Offseason decisions: ownership clouding baseball in Dodgertown

One of a series on dilemmas facing each major league teams this winter

Despite having low expectations for the 2011 season, the Los Angeles Dodgers managed to produce three great stories for their fan base—Clayton Kershaw won the Cy Young Award, Matt Kemp finished a close second in the NL MVP race while almost reaching the 40/40 plateau and…oh! the McCourts finally decided to sell the franchise via auction. Dodgers fans are gearing up and looking forward to a fresh start.

In terms of baseball, the Dodgers have already made four offseason roster moves. They signed defensive-minded Mark Ellis to replace Jamey Carroll at second base. They signed Matt Treanor to be a mentor and backup catcher. They re-signed Juan Rivera to be their everyday left fielder.

The main splash of the offseason was giving an eight-year extension to Matt Kemp in his final arbitration year. I don’t see the Dodgers making any other large long-term move for the offseason. The Kemp extension was likely a recognition by the front office that any new ownership would likely approve of any Kemp signing, as the Dodgers’ revenue streams are continually one of the best in the majors.

So after all this movement in November, is the front office likely to be willing to make more moves with the auction of the franchise lingering? Any trades to consider? Any free agents to target? My realistic answer is a big fat no; the Kemp deal is likely the big decision of this offseason.

But reality and necessities to compete are completely different. Fans want to see players added or traded to win games, not a business decision. With that in mind, some flaws or question marks are highlighted below, including the Dodgers’ abysmal offense behind Kemp, and the thin rotation that has lost Hiroki Kuroda to free agency.

How to improve the offense?

The 2011 Dodgers ranked 11th in the National League in wOBA. Matt Kemp was supported by the cast of Aaron Miles, Rod Barajas and Tony Gwynn Jr. Still, as mentioned before, the Dodgers will likely not make any moves to have any real marginal change in their offense. The 2012 version will have to rely on comeback seasons from multiple players.

James Loney is always a question mark these days —have we already seen his development peak, or is he a late bloomer? If the Dodgers are serious about Juan Uribe as a starting third baseman, they have to hope he hits something north of his .250 wOBA in 295 plate appearances last year. Don’t get me started on Ellis’ offensive prowess.

In essence, next year’s Dodgers will look pretty similar to this year’s, with no real improvements added by the front office besides the hope of better outcomes from its current position players. The development of its younger players will be important; they’d like to see Dee Gordon, Jerry Sands and A.J. Ellis take leaps in their development.

Although Andre Ethier had 551 plate appearances, he claims to have been bothered by a knee injury throughout the season. The issue become more prevalent as he was shut down in early September to diagnose the injury and in hopes he’ll be fully healed by spring training 2012. If healthy, Ethier could be a huge boost to next year’s offense. Another question mark is if general manager Ned Colletti will stick to his word on trying to extend Ethier, as he’s in his last year of arbitration.

Replacing Kuroda

Kuroda has been a staple of the Dodger rotation for the past four seasons—replacing him will be quite the challenge. Jon Garland, injured for most of the year, will be gone as well. Rubby De La Rosa, who started 10 games last year, also won’t be able to help most of the season; his Tommy John surgery rehab will set him back to an August 2012 debut.

As of now, the rotation looks to be headed by Kershaw, Chad Billingsley and Ted Lilly. In the farm system, the Dodgers have an interesting prospect in Nathan Eovaldi. After that, they’ll likely look to free agent pitchers for their fourth and fifth starting rotation spots.

Guys like Rich Harden, Bartolo Colon and Aaron Harang could likely be signed to one- or two-year minimal deals. The pitching core is good; the Dodgers’ starters ranked third in the National League in FIP last year. All they need to replace fourth and fifth starters is veteran pitchers who likely won’t receive huge contracts due to injury risk or decline in performance.

Bullpen wise, the Dodgers lost injured Jonathan Broxton this past year, but relievers in LA managed to have quite a good season without him. Next year, the Dodgers will likely turn to Kenley Jansen, their hard-throwing right hander.

All in all, the Dodgers are in a very interesting position. They aren’t at a point to rebuild, but are held back from competing for a postseason berth due to the question of what kind of ownership will be around in April 2012. Their clear weakness is the offense, but whether the front office is willing to sign or trade for new bats is a question. Dodger fans will have to wait: 2012 will likely be a lot like 2011 but without the McCourt divorce soap opera.

References & Resources
Stats used from Baseball Reference and Fangraphs.

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