After signing president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman to a multi-year extension, the Los Angeles Dodgers turned their focus to spending big in the winter. Coming off a first-round postseason exit, the Dodgers needed an impact player who could push this team over the top in 2020.
Now nearly a month after Friedman signed his extension, he remains the team’s largest financial investment this offseason. The Dodgers set themselves up financially to be in a position to spend this winter and land one of the elite free agents – Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg, Anthony Rendon.
Before the calendar even turned to 2020, Los Angeles struck out on every elite free agent and whiffed on the All-Star talent behind them.
It’s been 31 years since the Dodgers gave Los Angeles a World Series to celebrate. That’s simply unacceptable to the fans, especially when they’ve seen the San Francisco Giants celebrate three titles in the past decade. If Friedman wants to earn his contract extension, then there’s only one player left who can save this disastrous offseason, Francisco Lindor.
Coming up short
After exceeding MLB’s luxury tax for the fourth consecutive season in 2017, the Dodgers emphasized shedding payroll in 2018. The front office was successful and that carried over into 2019. They got out of the penalties and in position to spend this winter, then proceeded to fall short on their targets for various reasons.
- Gerrit Cole – The Dodgers made Cole their No. 1 focus. They sat down with him in a four-hour meeting and offered a record deal, yet it wasn’t enough. Los Angeles refused to go to the ninth year and it ultimately cost them.
- Anthony Rendon – After losing out on Cole, the Dodgers looked into adding Rendon’s MVP-caliber bat. When they found out he didn’t want to play in Los Angeles, citing the “Hollywood lifestyle”, the Dodgers backed off and he signed with the Angels.
- Madison Bumgarner – Bumgarner became a central focus of Los Angeles’ offseason plan once Cole came off the board. Despite reportedly mutual interest, Bumgarner signed a five-year, $85 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
- Corey Kluber – The Dodgers fell short on the trade market, too. While Kluber struggled in 2019, he’s a two-time Cy Young Award winner and posted a 2.89 ERA and 0.99 WHIP in 2018. It only cost the Texas Rangers a relief pitcher and a center fielder with a career .668 OPS to land Kluber.
Each player could have made a significant impact for the Dodgers in 2020. Yet, whether due to the team’s location or financial decisions, they fell short.
This isn’t the first time the Dodgers failed to land a top free agent. We saw it last offseason with Bryce Harper. The danger, this winter, comes in the message that ownership will send with another quiet offseason.
While we always learn about the details in contracts for players, Friedman is granted a shield of protection. If Friedman’s offseason, a reflection of the wishes from ownership, leads to another season of staying under the luxury tax, it becomes quite clear where the priorities of this front office lie.
- Friedman, who was already MLB’s highest-paid executive on his previous seven-year, $35 million deal, received a raise this offseason despite his team suffering a first-round exit after posting the NL’s best record.
- According to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal, the Dodgers receive $200 million per season in local television revenue. This, of course, despite the fact that a majority of their local fans couldn’t watch the team on television for the sixth consecutive year.
- The Dodgers led MLB in attendance and broke the club’s attendance record in 2019. Meanwhile, they rostered two of the top-12 players in terms of jersey sales this past season.
The Dodgers have had plenty of success on the diamond, but the failure to win a World Series with all of this team’s resources is an embarrassment to the fan base.
Yet, it seems ownership couldn’t be happier with Friedman’s work since 2014. It’s for a simple reason, he’s been a far better chief financial officer than a president of baseball operations and that seems to be the organization’s ulterior motive.
Saving the offseason
Friedman and the Dodgers are operating this organization as a business first. While that’s far from ideal for the fans, it’s also an approach that should still encourage the front office to make big moves.
The Washington Nationals will reap the financial rewards from their World Series title for years. Los Angeles battled this team into extras and really could just be that one piece away from that talent boost this team needs to finally win a World Series. That’s where trading for Lindor comes in.
- Fielding – Lindor is outstanding with the glove and would be a substantial defensive upgrade over Corey Seager. Whereas Seager accounted for 4.1 Defensive Runs Above Average (Def), which FanGraphs uses to compare a fielder’s defensive value, Lindor accounts for 12.66 Def and he’s a two-time Gold Glove Award recipient.
- Hitting – The 26-year-old is coming off his third consecutive season with 30-plus home runs, 15-plus stolen bases and a .840-plus OPS. He also posted a .299/.350/.537 slash line with a .887 OPS before he hit a cold spell in September.
- Overall Value – Even after a down season in 2019, by his standards, Lindor ranks fifth in fWAR (23.2) across the majors since 2016. He continues to prove he’s one of the best players in baseball.
- Contract – Lindor is arbitration-eligible for the next two seasons and is projected to only make $16.7 million next season, per MLB Trade Rumors.
Lindor can thrive in an even bigger role in Los Angeles. He’d also have more lineup protection, which would give Lindor the chance to potentially post even better numbers as the team’s leadoff hitter.
The contributions Lindor could make at the plate and at shortstop are too valuable for Los Angeles to miss out on. While it might cost the Dodgers significant capital from their farm system to land Lindor, and potentially starting pitcher Mike Clevinger, the immediate rewards outweigh the cost and that can then lead to long-term gains for the organization.
A deal doesn’t have to be as extensive as trading for Lindor and Clevinger, though we suggested a workable scenario here. Los Angeles can get by with a small starting pitcher addition in free agency and further solidify its bullpen. Meanwhile, Lindor can be their big move of the offseason.
- Dodgers send – SP Dustin May, C Keibert Ruiz, OF Joc Pederson
- Dodgers receive – SS Francisco Lindor
Friedman would be taking advantage of the team’s impressive depth of pitching and catching in the farm system to make a deal happen. Meanwhile, Pederson is an expendable player who the Dodgers have been shopping this offseason.
Failing to make a big move puts this team at risk of losing its positioning in the NL. The San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks greatly improved this offseason. Meanwhile, the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals are now arguably better than the Dodgers.
This offseason has been a failure up to this point. Los Angeles needs another star and Lindor’s smile and personality fit this city. The Dodgers need better defense at shortstop and another dangerous bat in the lineup, which he brings. He’ll also increase jersey sales, drive in runs and make this organization better.
Trading for Lindor might cost prospects, but the deal puts this team back among the World Series favorites. When there’s a move that can make the fans happy, generate more money for ownership and make your team better – do it. Otherwise, the same passion the fans have for this team will turn into anger towards Friedman.