Dodgers still searching for bullpen help

December, 23, 2014
Dec 23
12:04
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Kenley JansenAP Photo/Jae C. HongThe Dodgers are still looking to bridge the gap to get to closer Kenley Jansen.
LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers now have what they like to call a “highly functional roster,” which of course invites the question of what last year’s group -- which somehow sputtered and bickered its way to 94 wins -- was.

Most people who were around this team last year have a pretty good idea what Andrew Friedman was talking about when he brought up the topic of functionality.

Manager Don Mattingly will no longer have to spend a chunk of his day worrying about what a benched multi-millionaire outfielder will do -- or say to the media. The defense in the middle of the infield should be strong enough to support the Dodgers’ strong pitching. The back end of the rotation is younger and there should be some occasional hits from the catcher’s position in the batting order.

But there’s still one area that looks worrisome as Friedman and his top two deputies -- Josh Byrnes and Farhan Zaidi -- continue to try to build the highest-functioning roster in the NL West despite persistent competition from the north (San Francisco) and south (San Diego): What about the bullpen?

Better? Maybe, as much because of subtraction as by addition. Dominant? Hardly.

In fact, the Dodgers still haven’t found the bridge to closer Kenley Jansen that they’ve been looking for since Brian Wilson’s elbow started bothering him again last February. They did add Chris Hatcher, whose 95.1-mph fastball suggests he could be a bigger part of that Marlins trade than anyone yet realizes, and Joel Peralta, who usually provides bankable innings.

But the “vacancy,” sign hasn’t exactly been taken down from the Dodger Stadium bullpen. OK, there was never really a “vacancy,” sign, but you get the picture.

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Dodgers biggest spenders in payroll

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
1:48
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[+] EnlargeClayton Kershaw
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillA massive contract for ace Clayton Kershaw is one reason why the Dodgers owe $26,621,125 in luxury tax.

NEW YORK -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have ended the New York Yankees' 15-year streak as Major League Baseball's biggest spenders and owe more than $26.6 million in luxury tax.

The Dodgers finished with a record payroll of $257,283,410, according to final calculations made by Major League Baseball on Friday and obtained by The Associated Press. That is more than $20 million above the previous high, set by the Yankees last year.

For the first time since the current luxury tax began in 2003, the Yankees won't be paying the most. The luxury tax was put in place as a slowdown on spending by high-revenue teams, and teams pay based on the amount they are over the $189 million threshold.

The Dodgers owe $26,621,125 based on a $277.7 million payroll for purposes of the tax, which calculates payroll based on the average annual value of contracts for players on the 40-man roster and includes benefits. That raises the team's two-year total to $38 million.


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Path to the playoffs: NL West

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
11:50
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Path to the playoffs logo

The National League West had the worst out-of-division record in the majors in 2014 -- its teams were 32 games under .500 -- but the Giants won the World Series. So it was certainly baseball's best worst division. Or something.

Attempting to match the Giants' postseason success, the Dodgers, Padres, Rockies and Diamondbacks all hired new general managers, and three of those clubs have had busy and exciting offseasons. What will it all mean for their postseason hopes? The Dodgers and Giants still rate as division favorites, but the Padres are certainly making things interesting.

A look at each NL West team's path to the playoffs ...

Dodgers Los Angeles Dodgers
2014: 94-68, plus-101 run differential, lost in NLDS
2015 projection from FanGraphs: 88-74, plus-61

That plus-61 projection is the highest in the majors, although it does not factor in the Jimmy Rollins trade or any contribution from $10 million lottery ticket Brett Anderson.

Sure, there is some fear the Dodgers will have trouble replacing the offensive production of Matt Kemp and Hanley Ramirez, but the Dodgers' path to the playoffs still looks pretty clear:

Clayton Kershaw does more Clayton Kershaw kinds of things.

Zack Greinke goes 17-8 with a 2.71 ERA again.

Hyun-Jin Ryu continue to be one of the more underrated starters in the game.

• Anderson and Brandon McCarthy show that the new Andrew Friedman-led front office is smart and has super-cool analysis and metrics that justify their signings.

Yasiel Puig re-discovers the power stroke that he lost in the second half of 2014. Even then, let's remember that Puig had the fifth-best wOBA in the NL this past season. He still has MVP potential.

Joc Pederson hits 20 home runs, steals 20 bases and anchors a much-improved outfield defense. (Steamer projects him to hit 19 home runs and steal 22 bases, although with a .230/.322/.388 line.)

• Bullpens are volatile. This year's pen will be much better.

• The team's clubhouse chemistry is improved without Kemp and Ramirez, which maybe can't be quantified but could mean something.

• Did we mention that the Rockies and Diamondbacks are in this division?


Giants San Francisco Giants
2014: 88-74, plus-51 run differential, won World Series
2015 projection: 83-79, plus-17

Sneak into the wild-card game, ride Madison Bumgarner, take the World Series all while winning fewer than 90 games overall! Every general manager's perfect plan.

Congrats, Giants fans; a title is a title, no matter how you got there. But keep in mind that 88 wins may not get you into the playoffs in 2015.

How do the Giants stay the course or get better? Obviously, they have a gaping hole at third base and the suggestion that Joe Panik could move there from second is a little silly until you realize that it could actually happen, considering the lack of good third-base options out there.

Anyway, the path to the playoffs has to come through an improved starting rotation (the projection above doesn't include Jake Peavy, who reportedly agreed to a two-year contract on Thursday). To a large extent, the view of the Giants' pitching staff is still colored by the great 2010 rotation and a dominant run through the 2012 postseason. But FanGraphs ranked the Giants' 2014 rotation 28th in the majors, with 8.2 WAR. That's not as surprising as it looks once you consider the Giants were 10th in the NL in rotation ERA while playing in a pitcher's park.

Can they still count on Matt Cain and/or Tim Lincecum? Was Peavy's 2.17 ERA with the Giants the second half of last season a fluke or a product of returning to the National League? What will Tim Hudson have left in the tank during his age-39 season? Does Yusmeiro Petit move into the rotation full time? And does Bumgarner take his regular-season game to a new level?

The best prognosis for the Giants is that Bumgarner does raise his performance, Cain bounces back after elbow surgery, Hudson delivers another solid campaign, Peavy is a dependable No. 4 and Lincecum soaks up innings and isn't ... awful. And if he is, Petit is still around as valuable swingman. Yes, they could still sign James Shields, but it's probably wise if they pass on him and save their money for next year's crop of premium free-agent starters -- David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister -- when Lincecum's $18 million comes off the books.

Aside from that, the offense should once again be one of the best in the league -- if underrated, thanks to AT&T Park's run-supressing environment. Keep in mind that Brandon Belt, Angel Pagan and Panik averaged just 77 games in the majors in 2014. If each can play 130-140 games, the offense will benefit.

Plus ... the Giants were 9-10 against the Padres and Rockies. Beat them a few more times and they can win 90.




Padres San Diego Padres
2014: 77-85, minus-42 run differential
2015 projection: 77-85, minus-36 runs

It's easy to forget the Padres won 77 games -- only 11 wins fewer than the Giants.

And they just picked up Matt Kemp, Wil Myers and Justin Upton without trading any of their key components from 2014. What's the best-case scenario for San Diego? Let's start here: Padres outfielders hit a combined .234/.307/.347 in 2014; only the Mariners and Reds had a worse wOBA from its outfield. Padres outfielders created about 188 runs, or about 63 runs per position. Now they have a completely new outfield (although it's possible Myers will play first base).

OK, Kemp created about 88 runs this past season in 599 plate appearances, a total that includes a poor first half and a great second half. He created about 136 runs in his near-MVP season in 2011. We're being optimistic here, but 136 is probably too optimistic considering everything -- the injuries, the arthritis in both of his hips, moving to Petco -- working against him. But let's say he produces 95 runs, that the second half of last season was the real Matt Kemp, and that he's going to have a little anger in his game in 2015.

Myers wasn't good in 2014, so let's ignore that. As a rookie in 2013, he created about 55 runs in 88 games, or 94 runs in 150 games. Maybe he was over his head that year; he had a very high .360 BABIP that he may not be able to replicate. And he's moving to Petco. But he has talent; maybe the BABIP goes down but the power and walk rate go up. Let's give him 95 runs created as well. This is very rough math here. But you can see the improvement. We're going from 63 runs from the outfield positions to 95.

And now Upton comes over from the Braves. New general manager A.J. Preller has made an unprecedented series of big moves. He's also apparently kept his top three prospects in doing so -- catcher Austin Hedges, outfielder Hunter Renfroe and pitcher Matt Wisler. Upton created -- I didn't do this on purpose -- 95 runs in 154 games in 2014.

So we've added about 95 runs to the outfield. That's about 10 wins of new offense. (The projections above include Kemp and new catcher Derek Norris, but not Myers and Upton until those deals are official.)

Now, defense could be an issue. You don't really want to play Kemp or Myers in center field. Kemp's overall projected WAR is just 1.8. Myers' is 2.4. It's possible these don't turn out to be big upgrades at all. But we'll see. The Padres have power now and they're going to be exciting. Plus, Jedd Gyorko could/should/will bounce back. The Padres could have four 25-homer guys. Their top guy hit 15 in 2014.

Add in full seasons from Andrew Cashner and Odrisamer Despaigne (who combined for about one full season between them) and the rotation looks a little deeper alongside Tyson Ross and Ian Kennedy. The Padres are going to give another shot to Josh Johnson. It didn't work out this past season; maybe it does in 2015. Even 20 starts would be a boost. Brandon Morrow is another lottery ticket. Bullpen? The bullpen had the best ERA in the National League.

And Preller may not be done. Maybe he finds an upgrade at shortstop or third base. The Padres have gone from sleeper -- as in, they've put us to sleep for years -- to playoff sleeper.

Rockies Colorado Rockies
2014: 66-96, minus-63 run differential
2015 projection: 78-84, minus-27

The Rockies have had four straight losing seasons, and they've topped out at just 74 wins in that span. In this era of parity, they have become perhaps the most discombobulated franchise in the majors. The Astros have had a worse record, but at least their rebuilding game plan was clear. Even the Phillies have finally admitted defeat and began a restructuring of their roster.

The Rockies? What are they doing? What's the plan? New general manager Jeff Bridich replaced longtime GM Dan O'Dowd in early October but has been quiet this offseason. Well, he signed Daniel Descalso to a two-year contract. As always, the fate of the Rockies seems to revolve around the health of Troy Tulowitzki, Carlos Gonzalez and the starting rotation. Tulo and CarGo combined for just 161 games in 2014; Tulowitzki was great when he played but Gonzalez was awful. Only Jorge De La Rosa made more than 22 starts.

But ... Tulo and CarGo played 236 games in 2013 and both were great. And three starters made 30 starts, but the team was still terrible. So it's not really as simple as just keeping those two guys healthy and productive. It is a starting point.

Note that the Rockies aren't horrible in the projection. They're not expected to lose 100 games or anything. Some other ideas to help the Rockies get back to being competitive:

1. They have to hit better on the road. Familiar story here. Nolan Arenado hit just two of his 18 home runs away from Coors Field. Charlie Blackmon hit .241 with a .269 OBP. CarGo hit .160. The Rockies hit .322 at home, .228 on the road. Arenado could be a key here. He now has two years in the majors and has shown excellent contact ability (although he hasn't drawn many walks). He needs to translate that into a higher average, more power and a few more walks.

2. The young pitchers continue to emerge. Jordan Lyles (4.33 ERA in 22 starts) and Tyler Matzek (4.05 ERA in 19 starts) showed promise in 2014. Those are decent ERAs for guys who pitch primarily in Coors Field. Matzek actually had an ERA under 4.00 at home, so he has shown he can survive there.

3. Eddie Butler and Jonathan Gray make a second-half splash. Regarded as two of the top pitching prospects in the minors entering 2014, neither had an impact season, so they need to get back on track.

4. Play Corey Dickerson more. He got just 478 PAs in 2014 as the Rockies used him as a platoon player. He hit .312/.364/.567 and wasn't awful versus lefties.

5. Get 30-plus starters from De La Rosa, Lyles, Matzek and Jhoulys Chacin.

The projection above includes 595 PAs from Tulowitzki and 490 from Gonzalez, so it's fairly optimistic about their playing time. This may be the final go for the Tulo/CarGo era. There are also rumors about a potential trade to the Mets -- although ESPNNewYork's Adam Rubin said there's less than 5 percent chance of that happening.


Diamondbacks Arizona Diamondbacks
2014: 64-98, minus-127 run differential
2015 projection: 75-87, minus-57

I'm actually surprised that Arizona's projection is 75 wins -- and that doesn't even include Yasmany Tomas. He's unlikely to go all Jose Abreu on us, but maybe he's a 25-homer guy who would go nicely along with sluggers Paul Goldschmidt and Mark Trumbo. Everybody says they can't find right-handed power these day, but the Diamondbacks have it.

The weakness appears to be the starting rotation, which Steamer projects as the 27th-best at just a combined 6.7 WAR. But it's a volatile rotation to project. Steamer doesn't factor Rubby de la Rosa, Allen Webster, Robbie Ray or Archie Bradley to pitch more than 30 innings. Maybe one or two will break through. Maybe Patrick Corbin returns in the second half. Maybe Jeremy Hellickson goes to the NL and has a 3.15 ERA instead of his projected 4.15 ERA. The Diamondbacks need some of those things to happen.

Then you go to the power guys. Goldschmidt was an MVP runner-up two years ago. Trumbo had kind of a lost season but could swat 35 homers; he hit 34 in Anaheim two years ago. And maybe Tomas is a beast.

The Diamondbacks also don't really have a catcher right now (sorry, Tuffy Gosewisch), so maybe they make a deal there. The middle infield combo of Chris Owings and Aaron Hill could certainly outperform their projected WAR total of 1.9.

For the most part, it's a young team. Young players can surprise. You never know.

Phils finalize Jimmy Rollins trade

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
8:40
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PHILADELPHIA -- The Phillies have finalized their trade of Jimmy Rollins, sending the All-Star shortstop and cash to the Los Angeles Dodgers for right-hander Zach Eflin and left-hander Tom Windle.

The deal was agreed to last week at the winter meetings and announced Friday, a day after the Dodgers completed a trade that sent slugging outfielder Matt Kemp to San Diego.

Rollins, who had a no-trade clause in his contract, said he would have approved a trade to just three teams, the Dodgers, New York Yankees and New York Mets. He said the Dodgers were No. 1 on his list.

"I've always loved the color blue, but most importantly they're built to win right this very moment," Rollins said. "I played against them, I have a sense of what they have going on in the clubhouse and seeing how they interact on the bench reminds me a lot of what we used to have in Philly."

Rollins said he bought an ad in Saturday's edition of the Philadelphia Inquirer which he called a "love letter" to Phillies fans to thank them for his 14 years in that city.

"They got to see me mature, become a husband, a father and they got to cheer me, they got to boo me and whatever else they wanted to in between," Rollins said. "They understand I was true to myself, I was true to my craft and I was a true Philly."

Rollins, a three-time All-Star, hit .243 last season with 11 homers, 55 RBIs and 28 steals. The 36-year-old had started 14 consecutive openers for the Phillies and helped Philadelphia win the World Series in 2008.


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Padres acquire OF Matt Kemp

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
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SAN DIEGO -- Slugger Matt Kemp has joined the Padres after San Diego and the Los Angeles Dodgers finalized a five-player trade Thursday night.

The teams agreed to the trade last week during the winter meetings in San Diego. It was the first of three big deals by new Padres general manager A.J. Preller, who also has added outfielder Wil Myers, the 2013 AL Rookie of the Year, from Tampa Bay and All-Star catcher Derek Norris from Oakland.

The Padres, desperate to pump up the worst offense in the majors, also get $32 million from the Dodgers to help offset the $107 million remaining on Kemp's contract. The Padres' obligation of $75 million to Kemp over five years becomes the biggest deal in club history.

Kemp twice made the All-Star team during his time in L.A., as well as winning two Gold Glove and two Silver Slugger awards. His 182 homers rank fourth in Los Angeles Dodgers history.

Kemp weighed in on the deal via social media, penning a "goodbye to the city and the fans who have been there since the beginning of my career."

San Diego also gets catcher Tim Federowicz. The Dodgers receive catcher Yasmani Grandal and right-handers Joe Wieland and Zach Eflin.


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Kemp physical puts trades in flux

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
11:13
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[+] EnlargeMatt Kemp
Richard Mackson/USA TODAY SportsMatt Kemp's physical reportedly revealed arthritis in both hips, putting his trade to the Padres in doubt.

LOS ANGELES -- The San Diego Padres were reviewing medical information before signing off on a trade for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, a source said, with an agreed-upon Thursday deadline to complete the deal fast approaching.

Should San Diego pull out of the trade -- according to USA Today, Kemp's physical revealed arthritis in both hips -- two other trades and three other teams could be affected.

Teams typically have a 72-hour window to perform a physical examination of an acquired player, which the Padres satisfied since Kemp underwent his physical on Tuesday. According to a source, Thursday's deadline can be extended.


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Moves have makings of a master plan

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
11:00
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Howie Kendrick, Brandon McCarthy & Jimmy RollinsMatt Brown/Getty ImagesThe key to the Dodgers' makeover this offseason is the synergy between each of the moves.
LOS ANGELES -- Brandon McCarthy pitches in a statistically extreme way, so it makes sense he pays close attention to some of his numbers. For example, he allowed 2.13 ground balls for every fly ball he gave up last season, which isn’t terribly surprising considering his out pitch is a sinker. Only five major-league pitchers had a more lopsided grounder-to-fly ball ratio.

McCarthy mixes in some cutters and breaking pitches and is perfectly capable of coming up with a strikeout in a pinch, but what he generally is trying to do is force hitters to make off-center contact and beat ball after ball into the dirt or infield grass.

[+] EnlargeBrandon McCarthy
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsAn extreme ground ball pitcher, Brandon McCarthy will have an improved defensive infield behind him.
McCarthy’s chances of succeeding on the Los Angeles Dodgers -- with whom he just signed a four-year, $48 million deal -- would have been quite different had the team not been making a couple of concurrent moves while finalizing talks with McCarthy’s agent. They agreed to send a couple of pitching prospects to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for aging, but still reliable shortstop Jimmy Rollins, and orchestrated a three-team trade that sent second baseman Dee Gordon to the Miami Marlins and landed Howie Kendrick in L.A.

The Dodgers’ defense wasn’t particularly good last season, particularly when it came to turning double plays and stopping balls hit up the middle. Hanley Ramirez, who is now a left fielder for the Boston Red Sox, might have been the worst defensive shortstop in baseball. Gordon, while quick and agile enough, had lapses in concentration and graded out poorly in advanced defensive metrics.

Both Rollins and Kendrick grade out as above-average defenders.

McCarthy is familiar with the way the Dodgers’ front office works because he spent two seasons pitching for the Oakland A’s and developed a relationship with Farhan Zaidi, who is now the Dodgers’ general manager and was then one of Billy Beane’s deputies.

“They’re going to find successful combinations and make those the name of the game,” McCarthy said. “That’s all I ask for, people who are going to put me in a position to succeed.”

One could argue the merits of the Dodgers’ offseason moves so far. Without Matt Kemp and Ramirez, who finished first and fourth on the team in slugging percentage, it’s reasonable to expect them to score fewer runs next season. For all the Dodgers’ faults in 2014, they finished second to the Colorado Rockies in runs scored despite playing in one of the league’s extreme pitchers’ parks.

But what stands out about the extreme makeover president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and his staff have orchestrated is the synergy between each of the moves. We can at least make out the traces of a master plan.

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Dodgers designate Brian Wilson

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
12:33
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[+] EnlargeWilson
Jake Roth/USA TODAY SportsThe Dodgers will be on the hook for Brian Wilson's $9.5 million salary after designating him for assignment.

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers designated veteran reliever Brian Wilson for assignment Tuesday to clear room on the 40-man roster for newly signed starting pitcher Brandon McCarthy.

The Dodgers' new front office has shown little hesitancy to absorb bad contracts, as the team will be on the hook for Wilson's $9.5 million as well as the $10 million owed to Dan Haren for next season. Haren was traded to the Miami Marlins as part of a three-team, eight-player deal last week at the winter meetings. The Dodgers also have agreed to a trade that would send outfielder Matt Kemp to the San Diego Padres along with $32 million of the remaining $107 million on Kemp's contract. That deal is pending a physical, which Kemp was to undergo Tuesday.


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Guilty plea in Yasiel Puig's smuggling

December, 16, 2014
Dec 16
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MIAMI -- A South Florida businessman pleaded guilty Tuesday to taking part in a conspiracy to smuggle Los Angeles Dodgers star Yasiel Puig out of Cuba in return for a sizable cut of the outfielder's multimillion-dollar salary.

Gilberto Suarez, 40, entered the plea Tuesday before U.S. District Judge Robert Scola, who set a March 6 sentencing date. The alien smuggling conspiracy charge carries a maximum of 10 years in prison, although Suarez is likely to get a more lenient sentence under his plea deal with prosecutors.

Investigators and court documents say Suarez was one of the Miami-based financiers of the 2012 smuggling venture in which Puig was taken by boat from Cuba to a fishing village near Cancun, Mexico, eventually crossing into the U.S. at Brownsville, Texas, on July 3 of that year. In return, the financiers were getting a percentage of the seven-year, $42 million contract Puig signed with the Dodgers.

Court documents show that Suarez got $2.5 million from Puig's contract. He agreed with prosecutors to forfeit to the government a house, a condominium and a Mercedes-Benz that are traceable to the money from Puig. Suarez also is forfeiting several guns.

The plea deal requires Suarez to give up any interest in another Cuban player's contract, shortstop Aledmys Diaz, a minor leaguer in the St. Louis Cardinals' system. The court documents do not provide any details on Diaz's defection or whether Suarez played a role in it.


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Brett Anderson to join Dodgers

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
2:36
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The Los Angeles Dodgers have agreed to a one-year, $10 million deal with left-hander Brett Anderson, with $4 million in possible incentives, sources told ESPN.com's Buster Olney.

Anderson went 1-3 with 2.91 ERA in his only season with the Colorado Rockies, who elected to decline his $12 million option.

Finger and back problems marred Anderson's 2014 in Colorado, limiting the 26-year-old to eight starts.

For his career, Anderson is 27-32 with a 3.73 ERA. He played his previous five years with the Oakland Athletics before he was dealt to the Rockies prior to the 2014 season.


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Mid-December World Series odds

December, 15, 2014
Dec 15
12:08
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Courtesy of Bovada.lv ...

Los Angeles Dodgers: 15/2
Boston Red Sox: 9/1
Washington Nationals: 15/2
Chicago Cubs: 12/1
Detroit Tigers: 12/1
Los Angeles Angels: 12/1
San Francisco Giants: 14/1
Seattle Mariners: 14/1
St. Louis Cardinals: 14/1
Baltimore Orioles: 18/1
Toronto Blue Jays: 18/1
Kansas City Royals: 20/1
New York Mets: 25/1
New York Yankees: 25/1
Atlanta Braves: 28/1
Chicago White Sox: 28/1
Cleveland Indians: 33/1
Miami Marlins: 33/1
Pittsburgh Pirates: 33/1
Cincinnati Reds: 40/1
Milwaukee Brewers: 40/1
Oakland Athletics: 40/1
San Diego Padres: 40/1
Texas Rangers: 40/1
Tampa Bay Rays: 66/1
Arizona Diamondbacks: 75/1
Colorado Rockies: 100/1
Houston Astros: 150/1
Minnesota Twins: 150/1
Philadelphia Phillies: 150/1

On Oct. 30, the Cubs were 50-1. After signing Sandy Koufax and trading for Yogi Berra, they're down to 12/1. I mean, Jon Lester is a nice pitcher, but come on.

My good buys right now: Pirates and Indians at 33-1. The Pirates have made the playoffs the past two years, have a superstar in Andrew McCutchen and some young guys who could improve. The Indians won 85 games in 2014 and their starting rotation really came together in the second half. Obviously, the odds are somewhat reflective of market size, which is why Pittsburgh and Cleveland have longer odds right now. And teams that have made a big splash so far in the offseason seemed to have gotten a big boost in their odds.

Bad buys: Tigers at 12-1 and Braves at 28-1. The Tigers have been busy so far but have mostly just been spinning their wheels, while likely losing Max Scherzer. With the Indians and White Sox potentially stronger, the Tigers' grip on the division is more tenuous than it's been in years. The Braves have lost their best player in Jason Heyward and still have big issues on offense while coming off a sub-.500 season in a division where the Marlins and Mets should both be better.

The offseason is young. Lots of free agent signings and trades to come. We'll see how the odds change before Opening Day.

Dodgers' sneaky-good offseason

December, 13, 2014
Dec 13
9:33
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Everybody loves a good heist movie. In a typical one, a likable protagonist and his lovable, ragtag band of ne'er-do-well miscreants will form an intricate, detailed plan and eventually get the better of the antagonist who owns the thing that the group intends to steal. The plan may be to rob a bank. Or sometimes a casino or a museum with a diamond the size of Mike Trout's WAR.

However, the current grand burglary I'm thinking of doesn't involve bags of money or famous jewels -- this mise-en-scène played out during the winter meetings at the San Diego Hilton this week. And the perpetrator is the Los Angeles Dodgers, who deviously retooled some of the weaknesses from their 94-win season using stuff from the other guy's wallet.

The 2014 Dodgers were a solid team, but far from a perfect one. The outfield defense was a mess, they got nothing from behind the plate, they had two starting pitchers who were both healthy and good, and too much of the bullpen consisted of incompetent "name" relievers that you'd want in 2010, not 2014. The team's core was still talented, so blowing up the team and starting from scratch made little sense. A retool was in order.

The front office in Dodgerland that attended the winter meetings this year was very different than the 2013 group. Andrew Friedman, the team's new president of baseball operations and still on the sunny side of 40, was lured from Tampa Bay, where he oversaw one of the most successful front-office operations in the past decade. To assist him in his dream team of thievery came other recruits for this operation, including general manager Farhan Zaidi from the Athletics; senior vice president Josh Byrnes, who was fired by the Padres last season; team farm director Gabe Kapler; and Jeff Pickler, special assistant in pro scouting and player development. I'll let them sort out who gets played by Brad Pitt and who gets George Clooney.

What's even better than making a big score? Making it while people think you were the one who was robbed.

What does Grandal bring to Dodgers?

December, 11, 2014
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The primary purpose of the Los Angeles Dodgers trading Matt Kemp to the Padres was to both clear salary and clear an outfield logjam to free up space for promising rookie Joc Pederson. But the Dodgers did get one player back who will have an immediate impact in catcher Yasmani Grandal.

ESPN Insider Mike Petriello wrote a piece recently extolling the virtues of Grandal as a potential breakout candidate for 2015.

What does Grandal bring to his new team?

In spite of the numbers, he can hit
Grandal’s offensive numbers look unimpressive on the surface (.225 with a .327 on-base percentage, .401 slugging percentage and 15 home runs in 128 games). But there are some bright spots to consider.

For one, he has hit well in the past. In his rookie season, 2012, he had a .297/.394/.469 slashline with eight home runs in 192 at-bats

For another, he closed 2014 very well – posting a .270/.373/.467 slashline with six home runs in his last 42 games (and 137 at-bats).

Lastly, Grandal does hit the ball hard at an above-average rate.

Inside Edge, which provides batted-ball data to teams and media, rates every batted ball as hard-hit, medium-hit or soft-hit.

Grandal registered hard-hit balls in 18 percent of his at-bats, 19 percent against right-handed pitching.

When he actually hit the ball, he hit it hard 25 percent of the time.

By comparison, Kemp’s overall hard-hit rate last season was 16 percent. And his hard-hit rate when making contact was 22 percent. Grandal rated better in each area. And he’s well ahead of his new backstop mate, A.J. Ellis, who had a 15 percent overall hard-hit rate last season.

Pitch-Framing: A coveted skill
One of the popular statistics in the sabermetric community (a group that would include the Dodgers new management team) relates to pitch framing: How well does a catcher do at making sure pitches in the strike zone are called strikes and how well does the catcher do at “stealing strikes” – taking pitches outside the strike zone and getting them called strikes.

Simply put: This is an area in which Grandal has excelled.

Grandal rated best in the majors at getting strikes called when he should. Umpires called 89 percent of the pitches he caught in the strike zone as strikes, six percentage points above the major-league average.

Grandal also got called strikes on 10 percent of pitches that the Pitch F/X tracking system deemed to be out of the strike zone. That ranked eighth-best among the 40 catchers who caught the most pitches last season.

There is a significant difference between Grandal and Ellis, as noted in the chart on the right.

Grandal’s weakness: Doesn’t deter baserunners
Though Grandal does excel at one aspect of catcher defense, he struggles in another.

Opposing baserunners were caught only six times in 55 stolen-base attempts (11 percent of the time) against Grandal last season. You could argue that some of that is due to the Padres pitchers and that’s partly true. But consider that the Padres other catcher, Rene Rivera, threw out 33 percent of would be base-stealers last season.

Ellis has an edge here. Over the last two seasons, he’s thrown out 31 percent of would-be basestealers.

It will be interesting to see how Don Mattingly handles his end-game catching choice. Will he go with the catcher better at framing pitches (and thus keeping runners off base) or the one who rates better at holding runners once they reach?

Stat to Remember: A winning player?
The Padres have finished under .500 in each of the past three seasons, but when Grandal played, they were a considerably better team.

The Padres went 99-80 when Grandal started. They were 130-177 when he did not.

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Clayton Kershaw
WINS ERA SO IP
21 1.77 239 198
OTHER LEADERS
BAY. Puig .296
HRA. Gonzalez 27
RBIA. Gonzalez 116
RY. Puig 92
OPSY. Puig .863
ERAC. Kershaw 1.77
SOC. Kershaw 239