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Dodgers mailbag: Will Yu Darvish be back in 2018?

Dodgers mailbag: Will Yu Darvish be back in 2018?
Dodgers pitcher Yu Darvish had two rough outings during the World Series but still might end up returning to the team as a free agent. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In 27 days, the pitchers and catchers of the 2018 Dodgers will report to spring training at Camelback Ranch. The position players will join them a few days later. A new season dawns soon, even if it feels like the offseason has yet to begin.

The Dodgers have done only minor tinkering to the roster that brought them to their first World Series since 1988. They signed right-handed pitcher Tom Koehler. They acquired left-handed reliever Scott Alexander from Kansas City. They made a nifty trade with Atlanta that shipped Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir out of town while reacquiring Matt Kemp.

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This small amount of activity qualifies the Dodgers as one of the movers and shakers of this offseason. No, they did not acquire slugging superstar Giancarlo Stanton, as the Yankees did. No, they did not land two-way experiment Shohei Ohtani, as the Angels did. No, they did not empty their coffers for relievers, as the Rockies did. And no, they did not stage a reprise of "Back to the Future" with Evan Longoria and Andrew McCutchen, as the Giants have.

But at least the Dodgers have done something this offseason, small as the moves may be, at a time when free agents like Yu Darvish, Eric Hosmer, J.D. Martinez, Jake Arrieta, Lorenzo Cain, Mike Moustakas, Todd Frazier, Lance Lynn and Alex Cobb are all still available.

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Of all those players, it is Darvish who holds the Dodgers' interest the most. With that in mind, I fielded some questions on Twitter, which you can send to me @McCulloughTimes. Let's do this.

The Dodgers are serious about trying to sign Darvish, which feels like an upset given where we were at the start of the winter.

Here is what general manager Farhan Zaidi said at the general managers' meetings in November:

"It was always going to be a difficult [re-signing] for us to do, but we do have some interest."

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The Dodgers made life easier for themselves in that swap with Atlanta, which reset the team's luxury-tax payroll beneath the $197-million threshold, which would allow the team to avoid the competitive balance tax. Considering the organization's newfound commitment to fiscal restraint for this winter — which sets them up to pursue Clayton Kershaw, Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, Andrew Miller and others next winter — any deal for Darvish would require another move to dump some salary.

The team's luxury-tax payroll number sits at $179.6 million, according to Cot's Contracts. That leaves the Dodgers about $17 million to play with. It would be silly for Darvish, who is also being pursued by the Yankees, Cubs, Twins and Rangers, to accept a deal with such a low average annual value. But he appears willing to wait to see whether the Dodgers can move money around to make room for him.

How would the Dodgers do that? Of course, there is Kemp, but it is hard to imagine another team taking on a good deal of his salary. The more likely options are players like second baseman Logan Forsythe ($9 million salary in 2018) or catcher Yasmani Grandal ($7.9 million salary).

The need to subtract another player in order to add Darvish complicates the equation. Losing Forsythe would hurt the team's infield defense. Forsythe is a sure-handed fielder, whereas likely replacement Chris Taylor is less reliable. He is also a productive batter against left-handed pitchers, and Dodgers officials feel he would improve against right-handed pitchers in 2018.

Losing Grandal would deplete the team's catching depth. Beyond 2018, the Dodgers appear set at the backstop, with prospects like Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith on the way. In the present, though, Grandal is still a useful contributor, even if he lost his starting role to Austin Barnes during the playoffs. Barnes has never handled the starting load for a full season, and there are questions about his durability and his throwing. If the Dodgers sell Grandal, they would turn an obvious strength into a question mark.

Would Darvish be worth it? He is a good pitcher. He would make the starting rotation better. The Dodgers have plenty of depth, but basically every single one of their top-tier starters can be considered an injury risk (Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu). Darvish certainly would aid the team's pursuit of another division title.

There is an elephant in the room. Bill Plaschke outlined the situation last week. Darvish's collapse in the World Series has made him radioactive to a segment of the Dodgers' fan base. It's hard to know how sizable that segment is, but it isn't hard to envision a scenario in which Darvish gets booed on Opening Day, gets jeered after every so-so performance and carries Game 7 around his neck like a millstone.

Of course, the Dodgers should not allow fan opinion to play a major influence in baseball decisions. If Darvish pitches well, he'll get cheered. If the Dodgers win the division again, fans will be happy. The front office recognizes this. And that's why there remains a chance they will bring Darvish back.

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Darvish did not pitch well. Dave Roberts erred by allowing Darvish to face George Springer in the second inning. The offense did not succeed in high-leverage spots. Houston was a great team.

You should probably just blame Darvish.

Or credit the Astros for being awesome.

Twenty-five percent? Fifty percent? Who knows. This has been the strangest winter I've covered during my eight seasons on the baseball beat. I am prepared for anything.

I would say there's a five-percent chance Matt Kemp is a Dodger on Opening Day, and that is probably too big a number.

Ryu's future will look much like his past: He will compete for a spot in the Dodgers rotation and likely make somewhere between 20 to 25 starts, if healthy. He will be a free agent after this season.

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Considering the Astros were a better team than the Yankees, yes, I think it would have been better for the Dodgers to play the Yankees. It would have been interesting to watch Roberts duel with Joe Girardi in late-game situations. Both teams leaned heavily on their relievers, as compared to Houston, which offered a little more rope to it starters. The Dodgers probably would have beaten the Yankees in six, but they also could have beaten the Astros in six, if a few different things had happened.

Probably not. Maybe closer to the All-Star break, if the Dodgers don't re-sign Darvish.

The main issue is Gerrit Cole has been a fairly average pitcher for the past two seasons. He is certainly a big-league starter and there is plenty of upside, but there is a false perception that he classifies as an "ace" because he was a highly touted prospect with talent who had a pretty good season in 2015. The last two years have been less kind to him. Cole required three stints on the disabled list in 2016, mostly because of inflammation in his elbow. When he took the mound, his results regressed.

Here are the statistical profiles for two pitchers from 2016-17:

Pitcher A: 29-17, 3.80 ERA, 310 innings, 42 homers allowed, 3.79 FIP, 2.4 walks per nine, 9.3 strikeouts per nine, 107 ERA+.

Pitcher B: 19-22, 4.12 ERA, 319 innings, 38 homers allowed, 3.81 FIP, 2.6 walks per nine, 8.3 strikeouts per nine, 103 ERA+.

Pitcher B is Cole.

Pitcher A is Kenta Maeda.

It's not unreasonable to think Cole will improve while working with the Astros. (It's also not unreasonable to think he may catch a licking while shifting to the American League.) He could have helped the Dodgers in 2018 and 2019. But he also classifies as a non-elite talent.

My understanding is the Dodgers have interest in a reunion with Chase Utley, but it is complicated by both financial implications (even $1 million, after all, counts toward the luxury tax and reduces some flexibility) and Utley's reduced utility on the roster. The Dodgers do not long for a left-handed batter off the bench, and Utley's defensive ability has decreased in recent years. His value inside the clubhouse is unparalleled, according to Dodgers staffers and players, but his value on the field has diminished. I wouldn't rule out his coming back, though, because he hungers for another championship and the organization reveres him.

To quote Royals general manager Dayton Moore: My crystal ball is broken.

The one move I want the Dodgers to make is to build a press elevator into the layout of Dodger Stadium.

The one move I want them to avoid is staffing security during the playoffs near the loading dock that I used as an entrance to a staircase in the regular season.

I didn't watch much WWE in 2017. At this point, I feel like I only keep track of the PPV results so I can listen to Bryan Alvarez's reviews for the Wrestling Observer. But here are my picks: Shinsuke Nakamura for the men's Rumble and Ronda Rousey for the women's Rumble.

I caught most of the card, which was tremendous as always. Omega-Jericho stole the show. This incarnation of Jericho as a despicable heel is excellent. Omega showed why he is the best in the world. The finish, in which Omega stuck the One-Winged Angel on a chair, looked brutal. The match lived up the hype. Not as good as the Omega-Okada trilogy, but then again, what is?

No LAPC for me this year. If I play any tournaments in 2018, it'll likely be only an event or two at the World Series of Poker. In charting my performance in 2017, I found cash games to be far more enjoyable and lucrative than tournaments, which are miserable during the early stages and unprofitable for less-skilled players like me in the latter stages.

I played a side event at WSOP last summer and loved the atmosphere, so I'll likely head back to the Rio to replicate that experience. Otherwise, I'm concentrating on building up experience $5-$5 NLH so I can play there more comfortably. Running deep in a tournament can be a joy, but I prefer the freedom and stability of cash games.

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes

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