The MLB offseason is arguably the most exciting time in the sport, outside of the playoffs. Player mobility is always enticing and something to get thrilled about. We get to see big trades involving star players along with stars leaving their former team and signing with a new one.
It’s a time for teams to do what they can to improve their squad for either the short or long-term and in some cases, both. The winter time brings hope for fanbases because it’s another step towards relevance for their team or allows them to find the missing piece, or pieces, to help win a championship. And this year is exciting because of the players available, via trade or on the free agent market.
In the Los Angeles Dodgers’ case, it’s about doing what they can to bring back a title for the first time since 2019. They have come up short in each of the last two seasons after making it to the Fall Classic, so are looking to change things up, or so you would think.
Gone is general manager Farhad Zaidi, and with that move, many fans hope that the front office’s philosophy also alters a bit, by moving away from the “shop for bargain” approach from the past- unless it involved re-signing their own players.
They have refrained from splurging on the free agents or going big on the trade market unless it’s for rental pieces at the trade deadline (because values drop).
And this winter may be the time to get aggressive finally. Realistically, they are still title contenders if they stood pat. They are the class of the National League and just need a tweak here and there to get over the hump.
A few small alterations would allow the franchise to hold onto the prospects which they hold dear and close and value so much. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has done an excellent job of building up a deep pipeline of talent by staying disciplined and refraining from reckless trades.
And in doing so, the Dodgers have graduated players such as Corey Seager, Walker Buehler, Cody Bellinger, and Alex Verdugo (who has performed in his limited time). So, if the front office continued their approach, they would have a competitive team on the field, while having a broad pipeline of players who can help sustain this success for years.
But baseball is a funny sport. You can be viewed as a title contender, but a lot can happen to cause you to flop. Just look at the Washington Nationals from 2018.
Even if the best team doesn’t always win, organizations must do what they can to set themselves up for the best chance at success. It’s how it works.
The Dodgers are less-than-likely to end their title drought with the current squad, and it’s far from a guarantee that they will, with their current approach.
But this winter, the Dodgers have the opportunity to dominate the offseason and put themselves ahead of everyone else and solidify themselves as the favorites, or a top-2 favorite, heading into 2019.
First is upgrading the catcher position. It’s looking like Yasmani Grandal will not be returning, leaving Austin Barnes as the starting catcher as things stand and Kyle Farmer as his backup.
Los Angeles has two of the best catching prospects in the game with Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith, but they are at least a year or two away. Instead, LA needs a stopgap to hold the fort down while they develop.
There are solid options on the free agent market but they would at best duplicate the value Grandal brought. Instead, why not take one of your elite catching prospects to pry away J.T. Realmuto from the Miami Marlins?
The 27-year-old is regarded as the best catcher in the game which, along with the two years of team control remaining, makes him a precious trade asset. And one of extreme attractiveness to buyers.
During his 125 games in 2018, he led all catchers with a 4.3 WAR and .825 OPS, while being among the leaders with 21 home runs. His numbers took a dip towards the end of the season, but it’s not hard to see why. Playing for one of the worst teams in the league makes it hard to be motivated for games in August and September.
Playing for something meaningful has a way of getting the juices flowing and elevating play. And the protection in the Dodgers’ lineup would be something which Realmuto did not have in Miami.
And after two years, the catching prospect Los Angeles held onto would be ready and the franchise can let Realmuto walk if they believe they have a suitable replacement.
After that, trading for Cleveland Indians’ ace Corey Kluber is a move that would satisfy the Dodgers’ hunt for starting pitching. They have been in talks with Cleveland for weeks, and with the reigning AL Central champs looking for outfield help, the two franchises appear to be perfect trade partners.
LA has the deep pool of prospects and major league outfielders to get a deal of such, such magnitude done, even after trading for Realmuto. Top prospect and outfielder Alex Verdugo is the popular candidate to build a package around because of his talent and age. Yasiel Puig is another guy to consider looking at.
Or, LA can build a package around a combination of Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, and Matt Kemp while pulling multiple talents like D.J. Peters from the minor leagues, and using an Alex Wood to round out the package.
A rotation of Walker Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, and Corey Kluber would make the Dodger staff the best in the game, and trump the Washington Nationals’ new trio of Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin.
But, the exclamation mark on all this is signing free agent outfielder Bryce Harper. A trade for Kluber would more-than-likely open up a spot in the outfield, and acquiring the 26-year-old superstar talent would require money, not any more prospects.
And the Dodgers happen to have arguably the deepest pockets in the MLB. Harper is going to be the most expensive player ever, but the Dodgers can afford it, and he would add another elite bat to group with Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and Justin Turner while serving as insurance for a Max Muncy regression.
And to bolster the bullpen, Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, Cody Allen, and Craig Kimbrel are all out there in free agency.
Kluber would give the Dodgers three legitimate number one aces and three top-ten starting pitchers while adding Harper and Realmuto would provide the Dodgers arguably the deepest lineup in baseball. And going after an elite reliever would go ways to shoring up the pen.
No one would blame the franchise for not going all-out for the three stars, but doing so would give the Los Angeles Dodgers (arguably) the best team in baseball, let alone the National League, and give them the best chance they’ve had at ending their long title drought.