Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Wild Dodger Pace Amid A Slow Evolving Plan

      By Ross Newhan

       Ultimately, the goal of Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi is to turn the Dodger roster younger and less expensive while retaining the competitiveness that the market demands--a noble goal that at this point is somewhere beyond anyone's rainbow. At this point, given the breadth, scope and pace of their current activity, it is impossible to predict what the roster will look like an hour from now, let alone when "younger and less expensive" will be fully implemented.

        As for competitiveness, the ability to retain and sustain the 94 win, division title level of 2014, that aspect is also incredibly hazy amid a roster turnover than in all liklihood is not finished.

        The new Dodger management team has made 11 trades in 26 days, some major and some minor, some merely stockpiling and some lineup impacting, some stand alone and some interrelated, and on Dec. 11 who knows what the lineup or 25 man roster will look like on April 6 when Los Angeles opens the 2015 season against San Diego.

        The fact that Matt Kemp will be in a Padre uniform rather than a Dodger uniform on that date helps exemplify the magnitude of the Friedman/Zaidi pace and plan, which may still include a trade for Cole Hamels or David Price or the signing of a free agent pitcher of the caliber of Max Scherzer or James Shields.

        Seldom has an often fickle fan base been fed so much off-season fodder, but whether the mid-season standings will match the excitement provided by a remodeled front office over the last few weeks--and last 24 hours in particular--is a very big question that only time will tell.

         Second baseman Dee Gordon has taken his 64 stolen bases to the leadoff position in Miami. Kemp and his resurgent bat (25 homers, 89 RBI) will be playing left field in San Diego. Dan Haren has departed the back of the Dodger rotation and will either join Gordon in Miami or retire, the Dodgers giving the Marlins  $10 million either way.

          On Dec. 11, a possible Dodger lineup looks like this:

          Jimmy Rollins, SS
          Carl Crawford, LF
          Yasiel Puig, RF
          Adrian Gonzalez, lB
          Jose Uribe, 3B
          Howie Kendrick, 2B
          Joc Pederson, CF
          Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis, C

           The absence of Kemp in that lineup represents a major power outtage, but the Dodgers will be saving  about $75 million of the $107 million he was owed over the next five years, defused the timebomb that was their congested outfield situation (at a time when there was limited trade interest in Crawford and Andre Eithier) and opened center field for the touted Pederson, who still has to prove himself but who many in the organization believed should have been starting last year.

           Pederson, shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias represent the Big Three of the Dodgers farm oriented rebuilding plan and all of them were and are ownership designated untouchables. Pederson now gets his chance while Seager, at 21, gets another year at triple A while the acquisition of Rollins for two minor leaguers provides a quality stopgap and veteran clubhouse presence at a critical position that Hanley Ramirez could no longer play. Rollins, the all-time Philadelphia hit leader, is 36 but stole 28 bases last year, hit 17 homers and, according to a wide array of scouts, satisfactorily retains his defensive skills.

          Rollins is in the last year of his contract, as is his new double play partner Kendrick, acquired from the Angels when the Dodgers made a quick flip of pitching prospect Andrew Heaney, obtained in the seven player trade with Miami. Kendrick, like Rollins, is a respected presence and a .292 career hitter during his eight years with the Angels. Conceivably, Seager will be the shortstop and the $28  million Alex Guerrero will be the second baseman in 2016, when Kendrick considers free agency and Rollins retirement.

           As it stands, with Kemp gone and Grandal representing only modest return, Pederson will be facing increased pressure, Puig will be trying to shake his second half struggle and Gonzalez and Uribe will be hoping to resist the ever present clock. Rollins,  Kendrick and Grandal may pick up some of the Kemp/Gordon slack, and the Dodgers retain a Big Three of Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-Jim Ryu at the top of a rotation augmented in the last 24 hours by the signing of free agent Brandon McCarthy to replace Haren. At 31, with a career record of 52-65, the Dodgers, counting on McCarthy's positive analytics and a 7-5, 2.89 ERA in 14 season-closing starts with the Yankees in 2014, may have over-paid at four years and $48 million, but overpaying is the nature of the free agent pitching game.

          Plus, despite that long-range goal of a less expensive payroll, the Dodgers still have the Guggenheim resources and an $8 billion TV contract in a $9 billion industry, and at their current pace the shadows of Hamels, Scherzer, Price and Shields are hard to ignore. There is still an opening in the Dodger rotation, a long way until opening day and no indication that the Friedman/Zaidi cell batteries are dead.

         Stay tuned is the only certainty on Dec. 11.