Playing Pepper 2018: Los Angeles Dodgers

In 2009, before my second full season of blogging the Cardinals, I reached out to other bloggers to other teams to get insights on their clubs.  This year, instead of going through the teams alphabetically, we’ll approach it a little differently, spending a week with each division.  For the tenth straight season, get ready for the upcoming MLB season by playing a little pepper.  

Los Angeles Dodgers
104-58, first in NL West, lost in World Series
Website | Twitter

Last year’s Pepper

It’s hard to believe but one of the longest World Series droughts in baseball happens to be out in Los Angeles.  We think about the lavish spending of late and all the quality stars that are wearing Dodger blue, but you have to go back to Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson‘s miraculous home run in that upset of Oakland in 1988 to find their last crown.  It almost changed last year as they went to Game 7 of the World Series before coming up short.  Can they take that final step this season?  That’s what we have these excellent bloggers for, to find out!

Writer Site Twitter
Scott Andes LA Dodger Report Ladodgerreport
Alex Campos Dodgers Digest ac3581
Stacie Wheeler Dodgers Digest StacieMWheeler

C70: What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?

Scott: I don’t think the club improved at all, but it’s hard to improve on a club that won 104 games in the regular season and the National league pennant. This is a team that lost game 7 of the World Series and finished with the best record in baseball. So you know they’re already a very good team.

The entire offseason for the Dodgers was all about staying below that luxury tax threshold (so boring!) of 197 million dollars. The Dodgers not only don’t want to pay the overages but also don’t want to suffer the draft compensation or international signing penalties that accompany going over the tax. I think it was mostly about not losing that draft pick compensation more than anything because I have a hard time believing that the Dodgers, the richest team in MLB, is strapped for cash.  So they had to dump some of their terrible contracts in order to do this, which is why they made that big trade with the Braves. Gone is Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy, Scott Kazmir and Charlie Culberson. swapping three horrendous contracts for one horrendous contract makes sense math wise. It’s kind of sad to see Gonzo go but with the emergence of NL rookie of the year Cody Bellinger he wouldn’t have gotten many chances to play this year.

Gone are Brandon Morrow and Yu Darvish, both going to the Cubs. The only additions this year were pitchers Scott Alexander and Zach Neal, both ground ball pitchers, and Tom Koehler. Reports indicate the Dodgers want to use Koehler in the bullpen. I’m sure he can be a useful piece in the role as a long man/spot starter or middle reliever.  Oh and then there’s Matt Kemp, whom the Dodgers were unable to get rid of. Sure they tried their hardest to dump him, but nobody wanted him. It looks like he’ll suit up for the club in spring training but it remains to be seen if he’ll make the club or not. The left field position is the one spot up for grabs amongst a number of players. Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, rookie Alex Verdugo and Kemp will all battle for the job.

I would have liked to see the club add another reliable starting pitcher. I liked Jake Arrieta but I know there’s little chance of the club adding all that payroll this year. I like the team this year but feel there’s a need for another right handed starter.

Alex: It’s almost impossible to improve after a 105-win season. I don’t think the Dodgers improved, and I don’t see them winning that many games again. However, the offseason was mostly a success to me. The Dodgers accomplished something I couldn’t have imagined them doing by getting under the luxury tax. This sets them up extremely well for next offseason. However, just looking at the 2017 season, the team will probably be worse overall.

Stacie: For the second straight year, it was a relatively quiet offseason for the Dodgers. It was more about weddings-six of them to be exact- than any big free agent signings. Last winter they re-signed important key free agent players Justin Turner, Kenley Jansen and Rich Hill. This winter the Dodgers front office was more cash conscious with a focus on staying under the luxury tax threshold in time for next year’s free agent class.

It’s not like they needed to upgrade a team who won 104 games and is the reigning National League Champion much anyhow. They made some smaller moves instead. They inked Chase Utley to a two-year deal, retaining the influential veteran. They also signed free agent RHP Tom Koehler. Unfortunately he will start the season on the disabled list with a right anterior shoulder capsule strain. Koehler was the only free-agent pitcher the Dodgers signed to a major league contract this winter, and he had been looked to as a potential setup man for Kenley Jansen out of the bullpen.

Most of the talk has been about the December 16, 2017 trade between the Atlanta Braves and the Dodgers that brought Matt Kemp back to Los Angeles. The Dodgers sent Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir, Brandon McCarthy, Charlie Culberson and cash in return for Kemp. The trade gave them some additional payroll flexibility even if they aren’t able to trade Kemp.

I’m fine with the small moves and conservative approach if it means the Dodgers are able to lock up Kershaw and potentially go for Bryce Harper next year. Although there are still holes to be filled, after all there’s no Brandon Morrow in the bullpen anymore, the team is still pretty darn good. Decisions still have to be made as far as the roster especially in regards to the crowded outfield and various options for the bullpen, but the Dodgers’ moves and non-moves this off-season once again give me an optimistic outlook going into Opening Day.

C70: What are the odds that this is the last season in Dodger blue for Clayton Kershaw?

Scott: Probably pretty low to be honest, but I’m worried about it. The thought terrifies me. Kershaw will likely opt out and then the Dodgers will rework his contract, but why wait? I want it done ASAP. I find it hard to believe that the front office would just let him walk. Not only is he the ace of the staff, obviously and not only is he the best pitcher in baseball, but he’s also the face of the franchise. There’s no way they would be able to replace the greatest Dodger pitcher of this generation. You just give him whatever he wants and make it work. There’s no way I believe that they can’t make that happen financially speaking. They’ve got the money. Just sign him and stop worrying Dodger fans across the globe. He’s not getting any younger (approaching age 30 season), but making sure he finishes his career in Dodger Blue should be top priority.

Alex: I’d be shocked if the Dodgers let Kershaw walk. His opt-out is scary and, barring another serious back injury, he’s almost guaranteed to exercise it. However, he only cares about winning, which the Dodgers can offer long term. By getting under the luxury tax threshold, they can also offer him basically any amount of money. It would be a PR nightmare if Kershaw walked, and while this front office has yet to be deterred from a move because of “perception”, I don’t think they let him get away..

Stacie: The odds are high that Kershaw opts out after this season, but the odds are also very high that he remains a Dodger for the remainder of his career. Dodgers owner Mark Walter made it clear when asked at Camelback Ranch that he wants Kershaw to be a Dodger for life. Kershaw has $65 million and two years remaining on his seven-year contract, less than the three years and $71 million his former teammate Zack Greinke bowed out of when he signed with the division rival Arizona D-backs. Obviously Kershaw is in an entirely different category than Greinke. He’s a once-in-a-generation pitching ace so integral to the Dodgers’ goal of winning a World Championship as well as a historic player that is part of their franchise legacy. I can’t even begin to fathom the three-time Cy Young award winner and 2014 NL M.V.P. ever donning a jersey that is not Dodger Blue.

C70: What’s one thing people may overlook (positively or negatively) about this team?

Scott: One thing people may possibly overlook about the Dodgers is how many darn pitches this team sees. The Dodgers saw 24,347 pitches during the 2017 season, led MLB in walks and were sixth in OBP. The team is patient and they will absolutely wait you out. That’s their primary offensive philosophy taught by Dave Roberts and Turner Ward. They just refuse to swing at balls. “Pass the baton” is what they say if you don’t get anything good to hit. It’s been a strategy that has worked well for them.

One negative for them is making too many pitching changes. Things improved a lot in 2017 from the year before, but they still need to get more innings out of their starting rotation. Otherwise you get a burnt bullpen by the time you reach the World Series, and we saw how that turned out.

Alex: People overlook how great this organization is at maximizing talent. They’ve taken cast offs and turned them into stars. They’ve turned Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, Brandon Morrow and Tony Cingrani into legitimately good players after being cast off by their former teams. When they sign a guy like Pat Venditte or trade for a guy like Jake Peter, you have to squint and know that there’s something in them that could be turned into a good player.

Stacie: This team is still one of the best in baseball. Although the World Series loss was brutal, the outlook for this team this year as well as in the long-term is positive. Their dominant pitching, both starting and relief, solid defense and talented young core of players including consecutive NL Rookie of the Year award winners Corey Seager and Cody Bellinger, plus the overall depth of their system set them up to perform at the highest level for years to come.

One transaction that may be overlooked is the offseason acquisition of left-handed pitcher Scott Alexander and position player Jake Peter. The three-team January trade sent Luis Avilan to the Chicago White Sox and minor leaguers Erick Mejia and Trevor Oaks to the Kansas City Royals. The Dodgers got Alexander plus Peter, who has already hit three home runs this spring as a non-roster invitee. Alexander, who emerged as a key reliever out of the Royals’ pen last year, will be a late-inning guy for Dave Roberts. Peter looks like a solid prospect who may end up getting a shot with the big club at some point this year.

C70: Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Dodgers to do well?

Scott: Oh that’s Justin Turner for sure. He’s their most important position player. He’s their best all-around pure hitter. He makes the offense go. If he’s out for any extended amount of time then the Dodgers are truly and royally screwed. Not only is he a great hitter, but he’s also a wonderful defensive third baseman (one of the best in MLB), a great teammate and beloved by all fans. Hey wait, didn’t I say this last year too? That is the red dream.

Alex: Last year, Chris Taylor broke out and became the table-setter for the Dodgers. He became their everyday leadoff hitter and provided above average defense in center field. It seemed like the Dodgers really took off when he took off, and when he cooled off later in the season, the Dodgers forgot how to win. Their center field depth isn’t exactly strong, with Andrew Toles (coming off an ACL) and Alex Verdugo (unproven top prospect, probably better suited for a corner OF spot) behind him. If Taylor regresses too hard, that could make life more difficult for LA.

Stacie: The Dodgers’ success is almost certainly always closely linked to Kershaw’s success, but a lot is riding on the performance of Chris Taylor in 2018. When Logan Forsythe broke his toe and Joc Pederson scuffled, Taylor stepped into play center field and excelled offensively as well as defensively in center field.  His breakout season with the Dodgers was a big reason for the team’s success last year, but it’s still a bit unclear to whether he can bring a repeat performance in 2018.

Even if CT3’s 4.7 WAR season isn’t improved upon in 2018, the Dodgers look to Taylor and his revamped swing to sustain his level of performance at the plate and provide versatile defense in center field, at shortstop and second base.

C70: What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?

Scott: There should be little to no competition in the NL West. A sixth consecutive NL West title for the Dodgers looks like a lock. However the playoffs are a different story. The Cubs have beefed up their pitching staff (thanks to swiping two ex-Dodgers) and the Nationals will be good again too. The Brewers and Cardinals should be at least fringy competitive. I don’t think they win 104 games again but 95-99 wins looks good. I’ll predict a 99-63 record and I’m hoping for a return trip to the World Series. Hopefully they win the thing this year.

Alex: It’s tough to see the Dodgers not winning the West again. The Giants stole everyone’s franchise players, the Diamondbacks and Rockies should still be pesky, but the Dodgers have the most talent and the most depth. I’ll put them at 96-66 and they’ll probably win the division by double-digit games again. They’ve taken a step forward in the postseason each of the last three years, so the next step has to be a World Series championship right?

Stacie: Even though the Dodgers didn’t make any big moves or changes this winter, they remain one of the top teams in MLB with a solid farm system. They should win their sixth (!) consecutive NL West title with my projection of a 99-63 record. Then again, they won ten more games than I predicted last year. 

C70: What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?

Scott: You should have asked me if there is anyone on the Dodgers that can replace Scott Van Slyke‘s National anthem stand-off skills. The answer to that question is a resounding no. Then again where is your Joe Kelly?

Alex: I appreciate that you didn’t ask about the World Series, but I probably would have. I also might have asked about Yasiel Puig, and whether I think he can maintain what he did last season. No, I’m not over the World Series. Yes, Yasiel Puig definitely has the talent to continue as an above-average hitter and premium defensive right fielder. 

Stacie: The Dodgers have won five consecutive NL West Division titles and now a NL Championship. Will 2018 be the year they win it all? The Dodgers finally returned to the World Series in 2017 after a 29-year drought, only to be beaten by the Houston Astros in seven games. The Dodgers retained essentially the same team they had last year, bookended with two of the top pitchers on the planet i.e. Kershaw and Kenley Jansen. It’s difficult to start all over again in the spring after battling through 162 games and three playoff series before losing in Game 7.

The good news is that the team has been constructed so that they aren’t one-year wonders, and they all seem to have come back this spring determined and seeking redemption. The Dodgers also still have the depth to make mid-season trades and adjustments to put themselves in a more advantageous state of affairs should they need to. It was also the first postseason experience for many of the young players like Seager, Bellinger and Austin Barnes who are poised to play on the biggest stage for years to come. The World Series loss only fueled the team further in their pursuit of that elusive world series win. It will be hard to top the thrill of last season’s 104-win run, but all the talent and depth- plus now with the experience- certainly puts them right back in it as one of the top teams in baseball to start 2018.

Great to have Scott, Alex, and Stacie give us some thoughts on the Dodgers.  It would surprise nobody if late October finds its home in Chavez Ravine yet again!

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