Final Grade: B-
The Dodgers’ offseason didn’t go as planned, and some parts of that are their fault. They could have attempted to keep Greinke sooner and not allow other teams to make an offer like the one the Diamondbacks made. They also could have been more aggressive in the free agent market to replace Greinke, although several members of team ownership made it publicly known that they planned to reduce payroll and build the roster through the farm system rather than through free agency. That helps explain why the Dodgers didn’t pursue any blockbuster trades involving prospects, save for the three-team deal with the Reds and White Sox (in which they received prospects that better fit their MLB roster in return).
Of course, that trade would never have taken place if Friedman hadn’t taken the high road by nullifying an agreement with Cincinnati to bring Aroldis Chapman to the Dodgers in the first place. Although Chapman combined with Kenley Jansen would have given the Dodgers one of the best bullpens in baseball, it would have also another potentially volatile clubhouse dynamic as Chapman faces serious domestic abuse allegations that may result in a long suspension for him. Although the team may not look as good on paper, Friedman deserves praise for not only choosing to void the deal but also finding alternatives to it in the following weeks.
Kazmir, Maeda, Sierra, and Blanton can all be filed in the “wait and see” category. If all are healthy and perform as expected, it will go a long way toward softening the blow of missing out on Greinke and Chapman. If not, the first half of the season could be a pretty bumpy ride. Fortunately, the Dodgers could have several reinforcements ready by the All-Star break such as Brandon McCarthy, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery, as well as top pitching prospects Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, and Jharel Cotton. There’s also the fact that the four pitchers combined are likely to cost the Dodgers somewhere between $15-20 million in 2016, just over half of what Greinke alone will make next season in Arizona.
There’s plenty of uncertainty outside of the pitching staff too: in the second half of 2015, the Dodgers scored fewer runs than any other MLB team except for the 67-win Braves and 71-win Marlins. That underproductive lineup returns virtually unchanged in 2016. There are some exceptions, mainly a (hopeful) return to full health for Kendrick, Puig, Grandal, and Turner, as well as top prospect Corey Seager taking over full time at shortstop. If injuries crop up again, role players such as Hernandez, Utley, Scott Van Slyke, and Thompson should be ready to step up. If they don’t, however, Friedman’s strategy to build the “deepest team in baseball” over injecting top-flight talent into the lineup could backfire.
To sum it up, the Dodgers chose not to flex their financial muscle this winter, but rather streamline their payroll and maximize the team’s depth. It’s a vastly different approach to one that we’re used to seeing out of the club with baseball’s highest payroll, but it has worked as recently as last season with the 100-win Cardinals. Friedman is gambling that such a strategy can keep the Dodgers on top of the NL West, but there are still plenty of risks involved with the players he brought in to realize that strategy. The final grade for this offseason will ultimately hinge on whether those risks pay off, but for now, I’m giving the Dodgers a B- for a solid but not great winter.