Have the Winter Meeting Moves Made the Los Angeles Dodgers Better?
Baseball's Winter Meetings were held in San Diego this year. But it was another California city that stole the show.
No team, save for Billy Beane's Oakland A's, has had a more radical transition to a roster this off-season. Consider everything that went down for the Dodgers since just Wednesday.
An hour or so later, they traded All-Star second baseman Dee Gordon to Miami for four prospects, headlined by the Marlins' top pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Later than night, they flipped Heaney to the Los Angeles Angels for second baseman Howie Kendrick.
On Wednesday night, they signed free agent starter Brandon McCarthy to a four-year, $48 million contract.
And then on Thursday morning, they traded away outfielder Matt Kemp to the Padres for catcher Yasmani Grandal and pitchers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin (Eflin was then sent to Philadelphia to complete the Rollins trade).
So, if you're keeping score at home, the Dodgers got a new shortstop and second baseman, a new middle-of-the-rotation starter, and a new catcher and jettisoned their old second baseman and a former MVP candidate outfielder in the process.
That's doing some work. But will these moves make the Dodgers better in 2015? Will this be enough to get them to their first World Series since 1988? Let's take a look.
The Rollins Stopgap
After losing Hanley to free agency, L.A. needed a shortstop to man the position for one year until their young prospect Corey Seager is ready, presumably next year. Getting Rollins was a coup, because J-Roll has full 10-5 rights and could veto a trade to any team.
Evidently, Jimmy was cool with the Dodgers and agreed to be moved. He's in the final year of a contract that pays him $11 million this year. And despite what you may think, Rollins is still a very valuable shortstop.
Rollins ranked fourth among all National League shortstops last year with an fWAR of 3.6. And while his offensive numbers weren't eye-popping, he had a nERD of 0.53 - meaning a lineup full of Jimmys would score 0.53 runs a game more than a league-average player.
Ramirez had an fWAR of 3.4 with better offensive numbers and superior nERD of 1.69. But his defensive numbers were much worse than Rollins', with J-Roll good for four Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) last year. Not bad for a 36-year-old. Ramirez, meanwhile, had a DRS of -9, worst among all qualifying shortstops.
Overall, it's probably a push. But Rollins allows the Dodgers to put a one-year stopgap in place for Seager at a far more reasonable price than it would have cost to retain Ramirez, who signed a four-year, $88 million deal with Boston a few weeks ago.
Howie Kendrick Over Dee
I wrote about the Dee Gordon deal to the Marlins on Wednesday, and I still think L.A. made an outstanding trade here. Gordon has his weaknesses as a hitter, profiling as a Juan Pierre type - a light-hitting, adequate defender who steals a lot of bases at the top of the lineup but was an All-Star in 2014.
The Dodgers took Heaney, obtained from Florida, and used him to land Kendrick, Gordon's replacement.
Last year, Kendrick had a nERD of 0.62, while Gordon's was 0.49. Gordon provides more as a top-of-the-lineup speed option, with a league-leading 64 stolen bases and 12 triples last year. But Kendrick provides a little more thump and is an outstanding defender, with seven defensive runs saved. Gordon, by contrast, cost his team runs with a DRS of -5.
So based on last year's numbers, L.A. picked up 1.7 wins above replacement (fWAR) and 25 defensive runs saved by revamping the middle of their infield. Not a bad overhaul of your double-play combination.
Four Years of McCarthy
The Dodgers have been linked to Phillies starter Cole Hamels in trade talks for weeks, and that smoke started to get a lot hotter once the Winter Meetings started. And while there's still a chance of that happening, L.A.'s motivation to deal for Cole had to have taken a hit after they signed McCarthy to a four-year, $46 million contract, taking the place of the outgoing Haren.
Acquired by the Yankees in a mid-season trade, McCarthy did a complete 180 with New York after a tough first half with the Diamondbacks. Most notable was that he stayed healthy, reaching 200 innings for the first time in his career, and it was just the second time he's pitched at least 170 in a season.
When healthy, McCarthy gets guys out. But he's often injured, which makes signing the 31-year-old to a four-year deal a risky move.
He'll slot in as the team's number-four starter in place of Haren, who was traded to Miami as part of the Gordon trade. If McCarthy can replicate his success in the Bronx, he'll be a superior option to Haren. But it's too early to tell if this will be an upgrade or not.
The Kemp Era Is Over
Had Matt Kemp not fallen prey to injury, he would have been a yearly MVP candidate. However, after signing his eight-year, $160 million deal that takes him through 2019, he's been nagged by injuries that have kept him off the field for large stretches. Now, the center field job will be handed to Joc Pederson, who is one of the better outfield prospects in all of baseball.
Pederson's numbers are from Triple-A last year, and minor league numbers should always be taken with a bit of caution. However, he is a terrific defender, far better than Kemp.
Offensively, Kemp had a nice bounce-back season for L.A. last year, playing 150 games for the first time since 2011, with a nERD of 2.10. His numbers will probably dip hitting in spacious Petco Park, but his defensive metrics should improve a bit as he plays one of the corner outfield spots. The Dodgers will probably lose something offensively with this exchange but should make up for much of it in run prevention. Perhaps more importantly, it also gets Los Angeles out from under Kemp's very onerous contract.
As for the catcher position, the Dodgers potentially got a whole lot better and solidified the position for the future.
Grandal is a supremely talented yet oft-injured player. But he's still just 26 and, for the first time in his three-year career, played in at least 150 games last season. His offensive numbers weren't off the charts but were better than last year's starting catcher, A.J. Ellis, who played in just 93 games in 2014.
And at 33 years old, the Dodgers replace Ellis with someone seven years younger. If he stays healthy, Grandal will be their catcher of the future and, based on last year's numbers, is already worth 1.5 WAR more than Ellis.
These four moves have essentially netted the Dodgers an additional five wins above replacement and saved them tens of millions of dollars by getting Kemp off the books.
Sure, they incurred some risk by bringing aboard some injury-prone players like Grandal and McCarthy, but they also got rid of Kemp, who was a walking injury risk himself.
It was a dizzying four days in San Diego for the Dodgers, one that they hope will make them a stronger contender this season for the National League pennant.