Playing Pepper 2017: Los Angeles Dodgers

Back in 2009, I had the idea of doing a season preview of each team by asking bloggers that followed that club questions and posting the answers.  We’re back for the ninth edition of Playing Pepper!  We’ll cover one team a day from now right up until Opening Day (not counting weekends).  This series is brought to you by our new United Cardinal Bloggers podcasts site, where you can find all the info and new episodes you need to enhance your Cardinal fandom.  Now, let’s play some pepper!

Los Angeles Dodgers
91-71, first in NL West, lost in NLDS
Last year’s Pepper

The Dodgers would just like a year where they didn’t have to play the NL Central representative.  After losing a number of times to the Cardinals in postseason play, the Dodgers found themselves in October without their Redbird bedevilers, only to run into the history-making buzzsaw that was the Chicago Cubs.  Los Angeles is spending a lot of time in the playoffs, but they’ve still not made it to the World Series since 1988.

Is this the year their drought ends?  We’ve seen the Cubs and the Royals find their way through the wilderness, so why not LA?  These great bloggers below will fill us in not only on the offseason but also what it’ll be like in the first season without a legend.

C70: Was it a good offseason for the team? Did they do what they needed to do? Is there any move you wished they had made that they didn’t?

DD: It was a relatively quiet offseason for the Dodgers, but in many ways that was a good thing. Instead of making any big flashy trades or signings, they retained important key free agent players Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill. Despite having the resources, they weren’t expected to make the $192 million investment and re-sign all three. The front office also addressed the void at second base by trading pitching prospect Jose De Leon to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for Logan Forsythe. Forsythe will leadoff for the Dodgers and hopefully help out against left-handed pitching, an Achilles’ heel of the 2016 team. They bolstered the bullpen by signing Sergio Romo, re-signed Chase Utley on a one-year deal and signed Franklin Gutierrez in order to provide depth in the outfield. I like all the moves (and non-moves) the Dodgers made this off-season and am optimistic going into Spring Training.

LAD: I guess you could say it was a good offseason for the Dodgers, only because they did do what they needed to do. And what they needed to do was resign two of their star free agents; elite super closer Kenley Jansen, and slugging third baseman Justin Turner. JT was the one I feel like they really couldn’t do without. Turner and Corey Seager are the two hitters that are the most important in that lineup. Those guys make the offense go and without them they would truly be screwed. I was surprised that the front office did their due diligence and resigned them considering their history of not offering long term contracts to anyone.

However both players wanted to remain with the Dodgers and turned down other offers to do so. The club also resigned starting pitcher Rich Hill along with trading top pitching prospect Jose De Leon to the Rays for second baseman Logan Forsythe. They just recently signed former Giant reliever Sergio Romo, veteran infielder Chase Utley (who is beloved in the clubhouse), and outfielder Franklin Gutierrez.

The one move I had wished would have been made was the acquisition of second baseman Brian Dozier. I feel like the front office did not do enough to strengthen the lineup and fix some of the hitting woes the Dodgers had for most of 2016. Dozier is clearly a superior player than Forsythe. He’s a game changer, as his power, and base running are better than Forsythe. In the end I feel like Forsythe was the more reasonable choice. There is still part of me that wishes they had kept Howie Kendrick so they didn’t have to part with De Leon. Either way I think Forsythe will be a solid addition and Romo should have a reliable season in the bullpen. 

CRF: Overall, it’s hard not to think that this was an excellent offseason for the Dodgers. They came two wins away from the World Series last year despite having one of the most injury-filled seasons imaginable. They retained the key pieces and upgraded at second base, all while keeping a very deep and talented farm system intact. They should have more than six regular season starts from Rich Hill, hopefully a full season of Clayton Kershaw, and should be better against lefties with Logan Forsythe in the mix. The only move I wish they would have made would be to get a more proven eighth inning guy. Joe Blanton was great last season (minus two hanging sliders), but he’s in Washington now. Sergio Romo should prove effective against righties, but his splits concern me against tough lefties. Grant Dayton may very well be the best reliever on the team not named Jansen, so a setup-by-committee should work fine. However, seeing the contract Greg Holland got in Colorado, that would have been lovely in LA.

DBH: It’s hard to imagine the Dodgers having a better winter than they did. Not only did they re-sign their top free agents, but they also found out how desirable they’ve become to play for. Both Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen signed below market contracts to continue playing in LA. On top of that, the Dodgers relief staff was bolstered by the signing of a free agent reliever Sergio Romo, and he took less to play for the team.

As for the rest of the lineup they filled a big hole when they traded for second baseman Logan Forsythe. It might have been better to get Brian Dozier from Minnesota instead, but I think Logan will fit in just fine. The starting rotation was rounded out by the re-signing of Rich Hill.

For the first time in a long time the Dodgers appear to have filled all of their needs.

C70: This will be the first season in Los Angeles history without Vin Scully behind the mic. How strange is it going to be without that golden voice?

DD: I still haven’t completely come to terms with Vin Scully’s retirement. I think it will hit me once Opening Day comes, and Vin isn’t there to share it with us. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to listen to Vin my entire life, and my daughters also had time with Vin as well. His absence from the broadcast booth will still be felt in my heart. Vin added a special layer to each Dodger game, and it will be like attending a game alone for the first time after a long-time friend isn’t there to enjoy the ballpark with you anymore.

LAD: It’s not only strange but totally depressing. We’ve all feared this day would come, but you know Vin can’t do it forever. Dodger baseball will never be the same again in much the same way that Lakers basketball was never the same after Chick Hearn left us.

The games go on though, and every Dodger fan must deal with this in their own way. I am glad that Scully went out on his own terms and is now able to spend time with his family. He deserves that. I’ve met Scully in passing a couple of years ago, but recently my Mother ran into him at a restaurant in Thousand Oaks. While eating lunch she spotted him and ran after him. (My mother is never scared to approach anybody especially celebrities.)  Anyways, she asked if he was relieved about his career coming to an end and the year-long tribute to him. He told my Mom that he was, and I understand considering how humble he is. He never wanted all of the attention as he has said before that he doesn’t think he is bigger than the game. We will never forget his beautiful dulcet voice. He is truly the greatest sports broadcaster in sports history.

CRF: Not to justify the Sportsnet LA fiasco that has left half of LA unable to watch the Dodgers, but if there’s one positive to take from it, it’s that it has prepared me for life after Vin. I found my ways to watch games over the last couple years, but a lot of the city has already been without Scully. Add in the fact that he’s called fewer and fewer games over the last couple seasons, and it shouldn’t be too strange. He’ll definitely be missed by all, but he went out in a nearly perfect way and the Dodgers did well to bring in an incredible talent in Joe Davis. It will take some getting used to early on, but hopefully Davis can stick around for 60 years as well.

DBH: It truly is an end of an era. There was something always comforting about hearing Vin call a game, so not having him around will feel weird. Fortunately, it isn’t entirely foreign. Vin Scully hadn’t broadcasted away games for quite a few years, so fans have had plenty of time to get used to him not being behind the mic. Nevertheless, I’ll miss the way he spinned his yarn and painted his picture.  

C70: Yasiel Puig always draws the headlines, but he’s struggled a bit the last couple of years. Can he recapture the force he was when he first got into the league?

DD: Yasiel Puig certainly has the talent to return to the superstar status level he was playing at when he made his extraordinary MLB debut in 2013. Unfortunately his offensive numbers have declined since, and he has not been able to perform to expectations. Transitioning to the US from Cuba has posed some issues for the young outfielder, and it was evident last season that he had regressed to some of his old ways when he was demoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City for a month. Coming into Spring Training, Puig has stated that he wants to be a starter again (whether for the Dodgers or anywhere else), and he is continuing to work on being a better person on and off the field. We have heard that all before. I’m hopeful he can recapture that force that makes him such a fun player to watch and one of my favorites.

LAD: He’s always grabbing the headlines. That’s just the type of player that he is. He has a larger than life persona. I’ve had a sinking feeling that he may never recapture that all-star form he displayed when he first broke into the majors with the Dodgers. I think the league adjusted to him and he was never able to make that counter adjustment that separates the good players from the great. A great player is able to adjust as the season goes along. Puig has not been able to do that. Perhaps it is a mental issue with him, but I have noticed a small change in his batting stance last year. In his first couple of years he always stood so far off the plate and it amazed me. I couldn’t believe it and I often wondered how he would ever be able to reach those outside pitches that caught the corner of the plate. But the inside was his wheelhouse and it seemed to work for him. In 2016 he seemed to be closer to the plate and a little more closed off than before. It’ll be interesting to see if he returns to his original stance on the far edge of the batter’s box. He’s got one heck of an arm though. If nothing else he is sure to be entertaining as he always is.

CRF: Puig is such a divisive player, but I think the key will be for fans to temper expectations with him. He came up and set the world on fire, but the league has caught up to him. In his last two seasons, Puig has carried a .260/.323/.425 slash with 26 doubles. 22 homers and 83 RBIs. Because of injuries, that’s come in 679 plate appearances, which could be one full-season’s worth of plate appearances. If he can put together that season this year, along with his excellent defense and breathtaking arm in right field, that’s a very solid player. His $8.2 million salary this season is below average for outfielders (spottrac has average outfielder salary at $8.7M). He’s not getting paid like a star, and while he should show glimpses of being a star, on this team he just needs to be a consistent solid player with good defense, which he can be. So I’ll say no, he won’t ever be the player he was when he first came up, but that’s OK. 

DBH: Yasiel Puig has been an enigma, and I think it’s fair to say that if he can ever turn it around he’ll be a force in the game. I know the Dodgers feel that way. They are no doubt banking on Puig returning to his former self. So far this spring he’s been below the radar (save the recent news about a home burglary), so that’s good news. He seems more focused on the game rather than the fame that comes from being him. If he can remain focused then there’s a good chance we’ll see a little bit of what we first saw in 2013. If not, he’ll likely not be wearing Dodger Blue for long. I am hoping for the best.

C70: Is there an unheralded player that people should keep an eye on this season?

DD: Left-handed relief pitcher Grant Dayton is a Dodger to keep an eye out on this season. He has an elite four-seam fastball, and his 38.6 percent strikeout rate last season was the sixth-highest among relievers with at least 20 innings pitched. Kenley Jansen comes to mind first when you think of incredible Dodger relievers, and Sergio Romo is also now in the mix for late-inning work. Yet the 29-year old shouldn’t be overlooked. Although he has only has only pitched in 26 1/3 Major-League innings, he is good enough to set-up Jansen if his success from his rookie season continues into 2017.

LAD: That would probably be catcher Yasmani Grandal. He’s really a very good catcher. He hit 27 home runs last year and is one of the top pitch-framers in all of MLB. If he stays healthy he’ll be a huge weapon offensively and does a great job with the pitching staff. Zack Greinke once said he was the best catcher he had ever worked with. Not a bad return for Matt Kemp to be honest.

CRF: I’m not sure that I’d call Logan Forsythe “unheralded” as he’s the main piece the Dodgers added, but he should be an extremely solid player. He’s not a star, but he should be the best second baseman the Dodgers have had since Jeff Kent. He checks off all the holes the Dodgers had (second base, leadoff, good against lefties), and is just overall really solid. There’s not really one thing he’s great at, but there’s no weaknesses in his game. Given the price, I was firmly in the “I’d rather have Forsythe than Brian Dozier” camp all offseason, so I was ecstatic that the Dodgers went that route rather than overpay for a much more streaky player (albeit with much more upside and power).

I also feel that Dayton is underappreciated. It’s tough to gauge reliever value (especially for a non-closer), but there is a ton of promise with Dayton. Fangraphs wrote about it in January and while it’s more than fair to be skeptical about a 28-year-old first-time major leaguer, he could be a giant piece in the bullpen this season.

DBH: Watch out for left-handed reliever Grant Dayton. He’s a 29 year-old pitcher with limited experience in the Major Leagues. Steamer projects a 1.5 WAR for him next season – even though he was faced only 119 batters in 26.1 innings pitched. He throws a low to mid 90’s fastball with lots of movement, and a changeup that he uses as an out pitch or when behind in the count.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and/or where will they finish in the division?

DD: Given that the Dodgers have retained their core players, re-signed free agents, filled in roster holes by making sensible trades and preserved their collection of talented prospects, I feel that they will be one of the top teams in the National League in 2017. They should win their fifth consecutive NL West title with my projection of a 94-68 record.

LAD: I think they’ll finish about the same as they did last year. There’s not much competition in the division. The NL West has been weak for years and I see the Dodgers winning 90 games again and probably winning the west crown for the fifth consecutive season. The Giants should give them some trouble, but I still think the Dodgers are the favorites. The big question is can they break that nasty World Series drought that mars the franchise. 

CRF: This team is going to be excellent. They have the top-end talent and there’s not really any injury scenario in which I think this team would be screwed. Losing Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, Justin Turner or Clayton Kershaw for any extended period of time would hurt the most, but the Dodgers have an abundance of depth at every other position and proved last year they can overcome a lot. Last year, everything that could have gone wrong for the Dodgers went wrong and they still won 91 games. This year, with a full year of Hill, hopefully better health and an upgrade at second, I’ll put the Dodgers at 95-67 and a first place finish, eight games ahead of the Giants.

DBH: Considering their successful offseason there’s no reason the Dodgers couldn’t repeat as division champions. I don’t think 95 wins is out of the question.

C70: Who is your all-time favorite Dodger and why?

DD: Mike Scioscia has been my all-time favorite Dodger since I was a kid. I remember being fascinated by his plate-blocking skills and tenacity as a catcher. I discovered he was a wonderful human being as well. Being a naive little girl and not knowing the unlikelihood that my childhood hero would respond, I wrote a letter to his manager declaring my adoration for him and the Dodgers. Perhaps my words were precursors of my later baseball musings as an adult, because it worked. My family was invited to Dodger Stadium to meet Scioscia. That was the first time I stepped foot in the Dodger dugout, and paradoxically not my last. It forever cemented my loyalty to the team and to Mike. He will always be my favorite player even if he now is adorned in a halo.

LAD: I always loved Mike Piazza, but my favorite is Orel Hershiser. I idolized him as a kid because he gave hope to guys like me. He wasn’t a big bruiser type. He was kind of thin and was a thinking man’s pitcher. Tommy Lasorda once said that he looked like an accountant. I could relate to him. I had all of his cards and posters of him all over my wall when I was a kid. He was my hero. I loved him.

So when I was able to finally meet him in the Dodger dugout before covering a game one day I was beyond thrilled. He asked me about my blog at the time and remembered meeting my sister. He told me he would follow me on twitter. I met him again during a taping of the Dodgers pregame show at the Sportsnetla studio in El Segundo. That was probably the coolest moment of my life as I watched a Dodger game with him and Nomar Garciaparra. We talked about pitching, sabermetrics, looked up Nomar’s stats, and “greenies”. He is just as friendly, down to Earth and forthright as I always thought he would be. He is a wonderful man. My only regret was forgetting to bring my World Series championship 1988 Dodgers publication magazine for him to autograph. Oh well. One of these days I’ll get his signature on it. 

CRF: I feel like I can’t really count any Dodgers I wasn’t alive to see. Growing up, Mike Piazza was my favorite Dodger. However, that breakup and Piazza’s subsequent statements about the Dodgers and Vin Scully have soured him to me. I don’t think I really liked a player to that level until Matt Kemp. I still will only wear my old Kemp shirts to Dodger games. I wore a Clayton Kershaw shirt to a game once, Game One of the 2014 NLDS in which Kershaw gave up six runs in the eighth inning (eight total in the game) and Matt Carpenter solidified himself as Satan incarnate. Kershaw is my favorite Dodger at the moment, but I will never wear his shirt again. So I’ll still call Kemp my favorite Dodger of all-time. 

DBH: This might seem like an obvious answer, but my favorite All-Time Dodger is Jackie Robinson — for obvious reasons. He’s a figure worth studying and a man I admire. 

Appreciate these guys (and lady) filling us in on the Dodger outlook.  Perhaps another October meeting is in the cards?

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