At first, it looked as though the Dodgers’ first (and presumably biggest) offseason addition would be star Cincinnati Reds closer Aroldis Chapman. The two teams agreed to a trade that would send Chapman to L.A. at the beginning of the winter meetings. The deal entered limbo after it was revealed that Chapman was implicated in a domestic violence incident in which he fired multiple gunshots to scare his girlfriend and their four-month-old child out of their Miami house. The girlfriend also accused Chapman of choking her. The Dodgers eventually called it off, and Chapman was later dealt to the New York Yankees.
While the Chapman trade was still hanging up in the air, the Dodgers’ first actual move was to re-sign Utley to a one-year, $7 million deal. The aging second baseman was mostly unimpressive after being traded from the Philadelphia Phillies in August, slashing just .202/.291/.363 in 34 games with L.A. and executing a nasty takeout slide on Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the NLDS. On the other hand, Utley has been praised by many of his teammates for the “edge” he brought to the club down the stretch, according to team insiders. That’s probably where most of the 38-year-old’s value to the 2016 Dodgers lies: as a veteran leader in the clubhouse. It’s hard to see much else that he could bring to club’s ability on the field and its appeal off it.
Meanwhile, the Dodgers stayed in touch with the Reds even after the failed Chapman trade and were eventually able to insert themselves in a three-team deal that sent Cincy slugger Todd Frazier to the Chicago White Sox. In return, the Dodgers got a trio of MLB-ready prospects from the Sox: pitcher Frankie Montas, outfielder Trayce Thompson, and second baseman Micah Johnson. All three players figure to contribute to the big league club in 2016, although Montas will start the season on the disabled list after an unexpected rib surgery and Johnson will likely be pushed to Triple-A for reasons we’ll get to in a second. Thompson, however, could take advantage of the Dodgers’ uncertain outfield situation and see time as a right-handed platoon partner for Ethier or Pederson.
Friedman was also tasked with remaking their rotation behind Kershaw, and after a deal with Hisashi Iwakuma was voided due to a failed physical, he pulled a one-two punch in the last week of 2015 by agreeing to contracts with former Astros lefty Scott Kazmir and Japanese ace Kenta Maeda. Both are projected to be solid mid-rotation starters after great 2015 campaigns.
Kazmir got a three-year, $48 million contract with an opt-out after one year. It’s the latest step in a stunning comeback for the lefty, who spent all of 2012 out of baseball after struggling with injury and poor performance. In the past three years with Cleveland, Oakland, and Houston, however, “Kaz” has been good for a 3.54 ERA and 3.61 FIP over 92 starts and 531 innings. He was particularly effective in the first half of 2015, posting a 2.49 ERA and an 8.53 K/9 rate.
Maeda’s deal is for eight years, but could end up being half the cost of Kazmir’s. The contract structure is very incentive-laden, though, meaning that he could end up earning well beyond the $24 million base salary if he stays healthy enough to reach certain benchmarks of games and innings pitched. Maeda was lights-out in the Japan Central League last year, throwing five complete games and posting a 2.09 ERA. Although there will be some challenges adjusting to MLB hitters, Maeda is projected to be anywhere from a reliable fourth starter to a solid number-two option.
There are some concerns with both hurlers — Kazmir seemingly ran out of gas toward the end of both 2014 and 2015 while Maeda could face some serious elbow injury concerns in the coming seasons. Regardless, Kazmir and Maeda should be key contributors to the Dodgers’ rotation alongside Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Alex Wood, and Brett Anderson in 2016.
Friedman then pivoted to bolster the bullpen in front of star closer Kenley Jansen by signing Cuban reliever Yaisel Sierra and reuniting with former Dodgers starter Joe Blanton. Sierra has dominant raw stuff, including a fastball that touches triple digits, but also some major struggles with pitch command. Blanton is the latest in a string of failed starters who experienced a turnaround as a reliever; in 34 innings with the Pirates and pitching guru Ray Searage in late 2015, Blanton produced a 1.54 ERA and 2.11 FIP. That’s a far cry from the 4.99 ERA and 3.74 FIP he posted in his first go-around with the Dodgers, a 57-inning stint as a starter in 2012.
The last major addition to the Dodgers roster was the re-signing of Kendrick, who had a typically consistent season as L.A.’s starting second baseman in 2015 and is set to return to that role after returning to the Dodgers on a two-year, $20 million deal in February. Kendrick slashed .295/.336/.409 in 117 games last season despite missing over a month due to a severe hamstring strain. His presence gives the Dodgers another positive clubhouse influence along with enviable depth at the position with Utley, Hernandez, and Johnson behind him.
The Dodgers also made several major moves off the field, including bringing former Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos and retired All-Stars Greg Maddux and Raul Ibanez into the front office. Most importantly, however, Friedman and GM Farhan Zaidi made a manager change, “mutually parting ways” with Don Mattingly and eventually replacing him with Dave Roberts. The hiring of the former Dodger center fielder has garnered rave reviews from nearly all corners of the baseball world despite his inexperience. This was especially true when he pledged to unite a clubhouse that had always seemed fractured under Mattingly. Roberts also brought in an entirely new coaching staff (save for longtime pitching coach Rick Honeycutt), that includes former Mets bench coach Bob Geren and former Diamondbacks hitting coach Turner Ward.