In any other year, Dodger fans would wake up today in a blue-faced fury.
The baseball winter meetings are underway, and already their team has struck out!
The Dodgers swung and missed with Shohei Ohtani. They whiffed on Giancarlo Stanton. They kept the bat on their shoulder for reliever Brandon Morrow.
That’s three Cody Bellinger-sized strikes, enough for fans in any other year to scream at Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi to get moving and try to win now.
But this December is different. Friedman and Zaidi are coming off a season in which they moved mountains in building a team with the best record in baseball. Not only did they try to win now, but they also came within nine innings of winning now, right now, on the first day of November to be exact.
So a couple of thoughts are bouncing around locally as Dodgers administrators hang out across the country disguised as disinterested ducklings at Disney’s Swan and Dolphin Resort in Florida.
First, let’s be honest, it’s really hard for fans to get worked up over next season when they haven’t recovered from last season. Is that how you’re feeling? That’s how virtually every Dodgers fan I know is feeling. The cold shower that was Game 7 of the World Series against the Houston Astros has pretty much leaked all over this year’s hot stove.
The usual questions about who they are acquiring for 2018 have been drowned out by the continual questions surrounding how they blew it in 2017.
During a recent breakfast with an old friend, we spent most of the meal discussing whether the Dodgers should have started Clayton Kershaw instead of Yu Darvish in Game 7. I still say no. My friend insists yes. It was a lively October debate still raging in December.
At a recent holiday party it happened again. I asked a friend to name his biggest World Series turning point, and the smart guy cited Ross Stripling’s four-pitch walk to Marwin Gonzalez to lead off the seventh inning in Game 3 and send the bullpen spiraling into an 11-inning defeat. I, instead, cited Kenley Jansen’s gopher ball to Gonzalez in the ninth inning of that game. We spent a few minutes of a winter night arguing like it was summer, which was completely crazy, yet made total sense.
So, yeah, most of us aren’t really over it yet, OK?
Once the hangover ends, the realization will surely hit that these Dodgers don’t really need much, and what they do need they won’t really need for several months.
They need another starting pitcher, but they have time to find one. Friedman and Zaidi proved last year that they can do that even if it takes until the final seconds of the trade deadline. That deal was for the ill-fated Darvish, but still ...
They also need bullpen help, but every spring these guys seem to create middle relievers out of the swirling Camelback dust.
They could use another power bat, but at this point would they trade prospects to get one after relying so much on some of those prospects in last season’s playoff run?
Friedman and Zaidi are smart enough to know that they can’t get back to a World Series Game 7 with the same cast of characters — even minus Darvish — but they’re also smart enough not to break up a league champion.
On Monday in Florida, Friedman made sense when he told reporters, “Our thought process is we’re really happy with the talent base that we have right now. … We’re not going to try to force anything.’’
Did they need Shohei Otani, who signed with the Angels? Sure, but this winter’s most compelling free agent wants to both pitch and hit, which makes him a much better fit in the American League, where Mike Scioscia will have a much easier time keeping him happy.
Could they have used Giancarlo Stanton, whom the Miami Marlins handed to the New York Yankees? Absolutely. But for the sort of budgetary restraints his enormously expensive presence would have put on the rest of the roster, they can live without him. They weren’t 59 home runs from a championship last year. They were nine innings.
Should they have tried harder to keep Brandon Morrow, their tremendous middle reliever who is probably headed off to be a closer for the Chicago Cubs? Nah. He’s 33, has had arm issues, they’ve seen him at probably his best … they should be thankful with his miracle comeback year and let him try to extend himself elsewhere.
The Dodgers reinforced the core of this team last winter with the big-money signings of Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill. They’ve held tight to kids who have become stars such as Bellinger and Corey Seager. They’ve made smart trades that turned up diamonds such as Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes, Enrique Hernandez and Alex Wood.
“We consciously did a lot of our heavy lifting last winter, recognizing that we were locking a core in place for the forseeable future,’’ Friedman told reporters. “And we were happy about it then. And we’re happy now.’’
They should be. The worst that could happen is if they suddenly try to be too smart and mess with a magic that extended from the field to the clubhouse to the final game of the season, which was lost by a celebrated starting pitcher who wasn’t big enough for the moment, a pitcher who will never wear a Dodgers uniform again.
Friedman and Zaidi have work to do, but not a lot of work, and not enough to cause anyone to go crazy just yet ... at least not until last season is finally washed away with the start of spring training. At that point, the media’s first question to manager Dave Roberts will be about why he didn’t pull Darvish sooner.