The Dodgers won 94 games last year, repeating as champion of the National League West. They could open the season with a new second baseman, shortstop, catcher and center fielder, with newcomers in 40% of the starting rotation and 50% of the bullpen.
Are they better? Zack Greinke isn’t buying it, at least not yet.
“In the playoffs last year, I thought our team was the best team in baseball,” Greinke said Saturday at the Dodgers’ Fan Fest. “Obviously, we didn’t prove it. But I thought we were the best team in baseball. So, to say we’re better than that, I don’t know if you could say that.”
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations, traded outfielder Matt Kemp and second baseman Dee Gordon, cut pitcher Brian Wilson and let Hanley Ramirez go via free agency. Friedman said he wanted to remake the Dodgers into “a highly functional team, instead of a collection of talent.”
Said Greinke: “When you change a team a lot, sometimes it takes a year, or a couple of months, to jell. It doesn’t matter if you bring in the greatest guys in the world. It takes a little time to get used to them.”
Greinke said he disputed the conventional wisdom that Friedman had used addition by subtraction to improve the Dodgers’ clubhouse chemistry.
“I don’t think we got rid of anyone that was an issue in our clubhouse,” Greinke said. “I wouldn’t say everyone got along with everyone that is gone, but I would say there was definitely more positives than negatives with everyone that we got rid of.
“If you bring in a super clubhouse guy, that’s a positive. I don’t know the guys we brought in enough to know that we brought in some amazing person.”
Friedman has acknowledged the Dodgers might lose some offensive punch without Kemp and Ramirez, but he said the team should be better defensively with Jimmy Rollins at shortstop, Howie Kendrick at second base, Yasmani Grandal at catcher and -- assuming he wins the job -- Joc Pederson in center field.
“How much better is [Clayton] Kershaw going to be with a different shortstop?” Greinke said. “He had a 1.7 ERA, so it couldn’t have hurt him too much. If you’re pitching good and doing your job, you’re still going to get outs. Yeah, it helps to have a good defense behind you, but the most important person on defense is the pitcher. ...
“I guess the goal is to have a deeper lineup and hopefully replace it as a team – well, maybe not replace it, but hopefully come close and make up the difference defensively. You maybe come up with a slightly better team that way.”
Greinke said he has not decided whether to opt out of his contract after the season. Friedman said last month that the Dodgers did not plan to discuss an extension this winter.
Greinke, 31, would forfeit three years and $71 million if he opts out of his contract, presumably in the hope of securing a longer and more lucrative guarantee. If he plays out his Dodgers contract, he would not be eligible for free agency until age 35.
He told The Times last year that his decision would be influenced by how Max Scherzer and Jon Lester fared in free agency.
“What happens with Lester and Scherzer will say a lot,” Greinke said then.
Scherzer, 30, signed with the Washington Nationals for seven years and $210 million. Lester, 31, signed with the Chicago Cubs for six years and $155 million.
That would seem to indicate Greinke would opt out this fall, barring injury or a poor season.
“I’ve been thinking about it a little bit,” he said. “I’ll try to ... in spring training either tell you if I will have some sort of answers for you, or if I’ll go the whole season not giving any answers. I wasn’t ready for that question today.
“I do know I have really enjoyed L.A. I don’t think you could get a better organization. The owners are amazing. Our front office is, by reputation, the best – or at least in the top three in the game. Our coaching staff is great too. There’s not really any better options anywhere besides here.”
The Dodgers were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs last season, losing to the St. Louis Cardinals in four games.
“Going into the playoffs last year, I had a strong feeling that we were the best team in baseball. It was our series to lose. ... The Cardinals are always good. Bad breaks, I guess. It’s not that we got unlucky and that’s why we lost. The Cardinals beat us. But I thought we were the better – I thought we were a really good team.”