A collective sigh of relief spread across the baseball community last night, as Frank McCourt officially sold the Los Angeles Dodgers to the partnership group headlined by former Laker great Magic Johnson.
The deal is historic for many reasons. It marks the end of the McCourt era in Los Angeles, in which he ran one of the most storied franchises into the ground and transformed it into a laughingstock across the league (and, unfortunately, still made a healthy profit in the end). The final sale price of $2.15 billion also is the most any U.S. sports franchise has ever commanded.
For more information about the details of the sale, be sure to read this article written by Mike Axisa.
This transition of ownership should not only translate into a more professional baseball franchise, but it also should signify the end of thriftiness in Los Angeles. Ned Colletti should no longer be cash-strapped when attempting to accumulate talent to build a winning team. No longer sitting on the sidelines while other big-market organizations acquire talent such as Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder, and Jose Reyes. Starting next winter, the Los Angeles Dodgers project to be serious players in the free agent market once again.
But which players could the Dodgers target next offseason?
First and foremost, let us eliminate the plethora of potential free agents that will likely have their 2013 options exercised by their respective teams. That includes high-profile players such as Brian McCann, Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler, Curtis Granderson, Dan Haren, Ervin Santana, and James Shields.
The remainder of the unlikely targets:
Brandon Phillips — The second baseman has been at least a +3 win player in each of the last five seasons. He possesses a very good glove and profiles as a potential 20+ home run player every single year. The Dodgers are unlikely to get a chance to bid on the 30-year-old, however, as the Reds have made it very clear that they wish to hammer out an extension prior to his reaching free agency.
David Ortiz — While the Dodgers could certainly use some pop in the center of the batting order, especially at first base, the idea of Big Papi signing a contract to play over 100 games as a first baseman is humorous. The slugger will remain in the American League, as long as a team wishes to pay him to DH.
David Wright — This target obviously hinges on whether the Mets exercise Wright’s $16M option for the 2013 season. If the Mets pass, however, you can be sure the Dodgers will throw their hat into the ring. He no longer plays a stellar third base, but the 29-year-old still provides value with the bat. His .342 wOBA was well above the league average of .309 amongst third baseman last year.
Miguel Montero — Though the Dodgers do have a young catcher in Tim Federowicz, who should split time with A.J. Ellis this season, the organization could still look to upgrade their offense by targeting one of the top catchers on the market. After all, Montero posted the second-best wOBA amongst National League catchers last season and will only be 29-years-old when he hits free agency.
Francisco Liriano — The left-hander is no longer a generational talent, which appeared to be possible prior to his Tommy John surgery, but it’s easy to forget he is one season removed from a +6 win campaign. If he can once again flirt with a F-Strike% mark above 60% (which has been the case during his two phenomenal seasons), Liriano could be a hot commodity on the free agent market.
Brandon McCarthy — While certainly not as overpowering as many of the potential free agent pitchers, he is coming off a +4.7 win season, in which he posted a 2.86 FIP. The right-hander is only 28-years-old, possesses a tremendous ground ball rate, and has become one of the burgeoning aces in the American League. With another +4 win season, he could be a top target for multiple teams next winter.
Joey Votto — Not a free agent, but even after the Reds decided to hang onto their star first baseman and try to make a run at the playoffs while he’s still on the roster, they might not have any choice but to trade him next winter. Prince Fielder’s contract raised Votto’s odds of getting a $200M+ deal, and that’s probably not something Cincinnati can afford. Votto would be the perfect left-handed first baseman to complement Matt Kemp in the line-up, and would give the Dodgers another franchise player to team with Kemp and Kershaw. He’ll be the most coveted player available this winter, so they’ll have to outbid other teams for his services, but their ability to offer up young talent and a monster contract extension should make them the favorites to land him next off-season.
Mike Napoli — The Dodgers will be in the market for an impact bat next season. It does not get much more “impact” than the .444 wOBA Napoli compiled last year for the Texas Rangers. The 30-year-old may not hit free agency if the Rangers come knocking with an extension offer, but momentum has not picked up on that front all spring. Napoli should be one of the two biggest bats hitting the market next winter.
Josh Hamilton — Any talks of a contract extension seemingly fell through when Hamilton unfortunately had a few drinks at a bar over the offseason. It highlighted the fragile position in which Hamilton has always found himself. On the field, however, he still has been a +4 win player in three of the last four seasons. The Dodgers could sign Hamilton to finally solve their left field conundrum and anchor the batting order with superstar Matt Kemp.
Matt Cain — The right-hander will be 28-years-old if he hits free agency this winter, and his FIP has improved in each of the last four seasons. Contract talks continue between Cain and the Giants. The latest reports, though, suggest the Giants have been lowballing him with underwhelming offers. The Dodgers have some young pitching marching through their system, but the organization could look to pair another top-flight pitcher with Clayton Kershaw atop their rotation and move some pitching for an impact bat.
Cole Hamels — More and more players have seemingly signed contract extensions with their current teams and have opted out of free agency. Hamels, however, appears excited to test the waters. The southpaw took a step forward to becoming a legitimate ace last season, compiling an impressive 2.79 ERA over 216 innings. He and Kershaw could give the Dodgers a scary two-headed monster atop the rotation.
Zack Greinke — The Milwaukee Brewers have been doggedly pursuing an extension with the enigmatic right-hander, though nothing concrete has come to the surface. In fact, Greinke still has no agent whatsoever to represent him in contract talks. If he does hit the open market and his run prevention can match his peripheral numbers (2.98 FIP in 2011), the Dodgers could come calling with a lucrative contract offer to bring his talents to the West Coast.
Anibal Sanchez — Aside from the trio of pitchers mentioned above, the under-the-radar arm to test free agency next offseason is Sanchez. He has finally overcome injuries that limited him from 2007-2009 and put together two (roughly) +4 win seasons over the past two years. The right-hander is not in the same class as Cain, Hamels, and Greinke, but FIPs of 3.32 and 3.35 in 2010 and 2011, respectively, should certainly not be overlooked.