On the surface, what the Dodgers did Monday didn’t look like progress. They agreed to a new contract with Kenley Jansen and were on the verge of re-signing third baseman Justin Turner, which means the team they will field next year may be nearly identical to the team they fielded this year.
Except this is a step forward.
In their third off-season with Andrew Friedman as the head of baseball operations, the Dodgers are finally smart enough to do something stupid.
There were reasons for the the Dodgers to not bring back Jansen and Turner — the same kinds of reasons that convinced the brain trust in the front office to pass on the likes of Max Scherzer, Jon Lester and Zack Greinke the last couple of off-seasons.
The strike against Jansen was that he was a reliever and teams that have made significant investments in their bullpens have often come to regret them. Turner is 32 and has a history of knee problems.
The deals for Jansen and Turner could have future luxury-tax implications, and there could very well be a day when their contracts are viewed similarly to how Andre Ethier’s is now, as sunk costs. The Dodgers know this. That didn’t stop them from committing $80 million over five years to Jansen and $64 million over four to Turner.
This is what the Dodgers had to do to remain contenders.
Under Friedman, the most they had previously spent on a player was $48 million, which was the price of injury-prone starting pitchers such as Rich Hill, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy. But the Dodgers recognized the lack of alternatives in this particular market, which would have spelled disaster for them had they failed to meet the asking prices of Jansen and Turner.
Among free agents, Hill was the best starting pitcher, Turner the best infielder and Jansen one of the two best closers — alongside Aroldis Chapman, who signed with the New York Yankees last week.
The laws of supply-and-demand had a profound effect on the trade market. To acquire Chris Sale, the Boston Red Sox had to send the Chicago White Sox a four-player package that included Yoan Moncada, the sport’s top prospect, and Michael Kopech, a potential ace-in-the-making who his armed with a 100-mph fastball.
In other words, trading for an impact player would have forced the Dodgers to abandon their long-term plan of building rosters around homegrown players. If they wanted to be as good as they were last season, they had no choice but to re-sign Jansen, Turner and Hill.
Dodgers fans surely wanted to see the team make up ground on the defending World Series champions Chicago Cubs, who will presumably be better than they were last season. But that couldn’t happen. Not this year, not under these conditions.
The success of these deals will ultimately be determined by the long-term viability of Friedman’s emphasis on quantity over quality. The rotation is still largely comprised of fragile arms, which will ensure the team will again lean heavily on its bullpen while shuttling pitchers back and forth from triple A.
Replicating the pitching formula from last season will require Friedman to unearth another Joe Blanton, who was extraordinary in a setup role. Blanton posted a 2.75 earned-run average in 75 regular-season games.
The potential departure of veteran second baseman Chase Utley could also create a leadership void on a roster that was marked by its cohesiveness.
Still, Jansen and Turner provide a valuable foundation, with Jansen offering stability in the back of the bullpen and Turner ensuring the offense will remain one of the most potent in the National League.
There was a feeling the Dodgers became lesser versions of themselves in each of the last two off-seasons, when they lost the likes of Greinke, Hanley Ramirez and Matt Kemp. That won’t be the case this year. If anything, they are now a move or two away from an improved roster.
Follow Dylan Hernandez on Twitter @dylanohernandez