Farhan Zaidi went to work on Nov. 2. The sting of the day before, when the Dodgers fell in Game 7 of the World Series, had not yet faded, and it has not faded since. But the baseball calendar does not allow time to grieve the end of a season, and so Zaidi, the team’s general manager, pondered how to move forward.
During the immediate aftermath of the defeat to Houston, Zaidi gathered with Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and the rest of the front office to conduct a post-mortem on the season past. The conclusions hinted at the challenge facing them this winter.
Was there anything they could have done differently?
“It seems really defiant to say ‘No,’” Zaidi said Monday at the general managers’ meetings at the Waldorf Astoria. “But we’re not done with the process. We have a full offseason ahead of us, and have plenty of time to go back and debate.”
During their first two winters, Friedman and Zaidi prioritized depth, elongating the string of talent throughout the organization by enhancing the margins of the roster. After the 2016 season, the team forked over $192 million to re-sign closer Kenley Jansen, third baseman Justin Turner and starting pitcher Rich Hill, while targeting improvements at second base and against left-handed pitching.
The scenario this winter is less daunting, but still complex: how to improve a 104-win team with a group of superstars already in place, a list of starting pitchers that stretches into double digits and a lineup of relatively inexpensive contributors who have contracts under team control.
“We just have a pretty well-balanced roster, where any improvements are going to likely have to come in the form of real-impact talent,” Zaidi said, “and that’s not easy to go after.”
An early reading of the free-agent market identifies few players who might meet this qualification, and most are pitchers. The Dodgers are closely monitoring the availability of Japanese two-way star Shohei Ohtani. They could revisit trade talks with Baltimore about All-Star reliever Zach Britton. They could pursue 2015 National League Cy Young Award winner Jake Arrieta. And despite a wretched performance in the World Series, Yu Darvish remains in consideration.
The Dodgers acquired Darvish last summer to bolster their rotation. After a rocky patch heading into the postseason, Darvish turned in a pair of quality starts in the first two rounds. However, in the World Series he collected 10 outs in two starts, contributing to losses in Game 3 and the decisive Game 7.
“I don’t know that the end really changes much,” Zaidi said. “It was always going to be a difficult [re-signing] for us to do, but we do have some interest.”
The price will dictate the likelihood of a reunion. The executives gathered here in Orlando peppered each other with questions about how much pitchers such as Darvish and Arrieta might earn in an offseason when so many teams are focused on improving their bullpens.
Even so, Darvish is still likely to fetch offers which exceed $100 million, and Friedman never has given out a contract that large.