Last night the Los Angeles Dodgers season came to a crashing halt with a 3-2 loss to the New York Mets in Game 5 of the NLDS at Dodger Stadium. Despite arguably the best 1-2 starting pitching duo in baseball, for the third straight season they failed in the postseason. The question is what’s next, how do they regroup and move forward in 2016?
Personally, I have been a Dodgers fan since I was nine years old in 1988. That year I watched Orel Hershiser and Kirk Gibson lead the Dodgers to a World Series championship with a group of players that truly epitomized what it means to be a team. I’ve spent the past 27 years supporting them faithfully and trusting that they know what they are doing. I try to trust that things will work out, that the people in place are the best people for the job. However, as much as he’s had regular season success and three straight division titles is nothing to sneeze at, but I just don’t think Don Mattingly is the manager to lead this team going forward. The Dodgers brought Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi in to run the front office and make personnel choices. They are both known as analytics guys and Mattingly is not that kind of manager. After a third straight postseason failure, I feel like they should bring in a manager that better meshes with their ideas. Plus, with a core group of players that have been in L.A. for awhile a new voice in the room might be what they need to get over that hump.
On the field what are they getting for their $300 million.
Catcher: Yasmani Grandal has three years of arbitration eligibility left. How he bounces back from potential offseason shoulder surgery that zapped him of all his power the last two months of the season will go along way towards how the Dodgers offense performs next year. Backup A.J. Ellis played very well when Grandal was injured and has a 12 game postseason hitting streak. His veteran leadership and rapport with Clayton Kershaw make him a tremendous asset. He is also arbitration eligible. Austin Barnes looked good in a limited role and with his ability to play other positions could be an interesting bench option.
1st Base: Adrian Gonzalez had another solid season leading the team in runs, hits, doubles, homers, and runs batted in and is under contract through 2018. At the end of that season he’ll be 36 years old, making it a priority to find a strong core to put around him in case father time finally catches up to him. At present there are no viable options in the minors. Cody Bellinger, currently the #9 prospect in the Dodgers system could be an option down the road hitting .264 with 30 HR and 103 RBIs in high class A Rancho Cucamonga.
2nd Base: Second base is a question mark going into 2016. Starter Howie Kendrick is a free agent as is backup Chase Utley. The question is do you try to bring back Kendrick or sign some other free agent like Daniel Murphy or turn the reins over to prospect Jose Peraza. Peraza hit .293 in triple A with 33 steals and could infuse some much needed speed and energy into the lineup that sorely could have used some against the Mets.
3rd Base: After being Mr. Everything in 2014, Justin Turner just kept hitting so much so that he took over the everyday third base job. Hopefully a healthy Turner, who is arbitration eligible and due for a big raise, will be more like the .323 with 13 HR and 44 RBI hitter he was prior to going on the DL in late July and not the guy who hit just .237 with 3 HR and 16 RBI over the last six of the regular season. That being said he was clearly the Dodgers best postseason performer and will be counted on heavily in 2016.
Shortstop: Shortstop will clearly be handed over to Corey Seager who looked like the real deal in September hitting .337 with 4 HR and 17 RBI. Seager did look a little overmatched by the quality young arms of the Mets going 3 for 16 with 8 strikeouts. Look for Seager to become a major focus of the offense in 2016 and while there will undoubtedly be some growing pains he should be a fixture in the Dodgers lineup for years to come.
Left Field: The outfield is still a major question mark for the Dodgers. When healthy, Carl Crawford has gotten the bulk of playing time in left. However, after going 1 for 11 in the first three games Crawford found himself on the bench in games 4 and 5 of the NLDS. Andre Ethier also saw ample time in left. Both Crawford (signed through 2017) and Ethier (through 2017 with a club option for 2018) have been rumored to be trade bait and this winter could be the time it actually happens. Ethier seems to have the most value after a healthy, bounce back season hitting .294 (highest since 2008) with 14 HR and 53 RBI (his best in both categories since 2012). As much as I personally love Ethier and would love for him to spend his entire career as a Dodger he could possibly bring the Dodgers a quality starting pitcher or the bullpen help they desperately need.
Center Field: Defensively, Joc Pederson is All-Star caliber but, offensively he has to more consistent. There’s clearly talent there as his 20 first half homers showed but, there’s a lot of work that needs to be done for him to be a quality, reliable hitter. I think a trip to the Arizona Fall League or some sort of winter ball would do wonders for him. The biggest thing is he needs to learn how to cut down is swing with two strikes. Putting the ball in play especially with runners on has to be more of a priority that just swinging for the fences.
Right Field: Here once again is a talented young player that needs to make adjustments in Yasiel Puig. In his first 14 months in the big leagues Puig was a force offensively hitting .319 with 32 HR and 97 RBI in 203 games. But, from August 2014 to the end of the 2015 season Puig has hit just .253 with 14 HR and 52 RBI in 128 games. Now whether it’s because of injuries, pitchers making adjustments, off the field issues or what have you the production the Dodgers get or think they can get from Puig in 2016 will be a major factor in their success. The other thing that needs to be said here is that Puig could also be moved. Even more than the bounce back year from Ethier, Puig could potentially garner a major haul for the Dodgers, filling multiple needs if the right deal could be found. Either way Puig will go along way towards the determining the Dodgers success in 2016. He is under contract through 2018.
Outfielders: Aside from those mentioned above, players like Kike Hernandez, Scott Van Slyke and Alex Guerrero could once again play significant roles in the Dodgers outfield. Hernandez looks to be the other option if Pederson can’t cut it in center but, is defense needs to improve a lot. Van Slyke has tremendous raw power and could be a valuable trade piece for a quality reliever from a team looking to add some thump to lineup. In just over 600 career at-bats he has 26 homeruns.
Guerrero is the wildcard of this bunch. He came out like lightning in April hitting .423 with 5 HRs. But, dropped precipitously after that hitting just .207 with 6 HRs with rest of the way. Maybe he just needs more consistent playing time who knows but he’s another enigma on this team.
Starting Pitchers: Here is where another major question mark lies. Yes, they have Clayton Kershaw, who finally got the postseason monkey off his back in game 4 versus the Mets. But, after that is a giant mystery. Zack Greinke can opt-out of his contract, Brett Anderson is a free agent and Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu are coming off major surgeries. Alex Wood is under team control through 2019 and should be in the mix for the rotation but, this team has serious issues if they enter 2016 with Alex Wood as their number two starter. Trying to keep Greinke and/or signing a top free agent pitcher or two should be a major offseason priority. With guys like Price, Cueto, Kazmir and Zimmermann set to hit the market not landing a top free agent pitcher will be a major disappointment.
The Dodgers do have a stable of potentially quality arms in the minor leagues but 19-year Julio Urias, 23-year old Jose De Leon, and 20-year old Grant Holmes are all a year or two away from competing for major league spots.
Bullpen: The bullpen was an Achilles heel for the Dodgers almost from the jump this season ranking 11th in the NL in ERA. Closer Kenley Jansen was once again solid and is arbitration eligible. Chris Hatcher struggled early in the season but come on strong with a 1.54 ERA over his last 26 appearances. Lefties Luis Avilan and J.P. Howell did solid jobs as well. There are some bright spots for the ‘pen. Howell has a club option and Hatcher and Avilan are under team control through 2019 and 2018 respectively. That being said finding more consistent, quality relief help should be another priority for the Dodgers this offseason.
-Top starting pitcher (Greinke/Price/Cueto)
-Secondary starting pitcher (Gallardo/Kazmir/Samardzija/Zimmermann)
-Quality setup man
-Top of the order contact hitter
-Trade one of Puig/Crawford/Ethier