Back in April, in my giddiness emanating from the great emancipation from Frank McCourt, I wrote a lengthy article looking forward to this winter and the potential free agents a newly fiscally robust Dodgers team could invest in.
At the beginning of 2012, the Dodgers were without solutions at left field, third base, catcher and the back end of the rotation and an unsure future with the incumbents at first base and shortstop. Few offensive reinforcements were coming up through the minor leagues, so to very professionally summarize, the Boys in Blue were screwed.
Now, after two massive trades and the emergence of two unexpected life-long farm hands, the Dodgers are set at every position player on the diamond. Upgrades could be had at third and catcher, but if the Dodgers were to stay pat, most fans should feel comfortable with the players at hand.
Looking at this offseason, I earmarked pitching as the biggest probable targets for the team, even though the Dodgers had (and still have) such little offensive firepower in their minors. Starting pitchers Cole Hamels and Matt Cain have since been locked up to long-term deals, as well as second baseman Brandon Phillips and third baseman David Wright has had this 2013 option picked up, as the Mets continue to negotiate with him on an extension.
LA fell a couple games short of the Wild Card playoff game, so even as the team will naturally improve with greater continuity of a more settled squad, free agent additions should be made to bolster the team. It still feels foreign that payroll isn't even something to consider any longer, because in the words of Mark Walter, the payroll ceiling is in the nebulous region of "Somewhere...I suppose". Luckily for the Dodgers, the team doesn't have a whole lot of holes, and most of these targets are merely "wish list" items, rather than absolute necessities. GM Ned Colletti did a lot of his winter shopping in season and picked up several high priced items, so for better or worse, the team will be surfing the season with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Hanley Ramirez.
An already thin farm system has been cleared out in recent months, so a trade for an elite player is unlikely. Chavez Ravine is awash in cash these days like a giant safe in Duckberg, so simply buying talent is most likely the best avenue for this team to improve.
Looking at the ace free agent listings from mlbtraderumors.com, let's shoot off MAMBINO's top free agent targets for the Los Angeles Dodgers' 2012 offseason:
1. SP Zack Greinke, Anaheim Angels
His Deal: Greinke is the number one pitcher on the market, and arguably the most sought after free agent. This isn't to disparage Josh Hamilton, but between his shaky health history, contract demands and lack of teams that can satisfy them, many more teams are in play for Greinke rather than the Rangers' center fielder. He's going to ask for a five or six year deal (maybe as many as seven years) at around $20 million a year. It's not going to be cheap.
Why the Dodgers Would Want Him: But he's a 29 year old pitcher in his prime. Since his AL Cy Young win for the Royals in 2009 during his age 25 season, Greinke has pitched to a 3.37 ERA, averaging nearly a strikeout per inning, and less than a hit per inning. I don't buy that the right-hander is declining, as almost every metric from last season was on par or slightly better last year while splitting time between Milwaukee and a pennant-race Anaheim. Josh Beckett's consistency wanes like his short game on the golf course, and I mean that literally. Coupled with Chad Billingsley's very questionable elbow, the Dodgers need another top of the line starter to pair with Clayton Kershaw. Greinke is the only guy available that fits that billing. He's had highly publicized anxiety issues in the past, but oddly enough, the Dodgers biggest competition to sign the former Cy winner in the Anaheim Angels, helped drive LA's pursuit of him this offseason. Zack came to the Angels in July and thrived in the major market setting few thought he'd be able to handle.
Why He'd Sign in LA: Greinke's shown that he could be comfortable pitching anywhere, but I can't imagine that he'd want to face the daily pressure of pitching in a market like New York, Boston, Philadelphia or anywhere else above the beltway on the East Coast. The teams that can pay him the most money and give him the most years are both based in Southern California. He's a competitive guy who wants to be in the heat of a pennant race both which again, are the teams based in Southern California. At the end of the day, it's going to depend on if Mark Walter can outbid Arte Moreno. Nothing more than that.
2. SP Anibal Sanchez, Detroit Tigers
His Deal: A 28 year-old control-oriented pitcher who isn't quite a number 2 starter, but a comfortable 3 or 4 guy. He, like Greinke, is coming into his prime and most importantly has been remarkably consistent: the past three seasons, he's pitched between 195 and 197 innings, allowed nearly a hit per inning every year and between a 1.26 and a 1.34 WHIP. His strikeout numbers have fluctuated a bit, but is probably around a 7K/9 inning type of hurler. Sanchez showed no fear in his first postseason ever with the Tigers, allowing only 4 earned runs and 14 hits in over 20 innings. It's pedigree that will make him highly attractive to potential suitors and no doubt up his price tag, which should be around five years and up to $90 million.
Why the Dodgers Would Want Him: The need for Sanchez is going to depend on whether or not they sign Greinke. If Anaheim snags their number one target, the Dodgers should throw money at the next best available guy. Sanchez is a bit redundant in his role with Billingsley in the fold, but again, with Chad's health in question and Anibal's consistency on the mound make him a welcome addition in LA.
Why He'd Sign in LA: The good news for any free agent signing with the Dodgers is that no expectations placed on him could be greater than the ones placed on the heads of Crawford, Beckett and Gonzalez. For Sanchez, the pressure wouldn't be on him to be a rotation savior, as he could be in Texas, Minnesota, Toronto or the handful of other places he could sign. Like with any free agent here, the Dodgers could throw more money at him than any other team in the National League, which is always a carrot to keep guys coming to Dodger Stadium.
3. SP Hiroki Kuroda, New York Yankees/SP Dan Haren, Anaheim Angels
His Deal: Kuroda and Haren are slotted in here because both men are more than likely going to take one-year deals; Kuroda because he values flexibility to return to Japan after every season and Haren on a make-good contract to improve his value after a down 2012. Of the two, Haren has the most potential as a bonfide staff ace, though metrics suggest that he's tailing off his prime at age 31. Hopefully last year wasn't more than an outlier, but regardless, both Haren and the team that signs him won't want to take more than a one-year gamble to establish just how good he really is. Kuroda's value largely lies in his consistency and familiarity pitching in Los Angeles. However, at 38 even his superior Japanese body could break down in the face of injury. I grouped these two together because their roles would be to fill the middle to back end of the rotation, Kuroda because of his consistent but unspectacular stuff and Haren because at this point, a 3.80 ERA campaign would suffice.
Why the Dodgers Would Want Him: In both cases, one year deals for either known quantities or astronomical potential can't hurt. For the Dodgers, it's just money (which feels great to type), and they're just improving on two mirror images of both these pitchers in Aaron Harang (Kuroda) and Chris Capuano (Haren). I suspect one of these two will get dealt in the offseason to fill holes on the Dodgers bench or farm system, while a free agent will take his place.
Why He'd Sign in LA: For Kuroda, it's obvious--he never wanted to leave the Dodgers, but only did so because Frank McCourt needed to pay off a divorce settlement. He got a nice $10 million dollar pay day from the Yankees in 2012, and if all finances are considered equal, I'd like to believe he'd rather play in LA again. In Haren's case, he grew up in Southern California, so both the Dodgers and Angels have their obvious advantages to him personally. However, the right hander is going to sign wherever the monetary incentives are greatest for a one-year deal. Like most of these cases, it'll probably come down to money.
4. RP Jeremy Affeldt, San Francisco Giants/RP Mike Adams
His Deal: Both men are left-handed specialists, though Bruce Bochy in San Francisco and Ron Washington in Texas weren't afraid to use them against right-handers as well. They're both in their mid-thirties and extremely versatile relievers, capable of filling in the 7th, 8th or 9th innings. Neither will come cheap, but as evidenced by the Dodgers dropping anywhere between $22 and $33 million on Brandon League who mid-season was thought to be somewhat junked as a relief pitcher, LA has no problems paying for their bullpen. I'd suspect deals anywhere in the region of three years for between $15 and $25 million.
Why the Dodgers Would Want Him: With Scott Elbert's health nearly always in question, the Dodgers are going to need another lefty in the 'pen in addition to rookie Paco Rodriguez. Affeldt and Adams' versatility in both their roles and capabilities make them extremely attractive to the Dodgers, so if the team signed either one, I wouldn't be surprised.
Why He'd Sign in LA: At this point, I can't see any team out there willing to throw big bucks at either reliever to close games. Both Affeldt and Adams are going to be looking for the best opportunities possible, and with the Dodgers, they'd have prominent presences in the bullpen.
5. SS Stephen Drew, Oakland Athletics/3B Scott Rolen, Cincinnati Reds
His Deal: The key here is defense. A former 1st round pick, Drew has a solid bat for a shortstop, but a lot of his value derives from his glove. He'll never be the player Arizona thought he would be when some scouts thought he'd go number #1 overall in the 2004 draft, but he's an above average fielder at the very least. Similarly, Rolen's offensive potency has decreased greatly, but he's still a great third baseman when or if he can stay on the field. Because of his age and self-perceived potential, a three or four year deal at $10 million per season sounds right for Drew, while a one or two year deal for Rolen should do it.
Why the Dodgers Would Want Him: Currently, the Dodgers depth chart has Hanley Ramirez's name scribbled at shortstop and 29 year-old Luis Cruz at third. As great as the Mexican journeyman's 2012 season was and how fantastic his fielding is, depending on his continued production is a gamble, to say the least. Some will point to a new batting stance for the 2012 season as evidence for hope, but I'd be much happier to see an established veteran taking the field. The best case scenario would be to sign Drew for his stellar shortstop defense and move Ramirez back to third base, with Rolen as a solid back-up scenario. The left side of the Dodgers in-field is fine as is, but leaving the incumbent Cruz is a calculated gamble. So would moving Hanley back to third, but there's much less risk when talking about an above average player like Stephen Drew. And yes, I still boo Stephen Drew because of his mere bloodline.
Why He'd Sign in LA: For Drew, it'd be a great opportunity to play on a perennial contender where he's not going to be depended on for offense like he was in Arizona, but rather to just meet the team's defensive needs. For Rolen, it's the chance to start and stay in Major League Baseball.
Honorable Mentions, Hitting: 1B/C Mike Napoli, 3B Kevin Youkilis
Both guys would be luxury items, but age, contract demands and defense are all question marks. Without a DH and with Adrian Gonzalez penned in at first base, Napoli and Youk would be stuck to catcher and third base, respectively. The Rangers catcher has slugged 20 homers a year since the 2008 season and his defense isn't nearly as terrible as his reputation, but he'll be asking for a multi-year pact worth in excess of $10 million annually. Considering AJ Ellis makes a fraction of that salary with better defense, Napoli is a bit of a reach here. Youkilis is coming off of another injury-wracked year with a declining OPS for the second season in a row. At age 34 there are real concerns that he can't stand up to the rigors of playing the hot corner. I'd be surprised by not absolutely stunned if the Dodgers signed either guy.
Honorable Mentions, Pitching: SP Kyle Lohse, SP Ryan Dempster, SP Shaun Marcum, SP Edwin Jackson
All four of these pitchers have their pros and cons, but if Sanchez, Kuroda and/or Greinke don't sign, they're all solid options. Lohse would be the most likely, though he's 34 years old and coming off a year (2.84 ERA) that I'm positive he can't replicate. His value (and contract demands) will thus be inflated. Dempster is another name that's been tied the Dodgers much in recent weeks, but he's a bit older (36) and all things considered, I'd much rather have Lohse or Kuroda. Marcum and Jackson both have the capabilities of being as good or better than Anibal Sanchez, but concerns of inconsistency (Marcum from injuries and Jackson because...sometimes he's not good) make them slightly less than palatable options.