The media continuously buzzed about Masahiro Tanaka, with the Japanese phenom slated to go anywhere from L.A. to New York to Chicago to Arizona to even Kansas City (though we at the Blog speculate that that was a red herring planted in the midst of the bidding madness.) And now the man has made up his mind, agreeing to a 7 year contract worth $155 million that contains an out clause after 4 years.
With Tanaka locked in, it’s time to re-evaluate the Dodgers’ needs.
One key piece that has been discussed is an extension for Hanley Ramirez. The talented shortstop with a batting title to his name was one of the teams’ best home run hitters last year despite missing about half the season, going deep 20 times while hitting .345 with 57 RBIs. Ramirez has expressed a desire to stay in Los Angeles, and the team locking in Juan Uribe for two additional years would indicate that they will likely also retain Ramirez to keep the left side of their infield intact and continue to provide the humorous clubhouse antics that the two men engaged in with Yasiel Puig last season. Ramirez may give the Dodgers a bit of a discount to ensure a long stay in Los Angeles.
Eric Vrsalovich at Dodgers Low-Down has his eyes in the right direction and posted an article to his website suggesting the Dodgers get veteran utilityman Logan Forsythe from the San Diego Padres. Unfortunately right as the article was posted, it was announced that Forsythe had been moved to the Tampa Bay Rays in a 5 player deal, but Vrsalovich is looking in the right place with his analysis as the infield depth leaves something to be desired. The Dodgers do still have potential free agent options, with last year’s stretch run acquisition Michael Young and former Miami Marlin and long-time veteran Placido Polanco among those still available on that market. If the Dodgers stay in-house, the most obvious candidates to come off the bench are the speedy-but-erratic Dee Gordon and the blue-collar Justin Sellers.
Even with these two options, the addition of at least one of the free agent options listed above could go a long way toward bolstering the bench. The team could also look to make a trade, or watch to see what players are cut during spring training. One out-of-the-box thought is that if Mark Reynolds fails to make the Milwaukee Brewers that the Yankees might be interested in bringing the veteran corner infielder back. Reynolds could also be on the Dodgers’ radar if that is the case, providing a power bat off the bench and some versatility as a defensive option at first or third base if either Adrian Gonzalez or Juan Uribe need to be spelled. While Reynolds boasts a high strikeout rate and a relatively low batting average, he is also capable of getting big hits in clutch situations and that will be a consideration if Milwaukee choses not to retain him. Given that Juan Uribe tended to be out of the lineup one or two days a week last season, having a part-time player like Reynolds may be more desirable.
As for the pitching rotation, the Dodgers appear to be set. The starting rotation going into the season appears to be Kershaw-Greinke-Ryu-Haren-Beckett, with Stephen Fife and Matt Magill being minor league options who can plug a hole if necessary and Chad Billingsley currently slated to return from Tommy John surgery by June 1st which could give the Dodgers the sort of excess-of-arms problem that they appeared to be experiencing last season before numerous injuries forced the team to utilize Fife and Magill fairly extensively in the first half of the season. Top prospect Zach Lee may also be ready for a call-up by mid-season and may be an X-factor in the Dodger rotation down the stretch if that is the case. The team has given Lee a non-roster invitation to the team’s Major League spring training camp which will help the team gage Lee’s level of readiness for the Major Leagues.
There has been some speculation that the Dodgers may still be shopping for additional veteran help at the back end of their rotation, particularly if there are concerns that Beckett won’t be ready. Bronson Arroyo and Matt Garza have been frequently mentioned as possible rotation pieces, and while it was speculation, there was some talk of a deal that would have brought Brandon Phillips and Homer Bailey to Los Angeles from Cincinnati.
Meanwhile, the bullpen, at first glance, appears to also have a good amount of depth. Kenley Jansen appears to be locked in as the closer, but Brian Wilson and Chris Perez give the Dodgers two high-quality set-up men that could create a 6 inning game for Dodger opponents many nights. The team also returns Paco Rodriguez, Chris Withrow, J.P. Howell and Brandon League, with fireballing Jose Dominguez also an option depending on how many relievers the team decides to carry. The team also continues to hold one-time closer Javy Guerra on the 40 man roster, giving the team five relievers with closer experience to throw at opponents (Jansen, Wilson, Perez, League and Guerra.) If Brandon League can work out the problems that plagued him during the 2013 season, the bullpen might be even stronger than the starting rotation and possibly the best in baseball.
The Dodgers do have some work to do, and spring training may provide some opportunities for veterans, journeymen, and even minor leaguers looking to crack the big club to land a reserve role on a team coming off an NLCS run that was at times last season favored to win the World Series. Spring Training can’t come soon enough.