The Los Angeles Dodgers will look to win a franchise best fourth-consecutive National League West title in 2016, fueled by the kind of organizational depth club president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman has preached since his appointment nearly 18 months ago.
In light of that emphasis, two pitchers, lefty Scott Kazmir and right-handed Japanese import Kenta Maeda, were brought in to shore up a Dodgers rotation suddenly absent of a certain Major League Baseball ERA leader.
A second-straight season leading the majors in payroll ($291.1 million according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts) paired with another early playoff exit has many Dodgers fans frustrated with the club’s front office. Despite the frustration of yet another NLDS playoff exit, the Dodgers declined to make a splash in a free agency class awash with big names and, eventually, enormous contracts.
David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jason Heyward are just a few of the free agents linked with the Dodgers this winter. But once the dust cleared, the biggest name the Dodgers brought in was the 32-year-old Kazmir, who signed a three-year deal worth $48 million.
Clayton Kershaw, to absolutely nobody’s surprise, will remain the Dodgers’ ace this season. Kershaw sidestepped his uncharacteristically rough start to 2015, finishing the year with a 2.13 ERA and eclipsing 300 strikeouts for the first time in his seven-year professional career.
Kershaw was solid in Spring Training (1.96 ERA in 23 innings) and will be on the mound for the Dodgers when they open 2016 against the San Diego Padres Monday.
While Kershaw remains, the Dodgers’ off-season was, in many circles, defined by one move: the exodus of Zack Greinke.
The former Cy Young winner and 2015 MLB ERA champ opted out of the six-year deal he signed with Los Angeles ahead of the 2013 season.
Greinke, 32, signed a new six-year deal worth more than $206 million with the Arizona Diamondbacks, leaving a noticeable gulf between Kershaw and the rest of the Dodgers’ starting rotation. The Dodgers opted to bridge the Greinke gap via committee.
The first newcomer was Kazmir, who had a shaky start in camp. The veteran allowed eight earned runs in his first seven Spring Training innings. Kazmir eventually settled in, striking out nine and allowing just two earned runs in his final two Cactus League appearances.
Kazmir can opt out of his new deal after its first season, which he’ll likely do in search of a more lucrative contract in a free agent class much shallower in terms of pitching. Kazmir will slot into the No. 2 spot of the Dodgers rotation.
The club next brought in Maeda, who for the past eight years plied his trade in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league. The Dodgers signed Maeda to an incentive-laden eight-year deal that reportedly only guarantees the righty $25 million, but could eclipse $106 million if certain performance conditions are met. The club also forked over a $20 million posting fee to Maeda’s former club, the Hiroshima Carp, just to negotiate Maeda’s rights.
On the farm, the Dodgers have pitching options in prospects Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, Frankie Montas and Yaisel Sierra. Two-time Tommy John salvage project Brandon Beachy and fallen Chad Billingsley heir Zach Lee could also feature in the rotation at some point.
The Dodgers used 16 different pitchers in 2015, good for the most in the majors.
Shelf full of arms
Left-handed pitcher Brett Anderson will be out for the first half of the season after he injured his back during a bullpen session early in Spring Training. What was initially dismissed as a tweak turned out to be a bulging disc, rendering Anderson, who figured to pitch fourth in the Dodgers’ 2016 rotation, unavailable until at least June.
Anderson’s 2015 season was his healthiest as a professional, as he eclipsed 180 innings for the first time and provided the Dodgers with a comfortable 3.69 ERA at the bottom of the rotation. The 28-year-old accepted the one-year, $15.8 million qualifying offer the Dodgers extended him this winter.
Pitchers Brandon McCarthy and Hyun Jin Ryu were always going to be mid-season additions. Setbacks have stalled the players’ injury returns, but both should contribute in some capacity in 2016. McCarthy is rehabilitating from the Tommy John surgery he underwent last April. Ryu’s 2015 ended in Spring Training when the throwing shoulder injury that has nagged the lefty since his arrival in Los Angeles finally required repair.
Perhaps the Dodgers’ biggest offensive addition will be a full season of of top prospect Corey Seager. The Dodgers called the young shortstop up after the rosters expanded last September, and the club’s first-round pick from the 2012 draft (18th overall) slashed .337/.425/561 in 27 major league games.
Seager’s production was more than an upgrade from 2015 opening day starter Jimmy Rollins (.224/.285/.358), and the 22-year-old should have plenty rope with which to endure the struggles of his official rookie campaign.
Absent early on will be veteran outfielder Andre Ethier, who fractured his right tibia during a Spring Training game. Ethier fouled a pitch off his shin on March 18 and will begin the season on the disabled list. The initial timetable was 10 to 14 weeks, forcing the Dodgers to turn to Carl Crawford as one half of their left field platoon.
Ethier performed well in a limited role in 2015, slashing .294/.366/.486 in 445 plate appearances, almost exclusively against right-handed pitching.
Crawford will start in left when the Dodgers face righties, and Kiké Hernandez or Scott Van Slyke will do so against lefties.
Sure shots for starting roles in center and right field are Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig.
Pederson’s 2015 rookie campaign got off to a hot start after the 23-year-old entered the All-Star break sitting on 23 home runs. He would only hit three more long balls in the season’s second half, with rookie struggles catching up with the 2015 All Star. Pederson eventually lost his starting role, but his knack for drawing walks (92 in 2015) and solid patrol of center field have him penciled in as the center fielder come Monday in San Diego.
Yasiel Puig’s 2015 was marred by hamstring injuries in both legs, earning the Cuban two separate trips to the disabled list. The 25-year-old appeared in just 79 games for the Dodgers, producing the worst batting line of his short career (.255/.322/.436).
Puig is good when healthy (career .294/.371/.487) and he appeared to be both in camp, notching 13 hits in 17 games this spring.
Should another Dodger outfielder go down injured or get traded this season, recent acquisition Trayce Thompson (brother of Warriors guard Klay Thompson) could enter the equation. The younger Thompson drew attention toward the end of 2015, when a 44-game cameo produced a .294/.366/.486 batting line from the Orange County native.
Thompson was sent to L.A. as part of a three-team, seven-player trade involving the White Sox and Reds. The right-handed hitter can play all three outfield positions.
Old friend, new skipper
Roberts played for the Dodgers starting in 2002, but was traded in 2004 to eventual the World Series-winning Boston Red Sox. In that playoff run, Roberts executed a pinch-run stolen base against the Yankees iconic in Red Sox lore.
Roberts’ playing career ended in 2009 as a member of the Giants. He posted a .242 batting average and hit two home runs in his two seasons in San Francisco.