When Should The Dodgers Become Buyers?

While it’s hard to remember it now, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a proud history. Only the San Francisco Giants have more Hall of Famers, and only four teams have won more World Series championships. With the team’s hot start and impending sale, which is scheduled to close today, people have begun the process of wading through the fog that befell the team in the last year of Frank McCourt’s ownership to see what all the fuss is about. Few people could have predicted such a scenario before the season started, but now that it has happened, one of the more pertinent questions is — when should the Dodgers become buyers?

The first variable in looking at that is determining how the new ownership group will proceed. Assuming there are no hiccups with the completion of the sale today, Stan Kasten, Magic Johnson and co. will settle into their new digs within the week, if not tomorrow. But that doesn’t mean that change should be imminent. Stan Kasten is a seasoned sports executive, and I would think that his course will be working in conjunction with general manager Ned Colletti before cleaning house, if that is warranted, in the offseason. One reason for that of course is that it will be much harder to receive permission to interview potential replacements for Colletti during the season than it will be in October. Another reason is that Kasten has never served as a general manager in baseball before, and thus is going to need someone to steer the ship for the rest of the season.

But just because the new ownership group may make a lame duck out of Colletti doesn’t mean his hands will necessarily be tied. Colletti doesn’t have a decorated trade resume, but he isn’t the worst GM in history. He will forever have to live with the shame of Carlos Santana for Casey Blake trade, and it would be nice to still have James McDonald around, but the rest of his work isn’t nearly as menacing. Tim Federowicz has started this season on a much better note than has Trayvon Robinson, the Ted Lilly trade has worked out nicely, and once upon a time, Colletti did a nice two-step on Billy Beane in the Andre Ethier-Milton Bradley deal.

So when will the right opportunity present itself to start wheeling and dealing? Right now, the Dodgers stand atop the National League West at 16-6, four games ahead of the Giants, five games ahead of the Diamondbacks and five and a half in front of the Rockies. Coming off a six-game homestand against the Braves and Nationals in which they finished 4-2, the team now faces a fairly rough upcoming stretch, as they will play 12 of their next 22 games against the Giants, D-backs and Cardinals, with three games in Colorado to boot. As we saw in Dave Cameron’s article this morning, the Dodgers are unlikely to vanish from the playoff picture in three weeks, but heading into Memorial Day weekend, the team should have a better grasp on where they stand. It could end up being the perfect time to upgrade.

And let’s be frank (not McCourt though), the Dodgers have a few places where improvement is going to be needed. First base has once again been a giant vacuum of suck, as has left field on days when Jerry Hairston hasn’t been playing. Tony Gwynn is a good fourth of fifth outfielder, but he shouldn’t be starting the majority of the time. The starting rotation has actually been good — the starter’s xFIP of 3.71 ranks 10th in baseball at the moment — and while Clayton Kershaw, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley isn’t going to make anyone forget about the Sandy Koufax-Don Drysdale-Claude Osteen years, you can definitely go to war with them. The bullpen, on the other hand, could use some work. Even if Jamey Wright maintains his 3.02 xFIP all year (PS – he won’t, he’s never had one better than 4.02) the bullpen still has holes. But those don’t necessarily need to be filled via trade — a great bullpen can be built in a number of different ways. And besides, first base and left field are more pressing issues. Since the start of last season, Dodgers’ left fielders have produced a .296 wOBA, good for 27th in baseball. First base has been slightly better, as its .321 wOBA ranks 23rd, but both should be upgraded if possible.

Scanning the list of 2013 free agents over at MLB Trade Rumors, we want to be mindful to not pick out the names of teams that are either on contenders or on teams that have started the season well and don’t have a compelling reason to cut bait at this point. Of course, Josh Hamilton would look good in left field, but let’s be realistic. The other issue is that the farm system is devoid of blue chips at the moment, so the scale is likely to be smaller. Even applying those filters, some names pop out. The first is Carlos Lee. El Caballo’s time in left field looks to be at an end, but even with his power mysteriously missing in 2012, he is still outproducing James Loney and Juan Rivera. With the A’s seemingly committed to Josh Reddick, one or potentially two of the Seth Smith, Jonny Gomes and Coco Crisp trio could be available. A Smith/Gomes platoon would be a significant upgrade from Gwynn/Rivera. Or if the Dodgers couldn’t lure away both of them, they could try to reunite Smith with his former Rockies teammate, Jeff Baker. Baker has the exact same .378 wOBA against left-handed pitching for his career that Gomes does. And while Mariners manager Eric Wedge has deemed Casper Wells not worthy of playing time, he could be a good upside play, and thanks to his marginalization in Seattle, might come cheap.

There are other names that could be more tantalizing, if less likely to happen, at least before June. Could the Mariners be persuaded to part with Ichiro Suzuki for three months? Would the Orioles consider dealing Adam Jones? Could Alfonso Soriano be reinvigorated with a change of scenery, and would it be worth taking on his contract in order to find out?

Fans are beginning to flock back to Dodger Stadium. Over the weekend, they drew nearly 148,000 for their three-game set with the Nationals, and last Tuesday they drew 44,000+ for a Mike Minor-Aaron Harang matchup (and yes, for a sleeved blanket giveaway as well). The team is hot, the new owners are moving in and the fans are responding. The team will finish a rough stretch of games three weeks from now, at which time the new ownership group will have had a chance to settle in and assess their chances for the 2012 season. If the Dodgers are still at or near the top of the division come Memorial Day weekend, the team should act. Yes, they are a good team, and yes, they are likely to remain in the playoff picture. But they shouldn’t stand pat and allow first base and left field to needlessly drag down the team in June and July when there are potential upgrades out there.

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Paul Swydan is the managing editor of The Hardball Times, a writer and editor for FanGraphs and a writer for the Boston Globe. Follow him on Twitter @Swydan.

28 Responses to “When Should The Dodgers Become Buyers?”

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  1. Psst says:

    If the Mets start to fall out of it I could see a young pitching based package for Wright being in the works. Of course the Mets may look to extend him, but if they feel it isn’ t going their way the Dodgers farm does have a lot of interesting arms.

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  2. John C. says:

    While it’s hard to remember it now, the Los Angeles Dodgers have a proud history. Only the San Francisco Giants have more Hall of Famers, and only four teams have won more World Series championships.

    The Giants and Dodgers have more people in the HoF than the Yankees? Impressive, if true. I did not know that.

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    • walt526 says:

      Yep. It has a lot to do with the NL being around for a few decades longer than the AL.

      In terms of who has the team on the cap.:

      New York Yankees/Highlanders (21):
      – Berra
      – Chesbro
      – Combs
      – DiMaggio
      – Dickey
      – Ford
      – Gehrig
      – Gomez
      – Gordon
      – Gossage
      – Hoyt
      – Huggins
      – Jackson
      – Lazzeri
      – Mantle
      – McCarthy
      – Pennock
      – Rizzuto
      – Ruffing
      – Ruth
      – Stengel

      New York/San Francisco Giants (24):
      – Cepeda
      – Connor
      – Davis
      – Ewing
      – Irvin
      – Jackson
      – Keefe
      – Kelly
      – Lindstrom
      – Marichal
      – Marquard
      – Mathewson
      – Mays
      – McCovey
      – McGinnity
      – McGraw
      – O’Rourke
      – Ott
      – Perry
      – Terry
      – Welch
      – Wilhelm
      – Youngs

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      • thinkblue says:

        this is likely to change in the next 10-15 years. Yankees have four guaranteed HOFers right now in Jeter, A-Rod, Sabbathia, and Mo. Cano will be if he has continued success.

        You could also include a number of other recent Yankees who will be contenders in Pettite, Posada, Clemens and Musina.

        Meanwhile the Giants & Dodgers have a few guys in the Cano seat (Lincecum, Kershaw, Kemp) but nobody in the guaranteed HOF seat.

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      • varmintito says:

        A huge piece of this is that Frankie Frisch ruled the veterans committee for many years. His methodology can be summed as follows: (1) was he a teammate? (2) if he was on another team, did he play well against my team? (3) did I enjoy drinking with him? This resulted in a a huge number of questionable (if not outright ridiculous) Giants from the 20s and 30s being anointed by the veterans committee. Examples: Ross Youngs, George Kelly, Fred Lindstrom, Travis Jackson, Rube Marquard.

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    • Hurtlockertwo says:

      The Giants also have the most wins of any major league team and the second highest winning percentage (to the Yankees) of any team.

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  3. Table says:

    Kemp can’t be this good all year, and the Dodger’s pitching is not as good as their era. The Dodgers should become buyers as soon as possible to counteract the incoming regression.

    However a straight platoon of Gwynn and Rivera could produce 2-3 war. The problem is that Rivera when healthy still starts against right handers most of the time, which is unacceptable.

    Rivera VS LH
    2009 .333 .385 .645
    2010 .264 .327 .419
    2011 .289 .349 .456
    2012 .381 .458 .524

    Rivera is pretty useless against RH, but he can still produce against lefties, Gomes might be better, but his defense is worse. I don’t think enough of an upgrade to make it worthwhile.

    Tony Gwynn jr vs RH

    2009 .290 .379 .385
    2010 .185 .294 .253 (.212 BABIP)
    2011 .273 .324 .372
    2012 .304 .360 .348

    So Gwynn might not be as terrible offensively as we think, and combined with his defense which is in the conversation for best in the game, that makes Gwynn a solid option for the LH half of a platoon.

    Forget Carlos Lee, Seth Smith, and Johhny Gomes….LF is ok

    1st and 3rd base are definitely the larger problems.

    I’d eye Chase Headley and Paul Konerko come the trade deadline

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  4. Preston says:

    I would hope the Dodger’s ownership would not trade away their farm system for a short term rental. The Dodgers have the cornerstones of a great team in Kemp and Kershaw, but do not have the supporting cast to match. They need to bolster the MiLB system not deplete it. Why pay prospects and money for other teams junk. Wait until the off-season to go after blue-chippers like David Wright and Cole Hamels. Then supplement around those players with cost controlled prospects.

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    • Bip says:

      If they’re relying on prospects, they’re going to have some major holes in their lineup. If some of their abundant RHP depth isn’t converted into areas where they have no depth, then I’m not sure what the point of it is.

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      • Preston says:

        I think that allowing Ivan De Jesus Jr., Dee Gordon and Tim Federowicz play, and fill out the back end with their glut of RHP is a better plan than signing the Mark Ellis, Jaun Uribe, Jaun Rivera’s and Rod Barajas of the world. It will certainly be more cost effective, and probably more productive.

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    • thinkblue says:

      Agreed to a point, but big market teams, especially the Dodgers who have not won anything in almost 25 years, need to win NOW. it would be a shame to have the best hitter & pitcher in baseball, each in their prime, and not do everything you can to win with them.

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  5. Table says:

    It’s acctually kind of stunning that 3rd base was not mentioned in this article.

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    • Paul Swydan says:

      My (admittedly unarticulated) rationale is that if you upgrade LF with a better platoon than is currently there that you free up Hairston to play third on a more regular basis. Also, while Uribe isn’t much of a hitter, he has a good glove at third. Since 2008, he has the same UZR total as Pablo Sandoval, in less than half of the innings played.

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      • Table says:

        I just think that the Gwynn/Rivera, Uribe/Hairston, and Loney situations are about equally problematic. So if you are going to offer solutions to two of the three, you might as well do so for all three.

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  6. Mitch says:

    The Dodgers may have an in-house solution at third base. Alex Castellanos put together a .320/.386/.573 statline last year between AA time for St. Louis and LA; and so far this year he has a .515 WOBA at AAA. He was also pretty impressive in his short stint with the big league club during spring training. I know it’s pretty unlikely that the Dodgers sit $8 million on the bench in Juan Uribe, but if he continues to post a .278 WOBA (.250 last year), they might have a decent upgrade down at Albuquerque.

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  7. JimmyWahl says:

    They can just wait until the offseason and go all Angels (circa 2011) on us and sign Hamilton, Wright, and isn’t Cole Hamels a free agent too? Maybe grab Youkilis when my Sox don’t resign him too.

    Gordon, Wright, Kemp, Hamilton, Ethier,and Youk as the first six in a lineup with Kershaw and Hamels in the rotation makes them at the least the NL favorite, if not more. This is highly unlikely though, to say the least.

    Actually young pitching for Youkilis and moving him back to first could probably happen during the season.

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    • vivalajeter says:

      Wright’s not a free agent after this season, unless the Mets inexplicably decline his option for next year.

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      • Shaun Catron says:

        Sounds like a Wilbon thing to do.

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      • vivalajeter says:

        Not really. Picking up the option and trading him would be an option – especially if someone wants to give up a Wheeler-type prospect – but they won’t just decline the option. That wouldn’t make any sense.

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  8. pft says:

    Seems McCourt left the team in good shape after all.

    Funny how folks think the Dodgers owners who just spent 2.1 billion in mostly cash are in a hurry to spend more money.

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    • Robert Odden says:

      Why is that so strange. You wouldn’t buy a house and then refuse to invest the money to maintain it would you?

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    • DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

      Um, didn’t we hear Guggenheim is worth over $200 Billion…………….besides $110Mil is nothing to sneeze at.

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  9. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    When the GM is fired.

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  10. cpebbles says:

    Go all in ASAP. They have holes, but they’re 3 games up on a division without any strong teams. The Diamondbacks aren’t going to score a lot more runs than there is any reasonable explanation for again, and the Giants aren’t going to score any runs.

    The farm system may be bare, but money stands in for prospects just fine, and they have incentive to spend.

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  11. Chris (Dodger Fan) says:

    I’ve watched the Dodgers for a few years now. They’ve trended downhill I believe. They have multiple holes and, while everyone says they don’t have much trade bait, they indeed have multiple intriguing prospects such as Zach Lee (most likely untouchabe), Nate Eovaldi, Chris Withrow (some organization can try him out as a starter again), etc. Castellanos is a solid prospect who could help the void at LF. The Dodgers pitching prospects are as abundant as abundant can be, so they DO have the trade bait, but what kind of targets are out there?

    I agree completely with the A’s OF’s, those can all be upgrades over Rivera/Gwynn, and also Casper Wells is a solid upside play. I don’t like Carlos Lee, however, unless LA could get him for super cheap. Also Ryan Raburn and/or Andy Dirks would be a decent haul for LA, as Raburn can play IF and Dirks is a decent upside LF.

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