NASHVILLE -- The Los Angeles Dodgers landed a starting pitcher with a 3.17 career ERA, Hisashi Iwakuma, and checked off another box from their wish list, re-signing Chase Utley to be their lefty-hitting infielder off the bench. Yet their fans -- and even team executives, to some extent -- seemed frustrated as the winter meetings wrapped.
The deal that didn’t happen made the team’s exit tune from Music City a dirge rather than a jaunty little ditty.
The Dodgers haven’t completely abandoned their pursuit of flamethrower Aroldis Chapman as Major League Baseball begins to investigate an October incident involving Chapman and his girlfriend under its domestic violence policy, according to a source. But completing that deal seems like a long shot at this point. The team continues to explore other pitching options, including, reportedly, New York Yankees closer Andrew Miller.
We don’t know how Dodgers executives feel about how the meetings went because president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the rest of the front office left early Thursday without talking to reporters. But it’s safe to say they aren’t conceding the National League West to the Arizona Diamondbacks just because they generated the most headlines.
Arizona snatched Zack Greinke away from the Dodgers and San Francisco Giants last week by offering him six years and more than $200 million. The D-Backs also added another solid pitcher to its rotation in a trade with the Atlanta Braves for Shelby Miller. They certainly look more formidable, but they did, after all, finish 13 games behind the Dodgers -- and a bit behind the Giants -- this past season.
Friedman seemed to be alluding to that gap when he congratulated Arizona on its moves.
“They’ve been aggressive and they’re doing everything they can to try to knock us off from the three straight division titles,” Friedman said. “They’ve made a lot of good, aggressive moves and we’re doing everything we can to finish the regular season in the same place we have the last three.”
If nothing else, the Dodgers gave their fans a glimpse into a model they’re seriously exploring for the 2016 team. Rather than try to dominate with starting pitching as they did when they could pair Greinke with Clayton Kershaw, they -- like a lot of teams -- are spending more time in the relief market. Yes, they still want to land a starting pitcher -- and there are plenty of options left in free agency -- but their biggest splash this winter might be for a star-level reliever. Who knows, that splash might last for two weeks or so if the Dodgers elect to complete the Chapman trade and then deal with the public-relations fallout, regardless of how the investigation goes.
Why haven’t they been more financially aggressive in landing a starting pitcher? Because they believe three of their starting pitchers who will start the season at Triple-A Oklahoma City – Julio Urias, Jose De Leon and Jharel Cotton – could be ready at some point next season. If, for example, they acquire Johnny Cueto, they could potentially block three of their best prospects, and that isn’t in keeping with the team’s quest to get younger in coming years.
The presence of the young pitchers in part explains why the Dodgers didn't make a bolder play for Greinke. They considered it a stretch to add a fifth year to Greinke's deal and weren't going to go to six under any circumstances even after Greinke's agent called them back with the Diamondbacks' offer in hand, according to a source.
“We’re now in a bridge area to the next group of kids who are coming,” team president Stan Kasten said.
The offseason isn’t over, by the way. Scott Kazmir, Kenta Maeda, Wei-Yin Chen and Ian Kennedy are all still unsigned and could probably be had on short enough deals that they wouldn’t impede the pitching prospects’ path. The Dodgers will keep digging on trades for relievers.
The winner of the winter meetings rarely is the winner of the World Series. The Dodgers still have their eye on the trophy their fans want most, even if these four days didn’t paint a convincing picture of that.