These are Andrew Friedman’s Dodgers, and his philosophy will be up for evaluation
The grace period has expired for Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
If the upcoming season is a test of Yasiel Puig’s commitment and Corey Seager’s promise, it will also offer an evaluation of Friedman’s new-age, analytics-based philosophy.
Now in their second season with the Dodgers, Friedman and his assistants have the manager of their choice, the coaching staff of their choice, and, most important, the players of their choice. There are no more excuses. The team is entirely theirs.
Just as they gambled before last season that Matt Kemp was in decline and Dee Gordon wouldn’t get any better — early indications are that they were right about Kemp and very, very wrong about Gordon — they again went against conventional wisdom and determined that retaining Zack Greinke wasn’t worth $200 million. The front office instead opted for numbers.
But can comfort really be taken in depth when the majority of that depth is made up of pitchers with problematic medical histories?
Common sense says no.
Take the example of Brett Anderson. Considering he’s been injured almost every year of his career, and more than quadrupled his inning count last season compared with his 2014 output, it should be no surprise he will be recovering from a back operation when the Dodgers open their season.
That doesn’t mean Friedman didn’t have reasons for constructing the roster the way he did.
“There’s an undertone here like we’re conceding something, which we absolutely aren’t,” General Manager Farhan Zaidi said.
Team insiders talk about how much more data is incorporated in the decision-making process now than in the past. But whatever metrics the Dodgers are examining remain safely guarded. Even the front office’s staunchest defenders really have no idea how Friedman and his lieutenants are making their decisions.
This being the case, they will be judged on results and results only.
The prediction here is they will be one of the National League’s two wild-card teams, which would end their run of three consecutive division championships. Though the San Francisco Giants and revamped Arizona Diamondbacks don’t have the depth to withstand the losses of any key players, one of them should stay healthy enough to nudge ahead of the Dodgers.
And skepticism about the franchise’s direction will only increase.
Other thoughts and predictions about the upcoming season:
Most valuable players: Mike Trout in the American League, Bryce Harper in the National League. Really went out on a limb there.
Vin Scully will make it onto your television set. But it won’t happen until the end of the season, when the Dodgers are shamed into simulcasting their final games on broadcast TV.
This will be another lost season for the Angels, who have too many holes to compete. General Manager Billy Eppler’s primary objective this year will be to position his team for the off-season, when the $20-million salaries of Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson come off the books.
Greinke will be involved in the next skirmish between the Dodgers and Diamondbacks. Greinke will plunk one of his former Dodgers teammates, but will do so in the same gentlemanly fashion he always has and deliver the pitch into the lower back.
We will still be talking about Puig’s potential next winter.
Since moving from the Dodgers to the Miami Marlins, Don Mattingly has looked considerably happier, almost offensively so. (Are the writers in Miami really that much more fun to talk to than I am?) But by mid-June, Mattingly will be asking himself why he ever thought meddlesome owner Jeffrey Loria would grant him the autonomy he didn’t give any of his previous managers.
The Angels should make it a priority to sign Garrett Richards to a long-term contract.
Richards won’t be eligible for free agency until after the 2018 season, and there is risk associated with offering a pitcher in his position a contract of five or more years. But he has a chance to become one of the most valued commodities in baseball: A true ace.
The Angels don’t have a pitcher with a similar ceiling in the minor leagues. Landing an ace on the free-agent market would require a nine-figure contract.
If Richards pitches up to his potential, he would earn significant raises in the following two seasons via the arbitration process. Locking him up now would allow the Angels to get him under contract at a reasonable rate, granting them some measure of financial flexibility to address shortcomings on their roster.
Seager will be named the NL rookie of the year, becoming the first Dodger to win the prize since Todd Hollandsworth in 1996.
Don’t be alarmed if Seager doesn’t look like an All-Star from day one. Aside from his spectacular month as a September call-up last season, Seager has generally started slowly when promoted to a new level. However, he has always adjusted to become one of the top players in his league.
Scouts who visit Japan this year will send word that the best prospect on the planet isn’t Seager, but Shohei Otani, a 21-year-old right-hander who touches 101 mph with his fastball. The Dodgers were on the verge of landing Otani when he was coming out of high school, but he signed instead with the Hokkaido Nippon-Ham Fighters.
The Houston Astros will reach the World Series and second-year shortstop Carlos Correa will push Trout for the AL MVP award.
The Chicago Cubs will win the World Series by taking down the Astros in six games. With the Cubs claiming their first championship in 108 years, the Dodgers will inherit the title of baseball’s lovable losers — well, without the lovable part.
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