It’s been a long time since 1988.
During this year, a gimpy Kirk Gibson rounded second base in euphoric fashion. As he vigorously pumped his right arm in triumph, the Dodgers were on the way to yet another World Series title. Since then, the boys in blue have yet to recreate that exact feeling.
Two-straight defeats in the Fall Classic have the Dodgers re-calibrating the roster ahead of this upcoming season. The likelihood of making three-straight World Series appearances isn’t overly great. However, this team is flush with both depth and talent. Based upon recent news, the team could also be on the brink of adding arguably the sport’s most recognizable player.
Let us first start with the guys not expected to return next season. Manny Machado was the most noteworthy acquisition this past July. A bona fide hitter, he was expected to bring balance to the Dodgers’ lineup as a right-handed masher. While he did have his moments, Machado also didn’t exactly endear himself to the fan base.
There were moments which could be construed as ‘dirty’ on the base paths (ask the Milwaukee Brewers about that). After jogging to first base on what appeared to be a home run (which turned out to be a long single), Machado then openly admitted that he doesn’t enjoy hustling on the diamond. Is this the type of attitude you’d want to invest north of $300 million in? The Dodgers certainly didn’t want to entertain that idea — as it appears Machado will sign with one of three teams (New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago White Sox).
Fan favorite/highly volatile player Yasiel Puig was dealt to the Cincinnati Reds along with soft-tossing lefty Alex Wood and often-injured outfielder Matt Kemp. In return, the Dodgers got the bloated contract of pitcher Homer Bailey (whom will be reportedly cut) along with two very promising prospects in Jeter Downs and Josiah Gray.
On the surface from a general standpoint, this trade doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Kemp was an All-Star last year, Wood was an All-Star two years ago, and Puig — though inconsistent — is still a supreme talent. However, one has to really like this deal for Los Angeles.
Wood and Puig are free agents after this year. There’s no guarantee either would’ve been brought back into the fold. Puig has been all over the place when it comes to both his play on the field and his attitude off the field. Wood was not impressive at all during postseason play.
Simply put, Los Angeles had too many outfielders. The glut is now somewhat cleared — as the team still has Joc Pederson, Andrew Toles, Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger, Kike Hernandez, and big-time prospect Alex Verdugo. Jeter is an excellent shortstop prospect, and Gray — a former second-round pick — has the stuff to be an elite starting pitcher down the line.
Most important for the Dodgers, this trade enabled them to save roughly $18 million.
And in the process…signing Bryce Harper becomes a real possibility.
A baseball prodigy since he was a young boy, Harper is one of the most electric talents in all of baseball. The 26-year-old has already made six All-Star appearances. In 2015, a then-22-year-old Harper won the National League MVP award after hitting 42 home runs, and posting a slash line of .460/.649/1.109. Harper gets on base at a high clip, can steal bases, possesses a very strong arm, and plays the game exceptionally hard. Aside from that, he boasts superstar power both in terms of hitting home runs and as a persona. The Dodgers haven’t had a player possessing this type of magnetic allure since Manny Ramirez in 2008. In short, he’s everything the front office wants.
There are questions as to how much money he will command. Super agent Scott Boras is rumored to be wanting a deal north of $300 million — and potentially 10 years in length (at least). This contrasts philosophically with what Andrew Friedman generally likes to do. The Dodgers could opt to try and get Harper on a shorter deal. However, he’s also the type of transcendent talent that could be too good to pass up. Many are linking him to the Dodgers based upon being the closest destination to his home (Las Vegas).
Should Los Angeles opt to go for a cheaper route, A.J. Pollock is sitting as a free agent. The 31-year-old outfielder is quite familiar to the Dodgers’ front office. He’s played with the Arizona Diamondbacks over the last seven years. A vacancy at second base could be filled by D.J. LeMahieu. Formerly of Colorado, LeMahieu is a contact hitter with surprising athleticism. The Dodgers struggled immensely in getting the bat on the ball versus Boston. LeMahieu — a proven hitter — could help in this capacity.
The team is unlikely to re-sign Yasmani Grandal. As such, Los Angeles is in the market for another catcher. The showcased option at this position is Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto. However, reports have indicated the Marlins are asking for a considerable amount in return. While he’d be a big-time addition, the Dodgers are unlikely to offload multiple top prospects for him (especially with Keibert Ruiz waiting in the wings).
Another highly intriguing trade partner is the Cleveland Indians. It’s no secret the Dodgers would like to add another elite right-handed pitcher to their rotation. Both Corey Kluber and Trevor Bauer have been targeted by Los Angeles. Bauer — a Los Angeles native — would be a nice fit as a younger option. Kluber is proven as an ace, and would certainly upgrade the top of LA’s rotation. Verdugo would have to go, and it would be fascinating to see whether the Dodgers would indeed part with Bellinger. Should Kluber be acquired, a three-man grouping of Kluber-Clayton Kershaw-Walker Buehler would be the best in the National League by a wide margin.
Simply put, the trade with Cincinnati opens up a ton of doors for the Dodgers. Friedman is known as an innovative tinkerer. There’s truly no telling as to how this team will look heading into spring training. However, one can be sure that it’ll be improved.
Image Source: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports, Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports