For months, we’ve assumed that the Dodgers were going to sign Zack Greinke; at times, it was more of a “when” than an “if”. The pieces all just fit together too perfectly for it not to happen, right? Obviously, no one is going to outbid the Dodgers – even with reports that they may need to beat Texas’ offer by as much as $30m to overcome the difference in state income taxes – and they have a clear need for another top starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw. For Greinke’s part, he apparently enjoyed his time in Southern California with the Angels and joining a team that allows him to avoid the DH and spend half his time in a pitcher-friendly park should have made this a slam dunk.
But the winter meetings have come and gone, and Greinke remains unsigned. If reports are to be believed, the Dodgers have grown frustrated with the delays and may shift their focus away from Greinke on to other business. To a certain extent, I believe that, because the worst-case scenario here is waiting on Greinke only to have him go to Texas and then finding that all of the other pitching options have already homes. (Well, that’s only partially true; the real worst-case scenario is Kyle Lohse.) I say “to a certain extent” because I don’t really believe there’s ever going to come a time where they will completely give up on Greinke and simply refuse to consider him, because that’s just not realistic.
Besides, while we’re all impatient after what was a disappointing winter meetings, it’s still only December 7. As far as the winter goes, that’s still absurdly early, no matter how we’re feeling about it. Don’t forget, the Tigers didn’t land Prince Fielder until January 26.
While I don’t think Greinke is going to let this drag out for more than another week or two, the Dodgers do need to consider what their alternatives are, because I don’t believe there’s any way they’re headed into 2013 without having done more to upgrade their rotation than add Hyun-jin Ryu. (Reportedly, Ryu passed a physical on Thursday and I consider him all but certain to sign before the Sunday 2pm PT deadline.)
If you consider Ryu & Josh Beckett the back part of the rotation, Chad Billingsley a “please lord stay healthy” #3, and Chris Capuano & Aaron Harang trade bait, you’re still left with a giant hole behind Kershaw. There’s only two paths to go down…
Sign a pitcher
Other than Greinke, the consensus top pitcher available is Anibal Sanchez. I looked into him a month ago and came away impressed. He’s not Greinke, but he’s a clear upgrade on what the Dodgers have and a worthy addition to the rotation. The problem is that the market has become so crazy in the last few weeks that while it looked like he’d get something like 4/$56m at the start of the offseason, now his reported asking price of 5/$90m now looks easily attainable. He’d be nice to have, but to have to pay that much and not get Greinke could only be seen as a disappointment.
Beyond Sanchez, there’s some intriguing arms like Edwin Jackson & Ryan Dempster still available. Neither would require a draft pick, and I’d consider both upgrades on Capuano & Harang, so in that sense they’re worth investigating. However, neither come close to filling the #2 role that’s so badly needed, so it’s difficult to get excited about them.
I can’t even talk about giving up a draft pick and a big contract for Lohse without blacking out, so I won’t.
Trade for a pitcher
Here’s where things get fun. The Dodgers have been publicly linked to James Shields for weeks and R.A. Dickey more recently, and each are clearly available for the right price. Frankly, I don’t see how the Dodgers are even still in the Shields conversation if Kansas City is really putting Wil Myers out there for Tampa, but until a deal is actually completed, those are just rumors. It’s no secret that Dee Gordon is available for trade, though he alone isn’t going to get you either of those guys, and prospects alone – am I the only one who doesn’t think all that much of Chris Reed? – probably aren’t going to get it done considering the sparse Dodger system these days.
Dickey & Shields are really the only two difference makers available via trade, with the possible exception of rekindled interest in eating a ton of Cliff Lee money, and so that makes it a seller’s market that the Dodgers may not be able to compete in. Other than them, there’s some mid-level guys rumored to be available – a Gavin Floyd here, a Justin Masterson there – but no one that would provide the top-level boost the rotation clearly needs.
Even if the Dodgers turn to Dickey or Shields instead, a trade fit seems tough. There ‘s been a lot of behind-the-scenes chatter about Andre Ethier, despite Don Mattingly’s claim to the contrary, and while I don’t believe he’s really going to get traded, I do think they’d be willing to if they need to. (I’m sure his name has at least come up in conversations, anyway, though it’s difficult to say if that’s other teams asking about him or the Dodgers suggesting him.) I can’t see him being right for the Mets, who are tight on cash and badly in need of younger talent, though he’d be a wonderful fit in Tampa if the Dodgers ate a ton of his contract. (And, again, passed on Myers, if that’s true.)
The problem with that is of course that if you do trade Ethier, you have to fill that hole you’ve created somehow. We all know that Mike Morse will be available if Adam LaRoche returns to Washington, and I’ve liked him for years, though the price would be uncertain… and if you go this route, filling your rotation hole without spending all that money you had earmarked for Greinke, well, there is that other marquee free agent out there who requires nothing but money to bring his massive power (and even larger demons) to town. Yeah, it’s a lot more complicated to deal Ethier for a pitcher and then attempt to import Josh Hamilton than it would be to just sign Greinke, and that’s why I consider it far less likely as well as immensely less preferable.
Fun to think about, though. That said, let’s avoid this whole mess by just signing Greinke already, okay? Okay.
Oh, and Shohei Otani? Yeah, I wouldn’t spend too much time thinking about him any longer…