LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Dodgers started quietly at last year’s winter meetings, but by the time all the executives and scouts of various teams headed to the San Diego airport to scatter back to their home bases, the Dodgers had basically taken over the event.
The big move was trading Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres for Yasmani Grandal, a swap that wasn’t finalized for weeks. But the Dodgers also found two-fifths of their rotation -- Brandon McCarthy and Brett Anderson -- and their starting second baseman, Howie Kendrick, as well as key utility man Enrique Hernandez because of conversations at that hotel.
Now, after having had a year to shape the roster as they see fit, the Dodgers' front office, led by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, will head to the Gaylord Opryland resort in Nashville this weekend with a more modest, but still lengthy, to-do list. General manager Farhan Zaidi, who is flying to Nashville early to take part in an MLB conference on diversity, doesn’t expect to catch up on his sleep, that’s for certain.
“The winter meetings for us are 100 conversations for every deal that gets consummated,” he said.
So, expect the Dodgers to be generating plenty of rumors, some of them accurate, next week and for them to return to Southern California with their 2016 roster better defined. Let’s examine some of Friedman’s priorities going into the meetings.
Find a starter
There are two narratives about the Dodgers these days. The first tends to come from national baseball writers, who spend a lot of their time speaking to executives of other teams and agents, and the other comes directly from the team. One storyline is that the Dodgers will continue to be a financial juggernaut, trying to spend their way to that elusive World Series. The other is that they’re looking to get younger and more nimble financially.
Thus far, since Friedman arrived, the latter narrative has proven to be a better indicator of their behavior.
Does that mean they will or won’t re-sign Zack Greinke? It could depend who is running the show. Friedman, Zaidi and vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes haven’t shown much desire to lay out nine-figure contracts for starting pitchers, but earlier this week Dodgers co-owner Magic Johnson said that principal owner Mark Walter has gotten involved in the talks.
When owners enter the picture in these kinds of deals, anything can happen, but so far Walter has generally deferred to Friedman. Perhaps that dynamic shifted a bit when the team opted to hire Dave Roberts as its manager over the man viewed as Friedman’s favorite, Gabe Kapler? Could be.
Find another starter
So far, the Dodgers have Clayton Kershaw, Brett Anderson and Alex Wood in their rotation. They would be delighted if Hyun-Jin Ryu shows up to spring training healthy 10 months removed from shoulder surgery, but that’s far from a sure thing. Those four pitchers don’t have much in common other than that they throw with their left hands, but that’s no small coincidence.
In an ideal world, the Dodgers wouldn’t enter the season with an all-left-handed rotation. It would leave them susceptible to the right-handed power in their division, which is plentiful with Kemp, Buster Posey, Paul Goldschmidt and others, and it would be a definite problem if they were to draw a team that likes hitting lefties in a playoff series.
Beyond the $217 million the Boston Red Sox committed to David Price, it could be one of the reasons they didn’t go harder for a pitcher Friedman drafted while with the Tampa Bay Rays. It could limit them to the right-handed starters left on the free-agent market, but that’s not necessarily a problem with Greinke, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija and others still out there. The Dodgers also have been linked fairly consistently to Atlanta Braves righty Shelby Miller, so perhaps they can match up in a deal to make that happen.
A trade for a young starter could also fit their stated goal of getting younger and cheaper. Signing any of the other guys mentioned wouldn’t. The Dodgers have also said they could keep a rotation spot or two open for their young starters who will begin at Triple-A, like Julio Urias and Jose De Leon, so don’t rule that out.
Decide about Puig
The Dodgers' front office is sometimes characterized as making decisions based on numbers. That’s not entirely accurate. It makes decisions based on analytics, but a player’s statistics are only part of what they look at. They spend a lot of time studying ways to stay healthier than other teams, for example, and they talk a lot about less-tangible things like team culture.
Friedman’s group has worked fairly diligently to make the Dodgers’ clubhouse more functional, but it’s no secret that Yasiel Puig has sometimes been a divisive figure in the room. Greinke, among others, has been reported to dislike the way Puig sometimes ignores team rules. Roberts will give Puig a fresh start, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to find it easy to manage him.
So, will the Dodgers trade Puig? They’re not giving an indication. Friedman said he doesn’t feel compelled to do so because of Puig’s personality, but he likely would consider it, particularly if the Dodgers could get a good, young starting pitcher like Miller in return.
Add infield depth
Zaidi said the team has continued to talk to Chase Utley about returning in the role of backup second baseman, third baseman and first baseman. ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported they also figure to meet with super-utility man Ben Zobrist at some point this week.
The Dodgers don’t have many position-player needs, but second base is one area they could fill. Zaidi said they would like to add a veteran middle infielder, particularly one who bats left-handed.