Dodgers mailbag: Did the Dodgers do enough this winter?


The Dodgers are 5-9. That translates to a 58-win pace, which would be a flabbergasting total. The 1994 Dodgers won 58 games before the strike hit. The 1912 Brooklyn Dodgers went 58-95. The 1896 Brooklyn Bridegrooms went 58-73.

I am willing to go out on a limb and say the Dodgers will win more than 58 games in 2018, but I could be wrong. This has been a bleak start to the season.

A sterling effort from Clayton Kershaw, and a command breakdown from Arizona starter Zach Godley, allowed the Dodgers to avoid a sweep on Sunday. Even so, the Diamondbacks have vaulted to the top of the National League West, with the Dodgers dwelling in the basement. There is far too much baseball left to make any serious judgments about the fate of this club, but it still has not been pretty to watch.


Corey Seager is hitting .200. Yasiel Puig is hitting .222. Justin Turner still hasn’t tested his fractured wrist in batting practice, and replacement third baseman Logan Forsythe is also on the disabled list. Kenley Jansen’s velocity is still a concern. Outside of Kershaw, every member of the starting rotation has gotten rocked at least once thus far. The first two games against Arizona this weekend were brutal.

There is plenty to talk about. As always, you can send me questions on Twitter @McCulloughTimes. Let’s do this.

I do not see a correlation between the lack of additions made by the Dodgers and the theoretical improvements made by other clubs having an effect on the Dodgers’ record thus far. Brandon Morrow has pitched in five games, none of them against the Dodgers. Tony Watson is not an elite reliever. So the premise of your question is a little flawed, but it centers around a central question raised by Dodgers fans early this season: Did the Dodgers do enough this winter to build a team capable of winning the World Series?

Maybe this will sound irritating or trite, but: Yes. They did. The Dodgers already had a roster capable of winning the World Series. They finished one victory short in 2017. A championship core was already assembled.

But could they have done more?

Given the talent within the organization, the Dodgers elected to spend this winter redistributing its payroll obligations in order to dip beneath the $197-million luxury-tax threshold. In part, this would free up the front office to spend more next winter, when Clayton Kershaw is expected to join a free-agent class that includes Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Andrew Miller. It also allows the team to avoid paying fines for exceeding the tax.

This insistence on fiscal restrain effectively handcuffed the front office in a variety of discussions this winter. The team tried to find a fit with Miami over Giancarlo Stanton, but the Marlins sought a suitor willing to take on the bulk of Stanton’s contract, and the Yankees took on more than $240 million. I am not sure how much the Dodgers were willing to eat, but it was definitively less than that sum.

A similar situation played out with Yu Darvish. The Dodgers maintained discussions with Darvish into February and were believed to have made a six-year offer. But Darvish opted for a six-year, $126-million deal with the Cubs. The Dodgers could not afford to make a guaranteed offer that high, and any contract they struck with Darvish would likely involve a farrago of opt-outs and incentives and the like.

Even after trading Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir to Atlanta, the Dodgers still only had a slim margin before they hit the luxury-tax threshold again. The team’s luxury tax number is currently $181 million, according to Cot’s Contracts. That does not include performance bonuses, like those due Kenta Maeda if he reaches his incentives, or any potential additions the team might make at the trade deadline.

So the Dodgers could not compete for Jake Arrieta, who took a three-year, $75-million deal with Philadelphia. The team liked Lorenzo Cain, but Milwaukee made a stronger offer of five years and $80 million. There were discussions with Miami about Marcel Ozuna and Christian Yelich, but the Dodgers judged the prospect cost required to get those players would not be worth it.

Either Ozuna or Yelich would have made the Dodgers better. This is pretty obvious. But outfield depth was considered an organizational strength heading into this season. The first few weeks of the season have not been kind to this notion: Puig looks more like his 2016 self than 2017, though there is reason for optimism. Joc Pederson generally looks lost at the plate. Andrew Toles just got hurt in triple-A Oklahoma City. The Dodgers did not know this would happen during the winter, when they passed on the Marlins outfielders.

Anyway, we can go on and on in this vein. For every player the Dodgers did not acquire, I can sit here and offer an explanation why. As Andrew Friedman himself once said, “If you’re always rational about every free agent, you will finish third on every free agent.” The Dodgers were exceedingly rational this winter. They exercised restraint, in part because of financial restrictions. They believed the core of their 2017 team was capable of replicating their performance in 2018. It is a reasonable, rational belief. But it also creates an easy narrative for those seeking to criticize the front office, should things continue to go awry: Why didn’t they do more?

I don’t think a stint on the disabled list would improve Kenley Jansen’s sporadic velocity. It appears the best course of action would be to keep giving him opportunities, and hoping he can retain the form he showed last weekend in San Francisco. That looked like the Jansen of old. His velocity was back down in the 89-91 mph range during an outing against Oakland last week, so who knows if he can recapture his ability from previous seasons. But shutting him down and keeping him off the mound, as he was for most of this spring, doesn’t make much sense.


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

Excellent work, Jimmy Drama.

No, you cannot expect Julio Urias to return in 2018 — if he pitches for the Dodgers in 2018 — on the same trajectory he occupied after his big-league debut in 2016. He underwent a major shoulder surgery. Johan Santana was never the same after undergoing anterior capsule surgery in 2010. No pitcher is identical, each man recovers differently and Urias can still become a solid big-league starter. But the path is a lot steeper now.

Urias already had some issues, despite his precocious talent. Some scouts questioned the balance of his delivery, which led to imprecision in the strike zone. Urias walked more batters than he struck out in the majors before his injury last season. He had dealt with minor ailments over the years, and struggled to adjust to a five-day schedule. The eternal dilemma was that his talent exceeded the physical readiness of his body: He belonged in the majors, but he was not always capable of handling the workload of a major-league starter.

Now he has to recover from a major shoulder surgery. His ceiling is still high. His talent is still obvious. The future still looks cloudy.

Shohei Ohtani is definitively a better hitter than Clayton Kershaw.

Jan. 1, 2019.

You hold your tongue about the Geek Squad. I’m getting a new car stereo installed at Best Buy next week, and I’m hoping for a good experience.

A better question: Is a Dodger Dog food?

I kid, I kid. They are fine.

They sell a container of cheese and grapes that is usually pretty good, if you like cheese and grapes. I pack my lunch when I’m working at Dodger Stadium.

Do I look like David Vassegh?

My favorite dish in Los Angeles is the boat noodle soup at Sapp Coffee Shop. Our man Jonathan Gold has proselytized on behalf of this soup in various forms over the years, and I can add the voice of my untrained palate to the mix. It is delightful. As our old friend Pedro Moura described it, the boat noodle soup is a “flavor bomb.”

Oh, also, I do not know when Walker Buehler will be up.

It was a five out of 10. There were some good matches, but the last two hours of the show was a drag. I did a full review of the card on a podcast with ESPN’s Bill Barnwell.

Man, Johnny Gargano is “on one,” as the kids say. His match with Andrade Almas at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia was the best match in the history of the promotion, in my opinion. His grudge match with Tommaso Ciampa at Takeover: New Orleans was brutal and beautiful. They told a story and closed down an excellent show with a classic.

Gargano is a talented performer, a believable worker and a likable character — and I’m terrified WWE will mismanage his story on the main roster. It would be so sad if he ends up on 205 Live within three months of his debut, but that feels like the most likely outcome. I hope I’m wrong, but even if I’m right, he still gave the fans an incredible couple years with NXT. His tag matches with Ciampa against The Revival were some of my favorites from 2016, and his run as a singles wrestler this year is top-notch.

My favorite records of 2018, in a relatively precise, but not exactly particular order:

1. The Wonder Years — “Sister Cities.” Favorite track: “It Must Get Lonely.”

2. cupcakKe — “Ephorize.” Favorite track: “Duck Duck Goose.” (Editor’s note: Unbearably not safe for work.)

3. Pianos Become The Teeth — “Wait For Love.” Favorite track: “Fake Lightning.”

4. Titus Andronicus — “A Productive Cough.” Favorite track: “(I’m) Like A Rolling Stone.” (Editor’s note: Why did no one like this record? It rocks!)

5. Camp Cope — “How To Socialise & Make Friends.” Favorite track: “Anna.”

Twitter: @McCulloughTimes