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The Los Angeles Dodgers finished the 2017 season one win away from a championship. After a relatively quiet offseason they entered 2018 as the favorites to get back to the World Series. Now they are more likely to miss the playoffs than make it to the World Series. What can they do? What should they do?
LA’s lineup is nowhere near the caliber of a playoff team: 3B Justin Turner has been a cornerstone player for years, batting third in their lineup and being a clubhouse leader… He’s yet to play this season, and is looking to return from a fracture in his left wrist. Worse, this injury means that his power is very likely to decline. He’s also 33 now and 34 in November and has spent considerable time on the DL the last few years. Can they still count on him as an integral part of their lineup?
1B Cody Bellinger seems to be going through a “sophomore slump”, or maybe he was having a fluke year last season? He had a .315 ISO last year, but this year it’s a significantly lower .184. His Hardhit % dropped from 43% to 35.8% and he reversed his GB% and FB% to where he went from hitting more fly balls than grounders last year, to hitting more grounders than fly balls this year. SS Corey Seager was having a down year before suffering a season-ending injury, RF Yasiel Puig is having the worst year of his already inconsistent career, and the problems don’t end there… CF Chris Taylor is so far proving that last season was indeed a BABIP influenced fluke and that he’s better off as a utility bench player. In the meantime second base is a hole and their suddenly over .300 hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal is a free agent after the season.
Their ace Clayton Kershaw seems to no longer be durable and also seems to be in decline. Will they still give him a record contract after he likely opts out of his contract after the season? Another starter Rich Hill can’t stay healthy or produce anymore and is already in his late thirties. Alex Wood’s Cy Young caliber first half of 2017 appears to be a fluke (though his FIP is still good), and the actually productive Hyun-Jin Ryu is already out with his own injury until the second half of the season.
What should they do? They really have two options: 1. Try to salvage this season and 2. Rebuild. They will almost certainly pursue the former and not the latter. They will look for bullpen upgrades and potentially another arm for the rotation (though they almost certainly won’t be acquiring an ace as there are really none available). I fully expect their lineup however to be their top priority.
They specifically need help at second base, shortstop, center field and right field. Any of these positions (except for right field) can be filled by Chris Taylor despite his shortcomings. It’s also possible that Alex Verdugo can end up sticking in center field or right field. The obvious target at shortstop is Manny Machado. He will however almost certainly cost a lot to acquire. Baltimore’s asking price will likely be high and he might cost Verdugo or Walker Buehler. Other potential targets that will cost less include Starlin Castro from Miami, Jurickson Profar from Texas, Freddy Galvis from San Diego, Adeiny Hechavarria from Tampa Bay and Jed Lowrie and Marcus Semien from Oakland (if they’re out of playoff contention). As you can see Machado is by far the best option.
There are better options if they pursue a second baseman: the same players from above minus Machado plus Cesar Hernandez from Philadelphia (if they fall out of contention), Brian Dozier from Minnesota (if they continue playing poorly), and Josh Harrison from Pittsburgh. It would be quite an accomplishment if they could acquire both Dozier and Machado. It would also most likely cost them both Verdugo and Buehler along with likely others.
Their best options for the outfield are: Khris Davis from Oakland, Nicholas Castellanos from Detroit and Adam Jones from Baltimore. How many of these players will they actually acquire? Will this save their season?
I have a more negative view of the situation: I think that their window of contention is closing. I wouldn’t acquire Machado as they need much more than him to pass Arizona and Colorado, and I don’t like the idea of trading elite prospects for rentals. Could the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series without giving up Gleyber Torres for Aroldis Chapman? I think so.
If they’re leading the division or one of the wildcard spots (or at least not too far behind), I would ideally acquire Cesar Hernandez and Semien. Hernandez would be a better leadoff man than Taylor and Semien would help out for a potentially bargain price. This also solves their middle infield dilemma.
What if they’re 4 or more games out of a playoff spot? I would shop Kershaw. WHAT?! I would shop Kershaw. How many people reading this think that giving him a massive contract is a good idea? How many think that he WOULDN’T get them a nice haul? Remember what I said about their being no ace available by trade? This affects other teams too and this is where Kershaw comes in. Can they get Jack Flaherty and Harrison Bader from St. Louis? What about Derek Fisher and Forrest Whitley from Houston? I would also shop Taylor, Grandal, Ryu, Puig and Kenley Jansen. How long would the rebuild take with Bellinger, Seager and all of the prospects? Isn’t it time to admit that this core isn’t going to win the World Series?
What do you think that they should do? Let me know in the comments!