between Bob Ojeda‘s last start with the team on September 24, 1992, and Dennys Reyes‘ Major League debut on July 13, 1997.
Some help for the bullpen
In general, I do not believe in paying big money for relief pitchers. They are unpredictable, and you generally pay for stats that don’t actually mean much, like saves. But the whole point of being the richest team in baseball is spending money that it might be unwise for your less-wealthy competitors to spend, and the bullpen seems like a prime area to exploit that.
While there are not many top relievers on the free agent market, Tyler Clippard and Darren O’Day are both solid relievers who would fit well in the Dodgers’ pen. The Dodgers already have two very good lefty relievers in J.P. Howell and Luis Avilan, and Kenley Jansen and Chris Hatcher are both great. Adding one or both of Clippard and O’Day to that group, plus some combination of Yimi Garcia, Pedro Baez, and Juan Nicasio would make for a pretty solid bullpen. That’s a luxury the Dodgers have not had in the past couple seasons.
A long-term solution at second base
This may be something the Dodgers already have in-house. Both Kiké Hernandez and Jose Peraza played some second base this season, and each showed signs of having what it takes to be an everyday second baseman. Hernandez probably profiles better as a super-utilityman, though, since he can play six different positions. Peraza would probably be a work in progress offensively, although he could certainly hold his own on defense (and his speed would be a welcome change when he did get on base). The question is whether the Dodgers would be willing to let the youngster, who will turn 22 in the first month of the season, learn on the job, especially considering that his likely double-play partner, Corey Seager, is only three days older than him. I don’t know if there has ever been a team with World Series aspirations that started two 22-year-old rookies in the middle infield. With 24-year-olds Joc Pederson and Hernandez likely to get the bulk of the playing time in center, that is a mighty young — but mighty talented — defense up the middle.
The only other in-house alternative is Howie Kendrick, who is a free agent but will likely receive a qualifying offer from the Dodgers. If Kendrick accepts the offer, he will be the starting second baseman and give Peraza one more year of seasoning in the minors. Of course, if Kendrick accepts the offer, he will be the first player in the short history of the current qualifying offer system to do so.
There are no extremely attractive second-base options on the free-agent market. Some team will overpay for Daniel Murphy based on his postseason heroics, but that team isn’t likely to be the Dodgers, whose front office is savvy enough to recognize the pitfalls of giving a longterm contract to a 31-year-old who has averaged about 2.0 WAR per season throughout his career. Ben Zobrist is an interesting option, but much of his value comes in his versatility, which the Dodgers already have in the ten-years-younger Hernandez.
Some clarity in the outfield
The reason the Dodgers have Carl Crawford is because they wanted Adrian Gonzalez. To get Gonzalez, the Dodgers took the contracts of Crawford and Josh Beckett off the hands of the Boston Red Sox. Crawford has not played more than 130 games in a season since 2010, and while he was a legitimate superstar during his days with the Tampa Bay Rays, he is nothing close to that player now. He averaged 12 triples and 50 stolen bases with an 82.5 percent success rate in eight full seasons in Tampa Bay; he has averaged about three triples and 14 stolen bases in the five seasons since, although his success rate of 79.8 percent is still pretty good. And after averaging 146 games per season in Tampa, he has averaged just 90 games per season since.
[table caption=”Carl Crawford’s per-162-game stats”]
So Crawford has played less often, and when he has played he has not been nearly as good as he was. But he is owed roughly $43.5 million over the next two seasons, so he remains on the roster. For a team like the Dodgers, that is a situation that probably needs to change. The Dodgers have Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, and Kiké Hernandez who are capable of playing the outfield; even if you wanted to platoon some players, Puig is an everyday player when he is healthy, so there is no need for three lefties. Right-handed pitchers would face an outfield of Puig, Pederson, and Ethier, while lefties would face Puig, Hernandez, and Van Slyke.
Simply put, there is no need to have both Ethier and Crawford on the roster, no matter how much they are paid (Ethier is owed $38 million over the next two seasons). Ethier is more durable, provides more defensive value, and is a fan favorite, so if they are going to keep one of them, he makes sense.
What the Dodgers really need, though, is something they haven’t had in the two and a half seasons since Puig’s MLB debut on June 3, 2013: a clear depth chart. Since Puig’s debut, they have always had four outfielders. It was Puig, Crawford, Ethier, and Matt Kemp in 2013 and 2014; luckily (or not) for the Dodgers, the four were rarely healthy at the same time. It was the same quartet in 2014, and while there were still quite a few health issues that made Don Mattingly‘s decisions easier, there were also notable stretches when perfectly healthy, high-paid outfielders were sitting on the bench, and not very happily all the time. In 2015, Kemp was replaced by Pederson in the quartet.
Perhaps the best option would be to find trade partners for both Crawford and Ethier, eat most of their contracts, and sign Jason Heyward to take their place. An outfield of Puig, Pederson, and Heyward, with Van Slyke and Hernandez available for platoons and rest days, would make Dodger fans quite happy.
A manager, I guess, or something
Oh yeah, this team doesn’t currently have a manager. Don Mattingly and the front office had a pretty friendly breakup last week, and while we may never know the real story behind those conversations, there appears to have been some level of mutual respect between all the parties. Mattingly was a favorite whipping boy for angry fans, but show me a team whose angry fans don’t blame the manager and I’ll show you a unicorn. He was not perfect, but there was definite improvement over the years, and he showed a humility that is somewhat rare in former players that allowed him to learn from the “Geek Squad” front office. That humility will serve him well in his future as a manager, although I don’t know that the Miami Marlins are the right fit for him (or anyone).
But now the Dodgers need a manager. I’m not an expert in what they need — heck, just last night I was drafting a letter to Andrew Friedman explaining why I think I deserve the job — but I know it needs to happen relatively quickly. I have faith that Friedman, Farhan Zaidi, and Josh Byrnes will hire a good manager, even if it’s not me.
It is a testament to how spoiled we have become as Dodger fans that our Wish List for them is basically, “Throw some money at the best free agents and eat the bad contracts to get rid of them.” But the Dodgers have $334 million per year coming in on their television deal, and they just led MLB in attendance once again, so these are not unreasonable requests. And there is one area in which Dodger fans are not spoiled, which brings us to our final item on the Wish List:
Let all of Southern California watch and listen to Vin Scully’s final season
The Dodgers have one of the best regional sports networks in the industry. Time Warner Cable’s SportsNet LA has nonstop Dodgers content, including replays of classic Dodger games, behind-the-scenes looks at the current team, and interviews with players both past and present. SNLA also has exclusive broadcasting rights to televise Dodger games. Unfortunately, SNLA is available only on Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, and a few local cable companies. Distributors such as DirecTV, Dish Network, and Verizon FIOS do not have access to SNLA due to disagreements that can pretty fairly be summed up in one word: money.
That means that roughly 70 percent of people living in Southern California are unable to watch their team on television, except for four or five national broadcasts per season where MLB’s arcane and archaic blackout restrictions are lifted.
Put it this way: I live in Utah, and I am able to watch pretty much any Dodger game I want. Meanwhile, my parents and my brother in Southern California aren’t able to watch any Dodger games.
I don’t know what the solution is, but I know there is a solution. I know that if MLB announced tomorrow that they were lifting their blackout restrictions on their MLB.tv mobile service and their Extra Innings television package, sales for both of those products in Southern California would explode. Or maybe Time Warner and DirecTV will come to an agreement soon now that DirecTV’s merger with AT&T is complete — it is generally assumed that as soon as DirecTV works something out to carry SNLA, the other providers will too.
But whatever it is, it needs to happen this offseason. Dodgers announcer Vin Scully has said that he expects 2016 — his 67th season — to be his final season behind the microphone. Dodger fans voted Scully the “Most Memorable Personality” in Dodgers history — in 1976! It would be a shame — a downright unforgivable shame — for 70 percent of the local fans to be cut off from hearing Scully’s last season as the voice of the Dodgers.
The Dodgers need to pressure for a fix. MLB needs to pressure for a fix. One way or another, this needs to happen. There are winning seasons and there are losing seasons, and a decade later it’s hard to remember which was which. But no Dodger fan will ever forget being shut out from listening to the swan song of the greatest broadcaster in baseball history.