With less than three weeks until Opening Day, the 2019 Los Angeles Dodgers roster is all but set. So, as we march toward the start of a new season, let’s look back on all that went on this past winter.
Major additions: A.J. Pollock (five years, $60 million), Joe Kelly (three years, $25 million), Russell Martin (trade)
Major departures: Yasmani Grandal (free agency), Yasiel Puig (trade), Matt Kemp (trade), Alex Wood (trade), Manny Machado (free agency), Ryan Madson (free agency)
On paper, the two groups listed above don’t look balanced. It shows the Dodgers losing three to four key contributors on offense as well as one of their starting pitchers, while only reclaiming one real offensive asset and a bullpen piece.
And, to be honest, if you followed offseason news over the winter, the narratives you’ve heard are, “the Dodgers got worse,” “the Dodgers didn’t do anything”, etc.
However, that should not be taken as the case. The key lies in the group of names that aren’t on the list of additions. The players not featured there are the ones who are returning from injury after missing most of last season (Corey Seager) and young talents coming up who are expected to replace much of that production (Julio Urias, Alex Verdugo, etc.).
Now, that isn’t to say the Dodgers got dramatically better, but it’s a stretch to say they got worse.
The biggest hole on the roster is behind the plate, where they lost one of the best hitting catchers in all of baseball and replaced him with someone whose best seasons were in 2007 and 2014.
Obviously, that’s not ideal — and while maybe they’re betting on Austin Barnes returning to form, the catcher’s spot remains a massive question mark.
Beyond that however, you’d be hard-pressed to find where the roster has holes. Yes, Puig and Kemp are gone. But Kemp wasn’t even playing down the stretch last season and Pollock was actually better than Puig last season.
Sure, you can point to Pollock’s injury history, but a combination of when he’s healthy plus Verdugo when Pollock is not available, is still an upgrade.
What about the infield? Well, Justin Turner, Seager and Max Muncy is a pretty darn good place to start. Plus either Chris Taylor, Kiké Hernandez or Cody Bellinger as the fourth infielder depending on the day. Though, it seems like Bellinger will spend most of his time in the outfield this season.
Oh, maybe it’s pitching that will be the Dodgers’ downfall? Clayton Kershaw definitely isn’t at his peak and he might be injured already, but he doesn’t need to be the Kershaw of old.
Walker Buehler is a bonafide ace, Rich Hill is still plenty good, Hyun-Jin Ryu is coming off his best season (albeit shortened by injury) — and that’s before we even figure out what they’re going to do with Urias, Kenta Maeda, Ross Stripling, Caleb Ferguson and the plethora of prospects ready for their shot.
That leaves the bullpen, which, admittedly has seemed shaky in recent memory. Although, if you check the statistics, it has never been as bad as it seemed. Kenley Jansen is still around and is 25-pounds lighter than last season and he’ll be paired with newcomer Kelly at the back end of the bullpen.
Beyond them are the likes of Pedro Baez, Tony Cingrani, Yimi Garcia, Scott Alexander, J.T. Chargois, Ferguson, Dylan Floro, Adam McCreery, Dennis Santana, Josh Sborz, Jaime Schultz and Brock Stewart as options.
And that doesn’t even include whichever pitchers who don’t get their shot in the rotation (Maeda, Stripling, etc.).
The point of all this is simple. There are two ways to evaluate a team’s offseason. One is to look at the additions and subtractions and make judgments there, the other is to look at the roster on Opening Day and simply ask whether this team has done enough to position itself to accomplish the goals it sets for itself.
For me, the answer to question No. 2 is a resounding yes. The roster isn’t perfect, but the Dodgers play in a relatively non-competitive Nation League West division and have more than enough ammunition to make a deep run in the postseason.
Plus, remember the consistent trade-deadline activity we’ve seen from the front office.
With that said, here are three questions to watch over the next few weeks as Opening Day inches closer.
1) Is there another move coming at catcher?
It seems late in the game to still be making additions, but it’s hard to imagine the front office is perfectly comfortable with where this position is at.
Maybe they believe one of the prospects (Will Smith, Keibert Ruiz) will be ready sooner than expected, or maybe they just like Barnes/Martin and think they’ll be plenty good to get this team off to a good start.
2) Any chance the Dodgers are still in play for Dallas Keuchel, Craig Kimbrel or others?
Seems unlikely given their existing depth in the rotation and the bullpen, but as the Dodgers showed with Bryce Harper: if the price gets right, they’re interested. Kimbrel makes more sense than Keuchel, but either would make an immediate impact.
3) Who is this season’s breakout star and will Spring Training offer us any clues?
So far Kiké Hernandez is off to a great start this spring, and after having a career year last season it wouldn’t come as a shock to see him prove he’s an everyday player. But a la Taylor and Muncy, a surprise contributor could very well be someone unexpected.