The Dodgers are in the midst of a transitional year, one that could be key to determining the team's future outlook. However they are also a team in present contention. Nearly a month into the season the Dodgers are 13-13 and 4.5 games back of Colorado in the division. With the right moves and a little bit of luck the Dodgers have a shot at the playoffs, however the possibility that the team flops, is derailed by injuries, or simply cant keep up with the competition is just as likely. If this possibility occurs, the Dodgers must be prepared to be sellers at the trade deadline, something they were not willing to do in 2010.
After the jump I look at the near future of the Dodger's roster, and which players need to go in order to optimize that future.
If we project a Dodger roster for 2012 without any of the free agents returning we end up with something like this
1st Loney Arbitration
OF Ethier Arbitration
OF Kemp Arbitration
De La Rosa
Hawksworth Arbitration (I think)
First of all Kemp and Kershaw are not going any where. They are the two untouchables beyond the fact that they are the best players, their star status is needed in the LA market. Lock them in.
Loney has no place on the 2012 Dodgers. If Ethier is retained (and I can't imagine a world where Loney is but Ethier isn't) then you have a full outfield of Ethier/Kemp/Sands without even mentioning Trayvon Robinson. In such a scenario Sands would likely move to first to make room for Robinson. There will also be a couple elite first basemen in Pujols and Fielder on the free agent market, and the Dodgers should have an impressive amount of free cash. I don't expect Pujols to become a Dodger, but I find it just as hard to believe that Loney could remain one. Last year for Loney, say bye.
The currently (and often) injured Rafael Furcal has a 12 million dollar club option for 2012. Dee Gordon is the obvious successor at SS, however disputes on Gordon's true value aside, the Dodgers may not be ready to hand him the job to start 2012. If such is the case it is still hard to think that Furcal would be retained for that dollar amount, he is simply to much of an injury risk. The Dodger's money could be better invested elsewhere. Instead they could decide to sign a cheap vet SS to start the year and mentor Gordon once he comes up. Ideally they would want a SS that could hit lefties, as Gordon struggles with them. Edgar Renteria, Orlando Cabrera, and Marco Scutaro fit the mold. Juan Uribe can also play SS and if either 2nd or 3rd are stable enough, he could probably fill in for Gordon until his call up. Peace Furcal.
Casey Blake might make sense as a bench bat, but not at the price of his 6 million dollar 2012 option, and not as your starting third baseman. Looking on the free agent market for a third basemen, Aramis Ramirez is the best option followed by Wilson Betemit. Though the Dodgers might stand pat with Uribe at third hoping Pedro Baez turns into something by 2014.
Dejesus will have a chance to prove himself MLB worthy this season with an eye towards the starting second base job in 2012. If not him or Uribe, the free agent market offers Kelly Johnson, Mark Ellis, Adam Kennedy, Jamey Carroll, Jose Lopez, and Felipe Lopez. Other than his rookie contract and youth, I'm not sure if Dejesus has any advantage over this bunch. Signing Ellis (defense) or Johnson (offense) would probably be a good move for the Dodgers.
Ellis is fine backup material, but he shouldn't be the starting C in 2012. Pittsburgh's Snyder and Doumit both have 2012 options, but one or both could be declined. Sadly they are some of the best free agent options along with Ramon Hernandez, Rod Barajas, and possibly Kelly Shoppach. The Dodgers might do best to look for a starting catcher via trade. Back in 08 would of thunk the 2011 Dodgers wouldn't have Martin, Santan, or May at backstop?
Andre Ethier status is perhaps the biggest one looming in the near future. While rumbling from Ethier that he would not be signed to arbitration after the year ala Russ Martin are ludicrous, it is true that his long term position is in doubt. Ethier will demand a high salary over the next odd years and he comes with many flaws. Poor hitting versus lefties and bad defense primarily. It's hard to imagine moving on with a Dodger offense lacking Ethiers tremendous skills. But it is equally hard to see investing in a player with his flaws when there are so many cheap internal options. Aside from Sands and Robinson, Brian Cavazos Galvez, and Kyle Russell might be banging on the door soon. Ethier definitely could have a place on the 2012 Dodgers, but I don't think he has one beyond that, meaning they have to figure out a time to trade him. That could be at the 2012 deadline, in the offseason, or this year's deadline. But it must happen. His value would be at it's highest this year though. This is likely one of the last year's Ethier wears Dodger blue. Do enjoy.
Kershaw, Billingsley, and Lilly already make up 3/5ths of the Dodgers rotation through 2013. Looking at 2012 the Dodgers figure to have plentiful cash available, especially if Furcal and Ethier are gone. Any which way, it would seem that there will be money around for Kuroda. IF he wants it. Kuroda shocked many by signing a one year deal this past offseason, something the Dodgers would be smart to repeat if possible. However Kuroda may want to return to Japan as he has stated a desire to do so in the past, or he may decide to spend his remaining MLB years with a stronger contender. We don't know what his plans are. The Dodgers need to. They have got to keep close to Kuroda. If the Dodgers fall out of contention, and Kuroda has plans of returning to Japan, then he needs to be dealt. Likewise if he doesn't want to return to a semi rebuilding Dodgers team. I hope it's not Kuroda's last year with the Dodgers, but he holds the cards.
If Kuroda does not return, then perhaps Garland will. I don't think Garland will reach the 190 innings needed to cause his 2012 8 million dollar option to vest. He could be brought back for cheaper anyways though. I say only if Kuroda doesn't come back because I like many others expect Rubby De La Rosa to step into the rotation in 2012. Whether that means making the opening day club, or being called up in June doesn't really matter, I just know I'm saving him a spot.
Broxton still has the rest of the season to turn things around and be the elite reliever he has been for most of his Dodger career. If he makes that unlikely turn around into elite form he would probably be brought back via arbitration, raise and all. However if he struggles as he has since the 2010 break, then he could be outright released. He would be joining a large group of closers on the free agent market. Bell, Papelbon, Capps, Cordero, Dotel, Fransisco, Franklin, Gonzalez, Lidge, Nathan, Rauch, Rodriguez, Uehara, and Valverde could all be free agents in 2012. So the Dodgers would have their pick.
Kuo even with the injury risk will be worth paying in arbitration. He would join Jansen, and Gurrier in the bullpen. Elbert, Hawksworth, Lindblom etc etc could all be players. Though it's pointless to talk too much about future bullpens, the Dodgers do have some impressive young arms.
The bench should be well accounted for.
Hoffman and Oltejen make a perfect 4th and 5th outfielder duo. Oltjen would be the offensive minded left handed bat off the bench, Hoffman the right handed defense first Ethier backup. Gwynn might stick around via arbitration, maybe. Gibbons and Thames are not valuable enough to stick around, not unless Thames accomplishes some heroics that endear himself to Dodger fans.
Keep in mind that if Oltjen and Hoffman are not utilized as bench players next year, they will likely be lost just like Xavier Paul. There won't be much room for them in AAA, besides they're already 28 and 27. It makes more sense to have them ascend then to spend more on veterans.
Ellis is fine as the backup C
Sellers and later on Pedroza are perfect Carroll replacements. I am particularly optimistic about Pedroza (possibly even as a starter).
Blake should probably be resigned for cheap as even an aged Blake figures to be better than Mitchell or Smith. Still, those two offer depth.
Next year's AAA team has a few players that could knock on the MLB doors.
Kyle Russell, BCG, Van Slyke, Sellers, Pedroza, Mitchell, Smith, and perhaps Gallagher or Wise figure to make up the group.
The conclusion (though not much of one) is that Ethier, Kuroda, Furcal, Loney, and Broxton aught to be shopped this year should the Dodgers fall out of contention. The Dodgers should make third base a priority in any trade, followed by second base, and relief.
De La Rosa
That looks pretty competitive and it's ever so affordable. Probably a solid baseline.