Monday, December 15, 2014

New Dodgers' front office shakes things up for the better

Well, next year's team is going to be a lot different from this year's. After the season ended, the Dodgers had a fairly long list of free agents and team options, none of whom they chose to pursue very hard.

Hanley Ramirez obviously, but also Jamey Wright, Roberto Hernandez, Chad Billingsley, Kevin Correia, Paul Maholm, Chris Perez, Scott Elbert and Stephen Fife all walked out the door without so much as a "Please don't go, we love you so." Furthermore Josh Beckett retired. All told, that's about $62 million or something cleared from the books. They did have to pay Billingsley $3 million to buy out his option. The one action they did take was to keep Darwin Barney.

And when I say they, of course, I'm talking about the brand new front office full of logical thinkers. I can't evaluate all the deals they didn't quite close. What if they offered a little more to Andrew Miller, Pat Neshek, Jon Lester? What if they managed to pull off rumored trades with Seattle, Baltimore, Texas, Chicago White Sox? Sometimes, the best decisions are the ones not to pursue an action too strongly, knowing better alternatives can be found. I'll give the benefit of the doubt there. Let's just take a look at the actions the have consummated (or almost consummated as several seem to be lingering in the neutral zone).

Winter Meetings

Heading into the winter meetings, the Dodgers have improved the team by 2.3 wins and spent $5.5 million. Good job so far, although, a lot of work to do before they'd satisfy ownership expectations of competing for a championship.

We still don't know what happened at those meetings (literally, not all the trades and signings haven't been finalized yet) but it seems they orchestrated something akin to Walter White on "Breaking Bad" ...


... having all those potential informants killed in their respective prisons within 2 minutes of each other.

Marlins deal

First announced deal is Dee Gordon (.320/.350 OBP/SLG projection with great speed and OK second base defense) and Dan Haren (4.20 ERA projection) and Miguel Rojas (.260/.260 OBP/SLG projection with great infield defense) for a bunch of guys you never heard of, but upon further inspection, are all good. Also, the Dodgers send $12.5 million to Miami. I'll count such transfers too. The Miami guys were
  • Andrew Heaney (4.20 ERA projection as SP but with bright future)
  • Chris Hatcher (3.30 ERA projection as RP)
  • Enrique (Kikè) Hernández (IF/OF utility player with .310/.380 OBP/SLG projection and decent glove at a handful of positions)
  • Austin Barnes (don't think he's a 2015 guy, but minor league C/2B (!) with great hitting numbers in AA)
They got Heaney because the Angels wanted him, but they could have actually stopped right there and kept Heaney as their No. 5 starter and filled in Guerrero/Barney/Turner at second base. That actually would have been an improved team, too. That team was about 1 win better at a marginal cost of $1.3 million.

Angels deal

The Dodgers turned around and flipped Heaney to the Angels for Howie Kendrick (.330/.390 OBP/SLG projection with good second base defense). Kendrick costs a little money ($9.5 million) but is worth it. Even with the loss of Heaney, this year's team gets another 0.8 wins better for that $9 or $9.25 million.

Padres deal

I guess I heard of the Phillies deal first, but this one has to technically happen first as the Dodgers are again going to flip an acquired player immediately (an actually very tall and broad fellow named Eflin).  This remains unofficial as I write this (should be on Tuesday, though), but more or less it is giving the Padres: 
  • Matt Kemp (.340/.500 OBP/SLG projection but with bad right field defense)
  • Tim Federowicz (.250/.310 OBP/SLG projection with "eh" defense at catcher)
  • $6.4 million (and another $6.4 million each of the next few years)
and getting 
  • Yasmani Grandal (.340/.420 OBP / SLG with good catching defense all things considered)
  • That Elvish minor league pitcher 
  • Joe Wieland (4.60 ERA projection)
This trade does a lot of things for the Dodgers.  
  • It lets Puig move from center field (where he is not good) to right field (where he is good)
  • The above plus getting Kemp out of the outfield entirely turns the team's outfield defense from bad to good
  • It clears up center field for Joc Pederson (.330/.390 OBP/SLG projection with good baserunning and defense, and potential for growth well beyond that)
  • It clears a source of rumored "dysfunction" in Kemp
  • It moves A.J. Ellis s (.340/.340 OBP/SLG projection with eh defense at C) to a backup role
  • It gets Grandal at minimum wage, who is good now with potential to be very good
  • It clears a bunch of payroll this year and going forward
  • It gets a pitcher to flip in the next deal and some depth in Wieland (who also might grab some starts)
  • It makes us all a little (or possibly a lot) sad, even if you see the logic of all the above
All in all this makes the team an impressive 3.8 wins better while saving $14.1 million. 

Phillies Deal

After that, it seems like an almost an afterthought to get former MVP Jimmy Rollins (.320/.390 OBP/SLG projection with good shortstop defense and baserunning) for just the cost of Eflin and another minor-leaguer (Tom Windle). The Phillies even allegedly sending $3 million.

But this makes the team another impressive 2.1 wins better given the aforementioned black hole at shortstop that got even worse in the absence of Rojas, but does cost $7.85 million.

This trade is also not finalized, but as reported to date solves the Dodgers biggest outstanding problem, of not having a credible major-league shortstop for 2015 (assuming this guy's just keeping the spot warm until Corey Seager is ready next year).

McCarthy signing

The Dodgers did win one free agent, starter Brandon McCarthy (3.60 ERA projection).  McCarthy seems like a smart funny guy that's a thoughtful and effective pitcher. His shoulder is a constant concern, but 4 years / $48 millon is not going to get you anything better than this. The Dodgers needed somebody to start the 4th game of playoff series last year and didn't have one. Now they might. They have 4 good starters and a bunch of question marks now.  But that's a lot better than 3 good starters and a bunch of question marks. About a win better for that $12 million.

Winter Meetings summary

Add that all up and the Winter Meetings moves improved the Dodgers by 8.5 wins! They spent a marginal $16.2 million to do it. But their payroll still remains $40 million below last year and they could make another big move -- for example, a front-line starter like James Shields, Max Scherzer, or Cole Hamels. And if they can get somebody to pick up part of Andre Ethier's salary, they have that much more to spend as needed -- now or at the trading deadline.

Wrap-up of the offseason so far

Every single move has made the 2015 team better. Some of the moves have shed payroll while some have built it up, but every single move has made this year's team better while also laying a nice groundwork for depth and preserving the future (they even picked up a few decent prospects in addition to keeping all their really good ones).

All told, it's a 10.8-win improvement for $21.7 million, starting from the point after all the free agents left. The Dodgers as positioned are definitely looking like a team that should get well into the 90-win category. Compared to last year's team, they look about 8 or 9 wins better (not saying they'll win 103 games, injuries will happen and veterans are getting older and worser) at a savings of $43 million.

How did they do this? The pitching's a little better, the defense is way better and the depth is much stronger. The hitting is undoubtedly harmed, but I suspect scoring will rebound league-wide a bit next year. They may end up about the same. Last season, they scored 718 runs and allowed 617. I'm looking at something more like 700 scored and 550 allowed right now.

Not only did they get better at pitching and defense, they did it in a complementary way that could produce more than the sum of its parts. They have groundball pitchers and now their infield defense is good all around. They have strikeout pitchers with good control, and now they have a really good pitch framer behind the plate. And don't discount the depth. They've lengthened the whole roster and there should be a lot less time given to horrible players. It's impressive how every successive move pushes the line on this chart up (more Net Wins with every move). It's impressive how many wins were added. It's impressive the minimal cost paid per marginal win. It's impressive how this was done without mortgaging future. It's impressive how much deeper the team is and it's impressive how much stronger they look as a playoff threat in addition to this regular season analysis I've just done. Maybe there's something to this whole "logical thinking" I've been hearing so much about.

Photo credit: File photo