LOS ANGELES, October 25, 2013 — The Los Angeles Dodgers are done for the year. They finished on top of the National League West with a 92-70 record, 11 games ahead of the second place Diamondbacks, only to fall in the NLCS to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The Dodgers have a lot that they could do to improve the team before next spring. Here is a rundown of a best case scenario winter for Dodger fans.
Catcher: A.J. Ellis, 32, is a free agent after this season. He has been an unlikely captain of this high-pirced Dodger team. The guy did a great job handling the Dodger pitching staff. Ellis had his second double-digit homerun year with ten, but his average slipped from .270 in 2012 to .238 in 2013.
Best Case Scenario: Dodgers sign free agent Brian McCann, 29, to a three to four year deal and make him the everyday catcher. Ask A.J. Ellis to fall back into a reserve role and re-sign him to a two-year deal. If he declines, the Dodgers still have Federowicz to back up McCann.
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez had a .293/.342/.461 slash line with 22 homeruns. Gonzalez is under contract until after the 2018 season.
Best Case Scenario: Adrian Gonzalez will be your starter for the foreseeable future. Hopefully, Scott Van Slyke can get more practice at first base in a winter league and provide a solid back up at the position, as well as in the outfield.
Second Base: Mark Ellis pretty much did what he was paid to do and what was expected. He put up a .270 average with a handful of homeruns and played solid defense up the middle. He is 36 though and, well, not really in the cards of a best case scenario.
Best Case Scenario: This part of the Dodgers’ dream winter has already been taken care of with the signing last week of Alexander Guerrero to a four-year $28 million deal. Gonzalez projects as good fielder with power in the 15-25 homerun range and will provide some power from the bottom half of the batting order.
Third Base: Juan Uribe is a free agent finally this year after a very lucrative contract, which Uribe never did much to justify. In 2012, he was essentially the bad dog forced to sit in the corner. In 2013, however, he became a leader in the clubhouse and a vacuum cleaner at the hot corner, making only five errors. He did provide random offensive sparks throughout the year and in the playoffs, but that is not something you’re going to focus on and reward. Uribe’s defense is.
Best Case Scenario: This is a tricky one. The Dodgers sign Uribe to a three-year, front-loaded contract. He is your everyday third baseman in 2014 and then shifts into a reserve role for the remaining two years on his deal. Next year, you go after and sign Chase Headley, provided he has a healthy and productive 2014. Corey Seager? He is going to Tampa Bay, but more on that later.
Shortstop: Hanley Ramirez never really got the credit he deserved because the shadow cast by the Wild Horse from Cuba in stretched from right field all the way to the Dodger dugout. Ramirez though put up numbers similar to his MVP year, but missed a decent amount of time due to various injuries.
Best Case Scenario: Hanley Ramirez is under contract for one more year. It would be nice to see the Dodgers stay on his good side and give the 29-year-old a five year extension. This may make Dee Gordon sad, but he knows he will never be a Hanley Ramirez, or even a Jose Offerman for that matter, but that is another story. Perhaps Gordon’s father, Tom, can help him transition into a bullpen pitcher that can also pinch run?
Left Field: Carl Crawford put up decent numbers in 2013, not decent Carl Crawford numbers, but more like decent James Loney numbers if the Dodgers were to have moved Loney to right. Crawford’s slash line of .283/.329/.407 with six homeruns and 15 stolen bases is far cry from the Carl Crawford that used to be a Devil Ray, back when they were the Devil Rays.
Best Case Scenario: Crawford is under contract until after the 2017 season and making over $20 million per year, which means as long as he is healthy he will be in left field for the Dodgers. A best case scenario would see Crawford hit just ten homeruns and steal 30 bases with a .280 average. Scott Van Slyke will again back up Crawford.
Center Field: Perhaps haps the most interesting scenario for the Dodgers involves center field. Matt Kemp essentially missed the 2013 season. They say a guy wearing the number 27 on his jersey played some games, but Matt Kemp was never really there. The Bison became the Bystander. Kemp has literally done nothing since signing his long-term deal in 2012. The oft-injured Kemp has become the oft-operated on. After offseason shoulder surgery last year, Kemp ended the season on the DL and headed straight to the operating room for not one, but two surgeries, one on his injured ankle and the other to clean up some stuff in his surgically repaired shoulder. He is expected to be ready by spring training.
Andre Ethier was pushed into center field when Yasiel Puig arrived. Ethier posted a .272/.360/.423 slash line in 2013, playing 74 games in center, 54 in right and eight in left field. With a healthy Matt Kemp, Ethier becomes trade bait. The problem there is a healthy Matt Kemp. Ethier’s contract escalates to $14 million next year and then he really gets expensive in 2015 at over $18 million.
Best Case Scenario: Matt Kemp returns to form in 2014 and Andre Ethier is traded along with a Brinks truck for prospects mid-season.
Right Field: Yasiel Puig was called up at the start of June. He sprinted out of the gate, never looked back and was last seen running at full speed on the 101 freeway. Puig may end up with the Rookie of the Year award for the National League after posting a slash line of .319/.391/.534 with a 160 OPS+ with 19 homeruns and 11 stolen bases.
Best Case Scenario: Yasiel Puig, 22, received a lot of negative press for the way he plays the game. Regardless of your thoughts on flashy players, one thing Puig is not is boring. Expect him to continue to mature and learn the game while he grows into his prime year in a couple seasons. This is the ground floor and Puig should build on last year’s numbers, if for no other reason, since he will have a full season to play.
Starting Rotation: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu provided a solid 1-2-3 for the Dodgers at the top of their rotation. In his first MLB season, Ryu seemed to run out of gas at the end of the year. Kershaw and Greinke looked like themselves, although Greinke spent some time on the DL with injuries not related to his arm or shoulder.
Best Case Scenario: Kershaw and Greinke return to the top of the rotation in 2014. Ryu, however, gets moved back to the fifth spot in the rotation to give him more rest at the start of the year. The Dodgers re-sign Ricky Nolasco to a four-year deal and he becomes the number four starter. The final spot in the rotation goes to David Price, who becomes the number three starter. In a best case scenario, the Dodgers trade Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, perhaps another prospect and a reliever or two for Price at the winter meetings.
Bullpen: Kenley Jansen emerged as a lockdown closer for the Dodgers, as Brandon League emerged as a waste of money. The Dodgers also took modest risk in signing for Frisco closer and Beach Boys mastermind, Brian Wilson. The bearded pitcher proved that he can be effective in late innings.
Best Case Scenario: Jansen returns as the closer and Wilson re-signs as the setup man. Paco “don’t call me Steven” Rodriguez will be back and stronger after getting tired at the end of the year. As with most bullpens, the rest can be meshed together and worked out under the tutelage of pitching genius, Rick Honeycutt.
Best Case Scenario Lineup: Best Case Scenario Rotation:
Carl Crawford, LF Clayton Kershaw, LHP
Yasiel Puig, RF Zack Greinke, RHP
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B David Price, LHP
Matt Kemp, CF Ricky Nolasco, RHP
Hanley Ramirez, SS Hyun-jin Ryu, LHP
Brian McCann, C
Alexander Guerrero, 2B
Juan Uribe, 3B