Peter Gammons: My 2015 Off-Season Winner

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GLENDALE, Arizona—One of the most sustainable ongoing debate topics since midwinter was which team had the best off-season.

We all get the argument for the White Sox, with Jeff Samardzija, David Robertson, Adam LaRoche, Melky Cabrera. Or the Padres, getting the power outfield of Matt Kemp, Justin Upton and Wil Myers and adding James Shields to a really good pitching staff. Or the Red Sox or Nationals with Trea Turner as well as Max Scherzer, Toronto, Miami, Seattle…

We get all of them. But, for me, there was one clear winner. The Dodgers. No media-driven hype signings and acquisitions. No Miami Heat-type player introductions at a FanFest. No exercises in usage of the first person singular.

Just a restructuring and reorganization to what might be called the 21st Century Branch Rickey model. So non-Hollywood.

They won the winter because in attracting and assembling one of the brightest and most proven front offices in the sport they won for the long term; hey, they’re the Los Angeles Dodgers, they have the TV deal and the audience and they don’t have to do what an A.J. Preller had to do to create sizzle.

Anyone close to the Rays knows how modestly, thoughtfully and respectfully Andrew Friedman runs a team with the ability to give every one of his employees from PhDs to scouts to former players and former general managers like Ned Colletti and Gerry Hunsicker voices that will be heard.

Farhan Zaidi is, simply, brilliant. Josh Byrnes is a remarkable baseball man (and do you like Paul Goldschmidt yet in Arizona?) who is back where his passion is fulfilled, watching baseball games. They went and hired two of the best evaluators in the business in Galen Carr and Dave Finley. They brought in what can only be described as two creative, intellectual and energetic minds to run the development program in Gabe Kapler and Nick Francona.

And they brought Don Mattingly into the process the way Joe Maddon was critical to the process in Tampa Bay, which has in turn generated tremendous enthusiasm.

OK, we know the Dodgers have stars. Clayton Kershaw is a preeminent superstar. Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu are really good. Adrian Gonzalez is a human metronome. Yasiel Puig is a star who wants the peripherals to catch up to the tools.

They have Joc Pederson, the apple of Mattingly’s eye.

So Friedman, Zaidi, Byrnes and company needed depth and a better-rounded roster. They took Dee Gordon, paid the 2015 contract on Dan Haren, agreed to trade an infielder named Miguel Rojas Miami liked, and in return got what talk radio did not like. It started with lefthanded pitcher Andrew Heaney, whom they turned into Howie Kendrick. Then they got infielder/catcher Austin Barnes (50 walks, 36 strikeouts, 34 extra base hits and legit catching promise). And infielder Kike Hernandez. And reliever Chris Hatcher.

And while talk bellowed for Rafael Soriano, if the season were to open today, Hatcher would be their closer until Kenley Jansen returns, Hernandez a potential bigtime multi-position utility-man, Kendrick their second baseman working with Jimmy Rollins and Barnes would be in triple-A preparing to be a stretch drive catcher/infielder with attitude and versatility. “They made a great trade, and we know it,” says Marlins GM Dan Jennings. “But we felt we needed Gordon at the top of the order and in the middle of the infield, and we needed the veteran pitcher in Haren.”

Walt Weiss says “the player that makes his team better is more important than a great player,” and in a city of stars, where stars’ handprints are in cement along Hollywood Boulevard, the emphasis has been on building the best 25-35 man roster. Which is why they’d love to move Andre Ethier. He’s been an extraordinary player, he believes he has to play against righthanders and lefthanders to stay in and maintain his stroke, and that isn’t going to happen. Scott Van Slyke and Chris Heisey are going to play.

“I know this is a difficult situation,” says Ethier. “Of course I want to play, and I feel I need to get regular at-bats. I stay in much better against righthanders if I’m playing against lefties. The role of coming up for an at-bat against some righthanded reliever throwing 98 isn’t a very good role. But I get it.” If Ethier doesn’t fit a role, what happens isn’t exactly clear. What it is that these Dodgers are going to have, is what Friedman and Zaidi have crafted so well in Tampa and Oakland—a deep, flexible, useful roster.

Which is necessary in their division, where the offense and defense have to play 117 games in Dodger Stadium, Petco and AT&T, then another 18 in the offensive-oriented Denver and Phoenix. “It’s a division that requires a lot of different styles,” says one GM. “When we’re facing the pitching the Padres and Giants throw out there, we have to have a lot of ways to produce runs,” says Mattingly. Hence the addition of a Kendrick. The depth of Hernandez, whom they love.

They can groom Barnes as Yasmani Grandal and A.J. Ellis do the catching. They have Jimmy Rollins’ energy and fire, and not even think about rushing Corey Seager, as tempting as that might be. They have Van Slyke and Heisey to protect Pederson against a Jon Lester.

And they have Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke and Hyun-jin Ryu. Some questioned the one year, $10M investment in Brett Anderson given his medical history, but he has thrown well, Monday effortlessly throwing a dominant curveball. They paid Brandon McCarthy $48M to be a solid starter off the adjustments and stuff he showed with the Yankees. Joe Wieland has looked like the front prospect he was in San Diego before Tommy John Surgery.

Jansen was a serious loss, but they are convinced that Hatcher can be the interim closer. What’s interesting is that they have four position player converts in their bullpen mix: Jansen (catcher), Hatcher (catcher), Pedro Baez (third base), Sergio Santos (shortstop). Then throw in college third baseman Brandon Beachy, who might be able to contribute later in the season.

At this point, the Dodgers are six months into their new administration, less than three months into the operation of the full staff Friedman has assembled. They will, at some point, flex their financial might, maybe for one of the many top free agent pitchers on next winter’s market, or in the international market after the July 2 signing period; had the Diamondbacks not jumped in and beaten them to Cuban Yoan Lopez, they would have already made their international push, signed Lopez, gone after Yoan Moncada, but once Lopez signed they decided to wait until after July 2 to go over spending limits knowing several teams cannot spend more than $300,000 on players.

It shouldn’t be forgotten what Colletti endured from the McCourt Adventure Park to MannyWorld on forward. The Dodgers contended, they got the TV deal, and as Byrnes points out, they have a lot more talent in the organization than outsiders believe.

Pederson will be the center fielder. Julio Urias is 18 and will likely be pitching in double-A. Chris Anderson is a righthanded horse projectable as a 200 inning strikethrower or backend reliever.

But everyone wants to watch the 20-year old Seager, who hit .352 with 18 homers in 80 games in the California League and .345 with a .915 OPD in the Southern League. The brother of the Mariners all-star is listed at 6-4, 215, and the common thought is that he will outsize shortstop. And he actually looks bigger than 6-4, with an easy swing and beautiful approach.

Greinke, who is a student of players from the majors to the draft, comps Seager’s swing to that of Grady Sizemore. Byrnes asked Seager if he’d watched John Olerud. No. But that may be the perfect split-screen comp; Tuesday he flicked a ball that was caught at the wall in left-center like the vintage Olerud.

john olerud corey seager splitJohn Olerud (left); Corey Seager (right)

“People say he’s too big for shortstop,” says one Dodger official. “I don’t buy it. You watch his hands, his path to balls, his instincts, his transfer and the way he gets rid of the ball with such accuracy and there’s every reason to believe he can stay at shortstop, at least for a few years.

It has been interesting this spring to see the crop of big young shortstops. Carlos Correa is 20, 6-4, 200 pounds with a phenomenal baseball IQ and signs that he will be Houston’s shortstop sometime this season. The Cubs are agog over Addison Russell, who when he arrives at Wrigley will look like a premier running back. Xander Bogaerts, now 22, is a good 6-3, 215 after his winter’s workouts (often with Ethier as his partner), noticeably quicker and stronger.

With Rollins, Seager is not going to be a 2015 solution for the Dodgers. But with this ownership and organization, they can shuttle for the short term and not lose sight of the long term.

ESPN.com this week ranked organizations in terms of future, long-term strength. The Red Sox, Dodgers and Cubs, three of the strongest franchises with similar beliefs in the broad view of yesterday, today and tomorrow on and off the field with the resources to invest in creative thinking.

Boston has won three of the last 11 World Series. It may not be long until the road to the World Series in the National League runs through Chicago and Los Angeles, in a league where the road to the World Series for the last decade has run through St. Louis and San Francisco.

Comments

  1. the dodgers often win the winter. their problem has been summer and fall. this year will be no different

  2. davesnothere says:

    “It may not be long until the road to the World Series in the National League runs through Chicago…”
    You had me right up until the time you said this.

  3. Dan Kielminski says:

    Gammon is a old coot,babbling all the time. I find him comical at times.

  4. Nov-Sept the Dodgers are pretty good.