In the wake of another heartbreaking World Series loss, the Los Angeles Dodgers turned their attention to what’s expected to be an active offseason filled with many moves.
The club has already taken care of some internal business, hammering out new contracts with both David Freese and Clayton Kershaw. Los Angeles also extended qualifying offers to free agents Yasmani Grandal and Hyun-Jin Ryu, while five others additionally reached the open market as well.
By successfully remaining under the $197 million luxury tax threshold during the 2018 season, the Dodgers reset penalties just in time for a historic free agent class that’s headlined by perennial superstars Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.
Facing the potential of some roster turnover and a few holes to fill this winter, let’s analyze some players the Dodgers could target over the coming weeks and months ahead.
As our own Jeff Spiegel previously pointed out, the Dodgers could find themselves in search of a new backstop if Grandal declines the one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer and proceeds with free agency.
Even with his struggles on both sides of the ball in the postseason, Grandal still enjoyed a productive regular season campaign that should net him a multi-year contract elsewhere.
In the event of the switch-hitting catcher departing the organization, the Dodgers will likely seek a short-term, stopgap option to replace him. Two players that stand out are Jonathan Lucroy and Wilson Ramos, formerly of the Oakland Athletics and Philadelphia Phillies.
Lucroy is coming off arguably his worst offensive season in the Majors, hitting a mere .241/.291/.325 (71 OPS+) in 126 games with the Athletics. He fared slightly better on the defensive side, throwing out 30 percent of potential base stealers — two percentage points better than league average.
As for pitch framing, Lucroy placed in the bottom-third with -9.9 Runs Above Average in 2018. That represents a steep drop-off from Grandal, whose 13.8 RAA ranked second in MLB only behind the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Jeff Mathis (14.1).
What’s appealing about Lucroy, however, is that he isn’t too far removed from a stretch in which he was considered one of the best all-around catchers in baseball.
From 2012-16, Lucroy hit .291/.353/.465 with 74 home runs and accumulated 18.9 WAR (FanGraphs) among qualifying catchers — second to only the San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey during the span.
Coming off back-to-back down years and entering his age-33 season, Lucroy will likely seek a one-year, prove-it type of contract, which fits perfectly with the Dodgers’ timeline.
Los Angeles will presumably be reluctant to commit to a free agent catcher longer than two years with top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith inching closer to the Majors.
Should the Dodgers opt for a more-proven commodity as of late, they could pivot their efforts to signing Ramos instead. The 31-year-old is coming off his second career All-Star selection with the Tampa Bay Rays and Phillies in which he hit a collective .306/.358/.487 in 111 games.
Ramos missed some time with a hamstring injury at the start of the second half but bounced back with even better numbers after being traded to Philadelphia.
Ramos threw out 44 percent of would-be base stealers with the Phillies in 23 games, which represents a major improvement from his time in Tampa Bay (22 percent caught stealing percentage in 73 games).
Ramos struggled in the pitch framing department though and posted a -7.6 RAA with the Rays, and later, a -3.4 RAA with the Phillies.
Other free agent catching options include older veterans such as A.J. Ellis and Nick Hundley. Matt Wieters, a four-time All-Star, is also on the market after wrapping up a disappointing two-year stint with the Nationals, and could be another low-risk, high-reward flier worth taking.
It remains to be seen how the Dodgers address their catching dilemma this offseason but there are many paths they can take. Whether it be on the free agent side or via trade, it’s safe to assume the club will address the position one way or another.
Another position with uncertainty for Los Angeles is second base. They went into the 2018 season with Logan Forsythe occupying the spot before eventually trading him to the Minnesota Twins for Brian Dozier at the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline.
Like Forsythe, Dozier struggled offensively and couldn’t replicate his previous success with the Twins. He ultimately lost playing time as the season went on, opening up further opportunities for Kiké Hernandez, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor at second base.
The Dodgers have plenty of internal options to fill their void at the position, but there are a number of other quality players on the free agent market that could make an impact as well. One that they reportedly have preliminary interest in is D.J. LeMahieu, who is fresh off a seven-year stint with the intra-division Colorado Rockies.
LeMahieu would add contrast to a power-heavy Dodgers lineup that has relied on the home run ball in recent seasons, as well as provide the club a top-of-the-order threat with elite contact skills. In 2018, he struck out only 82 times in 128 games with the Rockies.
Overall, LeMahieu hit .276/.321/.428 with 32 doubles, two triples and 15 home runs — 11 of which came on the road as opposed to the hitter-friendly Coors Field. He additionally registered the second-best hard-hit rate in his career at 35 percent.
An added bonus to LeMahieu’s game is his defensive ability at second base. In 2018, he accumulated 18 defensive runs saved while posting a solid 12.5 UZR/150 to boot. Those efforts recently earned LeMahieu his third career and second consecutive Rawlings Gold Glove Award.
Dating back to the 2015 season, LeMahieu’s 10.3 FanGraphs’ WAR ranks ninth in all of baseball among qualifying second baseman. Signing him wouldn’t require doling out a hefty contract, and bringing him aboard would simultaneously weaken the rival Rockies in the process.
Along with LeMahieu, the free agent market for second basemen is abundant with the likes of Asdrubal Cabrera, Josh Harrison, Jed Lowrie and Daniel Murphy also available.
The first two provide the most defensive flexibility while Lowrie, at the age of 34, is coming off his most productive season with the Athletics. Murphy perhaps offers the most upside of the group, but the Dodgers would likely prefer adding another right-handed bat to their lineup instead.
Los Angeles could bet on a bounce back year from Dozier and bring him back for continuity, who admitted to being hampered by nagging injuries during the 2018 season. A trade for an unexpected second baseman can’t be ruled out either, given the front office’s tendency to wheel-and-deal.
Time will tell whether the Dodgers make a change at second base this offseason, but it’s clear that the club will pursue all avenues as an effort to upgrade their roster for another World Series push in 2019.