The Dodgers went nuts and took over the Winter Meetings
It was quiet, and then the Dodgers made four substantial moves to shake the baseball world.
And, suddenly, the Dodgers started acting like Internet commenters, making up fake transactions and offseason moves. They cracked their knuckles, started typing, and posted “What if we did (684 different, unrealistic moves) all at once?” The other Internet commenters laughed. Too unrealistic. Too slanted toward the Dodgers. The fever dreams of a biased fan.
Except it happened. The Dodgers upgraded their rotation, signing Brandon McCarthy. They upgraded their second baseman, acquiring Howie Kendrick. They upgraded their defense at shortstop, with Jimmy Rollins. They acquired extra prospects along the way for no good reason. They ran into a bad team making bad decisions, a good team making rational decisions, and a free agent who was comfortable with the Dodgers’ new GM and direction.
Welcome to the new Dodgers, much different from the old Dodgers.
When the big, brainy names started coming west, it was easy to get overwhelmed with the big braininess. But it doesn’t take a big brain to figure out that Zack Greinke is good and that he should be paid as such. A talk-radio caller, told that he or she has unlimited money to spend, will acquire players like Greinke when they’re available. You don’t need smarts to make a deal like that. You need thumbs, a phone, and approval from ownership.
Back when the Dodgers were making the big front office moves, I wrote that money wasn’t what made the new regime better:
No, if you’re excited about Friedman, forget about the money. Focus on the things he did with the Rays that didn’t take money, finding unpolished gemstones and looking under every rock for tools that might turn into production.
Friedman and new GM Farhan Zaidi still have that mindset. They want to look under rocks. They don’t want to pay a lot for that muffler. But they will if they’re given express permission.
Here’s where you get the biggest strength of the Dodgers’ front office: the resourcefulness. They’ve been out in the real world. These new guys know how to make a fire out of twigs and roast a freshly caught squirrel over a spit. And when being clever just isn’t enough, they sign good players for tens of millions of dollars.
The first step was to poke around and look for a stopgap shortstop until Corey Seager is ready. The third- or fourth-best shortstop in baseball last year was available. He didn’t cost one of the Dodgers’ best prospects. Done.
The second step was to sell high on a middle infielder who has spent the last three years confusing the hell out of everyone. Dee Gordon was up, down, left, right. No one could get a read, but then he started hitting in the first half of 2014. The second half was, well, Gordon WALKED FOUR TIMES IN TWO MONTHS, and most of the players he was traded for project better for the 2015 season than he does. He stopped hitting. And how.
The third step was to turn some of that sell-high bounty into win-now booty. The Dodgers traded six years of top (ex-Marlins) prospect Andrew Heaney for a year of Howie Kendrick, which seems crazy until you realize that the Dodgers had no business with Heaney in the first place. The Gordon deal without Heaney was probably fair value. The Marlins should have jumped on that. Instead, they’re crazy. The Dodgers put out enough tendrils to find the exact right trade partner.
The fourth step was to buy a starting pitcher at market prices. There was no draft pick involved. The contract was a little steep compared to early offseason expectations, but this is the fat-wallet stuff that Friedman and Zaidi couldn’t even pretend to mess with in their old situations. Brandon McCarthy wasn’t exactly a deal, but he’s an excellent pitcher with encouraging recent history when it comes to his demonic shoulder blades. He makes the Dodgers better. That’s the main point.
The fifth step might be to trade Matt Kemp, who might be one of the worst defenders in baseball history, according to the stats, just a couple years after winning a Gold Glove. Microfracture surgery’s a helluva surgery. But in this offense-starved apocalypse, teams will take chances on a bat. The Dodgers wanted to take a chance on getting that bat and salary the heck out of the picture. Now they have more money for their fifth starter. Max Scherzer, or something.
After a dull early part of the week, the Dodgers completed an offseason’s worth of transactions in a day. The Brewers are in the hotel pool playing a week-long game of Marco Polo. The Giants are hunkered in their war room, figuring out the best way to finish second for the next free agent. The Dodgers were playing the craziest 12-step Rummikub move you’ve ever seen, and it worked. Are the Dodgers the favorites for the NL West now? They probably were the second the World Series ended, even after the Giants did their weird thing. So this all probably doesn’t make them super-extra-favorites.
But the Dodgers are better than they were when the Winter Meetings began. They didn’t need a Scherzer-sized purchase to get there. Welcome to the resourceful Dodgers. They’re as smart as advertised. And even though it doesn’t take a genius to sign one of the best players on any given free agent market, it takes some smarts to navigate this kind of labyrinth.
Great job, Dodgers. Now cut it out.