Free Agency Report: National League, Part VIII
Manny Ramirez drove the Dodgers to within three games of the World Series, but no one knows whose uniform he’ll be donning in 2009.
Alright, the push is on to hammer the rest of these reports out as we gear up for the release of the 2009 RotoRob MLB Draft Kit. If you’ve missed any of the previous parts of this series, catch up here:
Los Angeles Dodgers
The Los Angeles Dodgers only made slight strides over 2007, but it was enough to win the NL West and come within three wins of the World Series. But let’s face it – without pulling the trigger on the Manny Ramirez deal, there’s no way this team earns its third straight winning season, never mind makes the postseason.
Of course, the fate of Manny is still very much up in the air, and if he bolts, the Dodgers will go back to the substandard offensive team they were before he arrived. This is a team that finished 13th in the NL in runs and slugging, but would have been much worse had Ramirez not looked like Ted Williams over the final couple months of the season. There were just too many passengers in this lineup. Jeff Kent looked like a shell of himself, and thankfully has opted for the rocking chair; Juan Pierre was simply awful, managing just 13 extra-base hits all season long, finally being reduced to a part-time role.
Unfortunately, the team has done very little to improve itself offensively, making the re-signing of Ramirez all the more vital.
Pitching was definitely this team’s strength in 2008 as they paced the NL in ERA, OPS against and WHIP. Hong-Chih Kuo was superb as a spot starter/long reliever; Cory Wade was spectacular out of the bullpen; Derek Lowe enjoyed a tremendous season, but has since departed, landing in Atlanta and leaving young Chad Billingsley as the de facto ace for the Dodgers.
Lowe’s departure, combined with the retirement of Greg Maddux and the dispatching of Brad Penny has left the Dodger staff potentially thin and rather fragile to an extent. This could prove to be the team’s undoing, although fortunately, they reside in a weak division where 84 wins was good enough to take home a title last season.
No. 2 starter Hiroki Kuroda dealt with shoulder problems last season, but so far this spring, the news is good. Clayton Kershaw, still not old enough to drink, will be asked to shoulder a heavy load. It would be a huge bonus if Jason Schmidt, finally pain free, can emerge with the fifth starter job, or if Jeff Weaver, added on a minor league deal, can rediscover the form that allowed him to win 27 games with the Dodgers in 2003 and 2004. And Randy Wolf is also back, another constant injury risk, but an arm that can definitely help if he can make 30 starts.
Closer Takashi Saito is gone, and while Jonathan Broxton can clearly handle the role (notwithstanding some hiccups in the playoffs that turned the NLCS in the Phillies’ favour), the trickle down effect will hurt the overall depth of the Dodger pen.
The Dodgers had to deal with a major-league high 13 free agents this offseason – a hell of a lot for a team seeking its first NL Championship since 1988.
One other piece of bad news for you Dodger fans, especially the superstitious types: LA has only made the playoffs in even numbered years since 2004. The youth movement is definitely underway in LA, but this team may have to take a step back before it can take another step forward.
Joe Beimel, LHP: Despite coming off his finest big league season, Beimel remains unsigned. He was a bit more hittable in 2008 than he’s been in a couple of years, but with the lusting after of lefty relievers by most teams this offseason, he was expected to get a multi-year deal. Now, he may have to head back to the Dodgers, where he lost in arbitration in 2007, perhaps just for one year.
Gary Bennett, C: Former juicer Bennett missed most of 2008 with an injury, not that anyone ever notices Russell Martin’s backup very often. He’s still out there, and despite his lack of action last year, I suspect Bennett will land a back-up role somewhere.
Casey Blake, 3B: Blake was having a fine year with the Tribe, but he struggled once he arrived in LA after the Dodgers gave up a couple of prospects to acquire him. Still, he cut his strikeout rate last season and gets on base at a decent clip and with such a weak market at the hot corner, the Dodgers opted to re-sign him for three years and $17 million.
Rafael Furcal, SS: Furcal was having a superb year, but his season ended extremely early, causing him to earn consideration for a 2008 RotoRob Award as the Fantasy Bust of the Year. Still, the Dodgers saw enough to bring him back, despite fierce competition from the A’s and Braves, the later of which actually thought they had signed him. Assuming the Dodgers don’t bring Manny back, Furcal will be counted on to spur the team’s little ball attack with his blazing speed.
Nomar Garciaparra, SS: He remains injury prone, but is a great team player, and when Furcal went down, Garciaparra shifted over to short for a while and actually emerged as a decent wire pick for a while. The Phillies have made him an offer, but his days of being able to handle a full-time job look done.
Jason Johnson, RHP: Despite his propensity to surrender too many long balls, Johnson held his own in a spot starter/long man role while he was with the Dodgers. A couple of years ago, Johnson had to go to Japan to find his way back to the majors, however, this year, the Yankees will give him a shot, penning him to a minor league deal.
Jeff Kent, 2B: Kent’s knee woes did him in and a walk rate that had been declining for the past couple of seasons really helped usher in the end for this 16-year-vet, who retired as a lifetime .290 hitter and one of the greatest power-hitting second basemen ever.
Derek Lowe, RHP: The loss of Lowe, whose control was impeccable last year, will really hurt. D-Lowe will look to propel the Braves back into contention this season.
Greg Maddux, RHP: Maddux was enjoying a fine year with the Padres, but as we predicted, he was dealt at the deadline back to the Dodgers, with whom he spent part of the 2006 season with. The Professor wasn’t quite as effective once he landed in LA, giving up more homers than normal, and then he decided to call it a day after 355 career wins. That’ll do, I guess.
Chan Ho Park, RHP: Park put himself back on the map with a fine season as a spot starter/long reliever in LA, becoming one of the Dodgers’ better reclamation projects. He looked like a serious retread back in 2006 when the Mets gave him a shot, but Park is now a legitimate candidate to battle for the fifth starter job on the World Champion Philadelphia Phillies, who signed him for one year and $2.5 million.
Brad Penny, RHP: Penny dealt with some shoulder problems last season, looking good upon his return before getting rocked in his next start and landing back on the DL. He made it back for two appearances in September before shutting it down for the season. Now, Penny is part of a potent Red Sox rotation, and the former All-Star will try to prove last season was a blip.
Manny Ramirez, OF: Once Man-Ram arrived from Boston, he almost single-handedly turned the Dodgers season around. He was enjoying a solid year for the BoSox, but as a Dodger, he was absolutely sick, batting almost .400 and showing incredible power, patience and plate discipline. However, where Ramirez winds up is still anyone’s guess. The dude has already turned down a $25 million offer for one year from the Dodgers. Could division rival San Francisco swoop in and steal Manny? If the Giants do so, it could swing the balance in the NL West. The Dodgers don’t seem to be in any kind of panic to re-sign the future Hall of Famer, and that could cost them.
Mark Sweeney, 1B: As we discussed early last season, bringing Sweeney back last year didn’t work out so well. He looks like he’s done as he hasn’t even had any bites this offseason. Time for the 39-year-old to follow Kent’s model, perhaps.
Next: We’ll head northeast a ways and report on the Milwaukee Brewers’ offseason.