After the surprising spending spree that kicked off the offseason, one question no one’s really been able to answer adequately is, “are the Dodgers really even any better offensively for it?” Most of the articles I’ve seen on that topic start off with “if Andre Ethier & Juan Uribe return to form, and if James Loney hits like he did in the second half and not the first…” which is all well and good, except that none of those three are new acquisitions and their performances were going to be the most important no matter how many other declining veterans were brought on. For the approximately $22m the Dodgers spent on six offensive signings this winter (other than Matt Kemp‘s extension), does it improve them at all over last season?
Over at Beyond the Box Score, David Fung takes a graphical look using wRC (weighted runs created) and wRAA (weighted runs above average), along with 2012 Bill James projections. Remember, this is talking about offense only.
Fung isn’t including returnees Juan Rivera and Tony Gwynn, as I would have, but they wouldn’t change the overall impression that for all of the money spent, the offense isn’t markedly improved, with the newcomers seemingly unlikely to provide more offense than the departing Jamey Carroll, Rod Barajas, and Casey Blake. Mark Ellis / Adam Kennedy probably won’t contribute all that much more than Carroll / Aaron Miles (if even as much), and while I think he’s far too optimistic on Matt Treanor‘s projected 87 OPS+, I’ll take the over on A.J. Ellis at 69, so that’ll probably even out.
This also doesn’t take into account the terrifying prospect of a full season of Rivera in left field, since after being lousy for five of six months last season, he’s not exactly high on my optimism list as he turns 34. The damage could be limited by allowing Jerry Sands a healthy amount of playing time in Rivera’s stead, though whether that’s realistic remains to be seen. (By the way, who among us wouldn’t have traded a fallen top prospect and a middling pitching prospect, say Chris Withrow & Josh Wall or Cole St. Clair, to the White Sox for Carlos Quentin, as the Padres just did? Quentin probably can’t play defense any better than Rivera can, but he’s at least under 30 with great power and good plate discipline, and at ~$7m in his final year of arbitration wouldn’t have cost all that much more than what Rivera will get.)
With the estimated offensive production coming in not much better than the production going out, the hope for success, as it always has been, rests on those returning. Uribe has to be better. Loney has to be August/September Loney. Ethier has to be healthy and productive (which I believe he will). Dee Gordon has to keep improving. Kemp has to repeat or come close to repeating his stellar 2011. If a majority of those questions don’t land on the right side for the Dodgers, their season is sunk.
That being the case, it’s worth repeating: why spend tens of millions on older, mediocre role players unlikely to bring much improvement?