After a bit of a holiday lull, the offseason is about to get very real, very soon. The winter meetings (next week in Nashville) and the days leading up to them are always among the most interesting of the year, and so we should be in for quite a bit of fun in the very near future.
That’s true for all teams, but it’s especially so for the Dodgers. They didn’t make the playoffs in 2012, and that was of course disappointing, as it always is. But as we’ve discussed, it also didn’t seem like that big of a deal. 2012 was never about winning a championship, it was about moving on from the McCourt era to whatever brighter future awaited us. The Guggenheim group brought money & dignity to an organization which sorely needed both, yet despite their big, flashy moves, there’s only so much you can do to improve a team full of Riveras, Uribes, & Loneys when you don’t even take over until a month into the season. The main goal was to start to win back the respect of the fans and rebuild the long-neglected areas of the business – like the stadium & international scouting – and so far, their tenure has been a roaring success. Playoffs or not, 2012 was a good year to be a Dodger fan. (And if reports about the new television deal prove to be true, this year is the gift that keeps on giving.)
It’s easy to see that the same tolerance may not be in place in 2013, because this team is built to win, and win quickly. They’ll have full seasons from Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, & (hopefully) Carl Crawford, plus whatever else Ned Colletti is able to accomplish in his first offseason with Guggenheim money. Ownership is going to want to see a return on their investment, especially as they need to get the ratings to justify that massive television deal. Heading into the season, this roster is likely to be the most talented in the NL West on paper, and so contention is expected, not just hoped for.
But it’s hard to say right now that this is a championship-worthy team, not with one bad elbow and four past-their-prime guys behind Clayton Kershaw in the rotation. Pitching wins in October, and just about every other team hoping to get a ring can say they have at least two plus-plus starters; in some cases, namely in Philadelphia & Washington, there’s three.
The Dodgers can’t say that. And so more than ever, I’m convinced that the Dodgers are going to be the ones to sign Zack Greinke this winter.
I say that partially because people I trust say that the Dodgers are working hard to make it happen, but also because the pieces just fall into place so perfectly. Greinke’s obviously the best pitcher on the market, as we looked into last month, because he’s young, durable, often dominant, and won’t cost a draft pick. He’s the only true ace available, and since I don’t believe the Dodgers really have the chips needed to get James Shields – no, Dee Gordon & Chris Reed aren’t going to get it done – he’s the only option to get this roster where it needs to be. As much as I’m intrigued by Hyun-jin Ryu and like Anibal Sanchez, they don’t give you the 1A ace you need. Greinke does.
Simply because he’s the clear best pitcher in a flush market, Greinke’s going to get paid and paid well, but even then the market works in favor of the Dodgers. Not that they really need to worry about anyone being able to outbid them at this point, but traditional big spenders in New York, Boston, & Philadelphia are unlikely to be in on Greinke, nor is Atlanta, who offers a good fit but can’t play in this financial stratosphere. Those teams being out certainly won’t make Greinke cheap, but it should keep him south of seven years and $150m, thresholds I would prefer not to cross.
In fact, there really seems to be only two obvious bidders for Greinke besides the Dodgers – the Angels, who traded for him last summer, and the Rangers, who tried to. For the Angels, it’s actually a bit of a desperate situation that they do retain him, and that’s what presents the biggest threat to the Dodgers. After saying goodbye to Dan Haren & Ervin Santana, they have only a rehabbing C.J. Wilson and three rotation holes behind Jered Weaver, and arguably the only thing more foolish than giving Albert Pujols $240m is not surrounding him with the pitching he needs to make having him worth it. Texas would love to take Greinke away from their division rival, but with Josh Hamilton & Mike Napoli both likely to leave, they may have bigger problems in fixing an offense that may only have Ian Kinsler & Adrian Beltre standing in the way of Ron Washington attempting to play Michael Young at all nine spots.
Because of their depth, the Dodgers may not need Greinke quite as desperately as the Angels, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a piece they don’t badly need. It’s not just for this year, either, and that’s important. I’ve long felt one of the most underrated aspects of the Adrian Gonzalez deal was the simple fact that there was going to be just about no one on the market to replace James Loney this winter – other than Napoli, the best first basemen are possibly Carlos Pena or Loney himself – and as teams lock up star players more and more often, there’s not a lot of quality pitching coming available. Looking ahead to 2014, and assuming that Shields’ option is picked up and R.A. Dickey is signed, the best starters look to be… Roy Halladay, at 37? Matt Garza? Josh Johnson, maybe, if reports of a deal with Toronto fall through?
It’s ugly out there, and that means it’s not going to get any easier to find pitching. The Dodgers need Greinke not only for 2013, but for every year after. They need him because he’s a perfect fit in terms of age and skill. They need him because he’s the rare ace pitcher on the right side of 30 available for nothing but money, with no one else like him coming free over the next year or two. They need him because the hundreds of millions they spent elsewhere might not matter if they can’t improve the rotation. They need him because they need to, for once, best the Angels in the Southern California public relations games.
They need him. They can obviously afford him, even if it’s 6/$132m (my best guess as to what he’ll get, perhaps with an option for another year). More than ever, I’m optimistic that they’ll have him.
As for the batch of minor leaguers the Dodgers signed over the holiday weekend – newcomers RHP Juan Abreu, RHP Hector Correa, RHP Gregory Infante, LHP Kelvin de la Cruz, LHP Thomas Melgarejo, C Wilkin Castillo, SS Miguel Rojas and returnees SS Osvaldo Martinez, 3B C.J. Retherford & OF Alfredo Silverio – there’s not a whole lot to see here. All are failed prospects of some sort, some will get a token appearance in major league camp, and the only one you really need to know is former top prospect Silverio, who of course lost his entire 2012 to a car wreck and may not be at full speed in 2013. Along with infielder Nick Evans, who also signed up last week, that makes eleven NRIs to big-league camp thus far, a list which is kept on the right side of our depth chart here.