The Dodgers have already declared their primary imperative for this winter. General manager Ned Colletti set the course Monday when he wasn’t trying to tap dance around his manager telling everyone how dissatisfied he was with his contract.
“We could use a little younger group,” Colletti said.
The Dodgers were sort of moving in that direction even before the National League Championship Series, where they lost to a St. Louis Cardinals team that has 18 homegrown players, the most on a World Series roster in the wild-card era. During that series, you could practically see light bulbs popping on over the heads of Colletti and president Stan Kasten.
Already, the Dodgers have shaved 10 years off their collective age. They signed Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero, 26, which means the likely departure of Mark Ellis, 36. And, in the long run, they’ve put the pieces in place to generate talent internally. They’re spending freely in international markets, have bulked up the scouting staff and invested in their academy in the Dominican Republic.
But how do you get younger fast? Let’s explore some possibilities for the Dodgers this offseason as they try to shed some years and still field a team that can compete for a World Series right away:
1. Trade for David Price
The second-best left-handed starting pitcher in baseball just turned 28 and he’s about to be awarded an eight-figure contract by an arbitrator. The Tampa Bay Rays, who play in an awful domed stadium to tiny crowds, don’t pay a lot of people that kind of money, so it’s widely assumed they’ll be open to trading their 2012 Cy Young winner this winter.
Could the Dodgers line up as a good trade partner or, failing that, just give Price a carload of cash in 2016? It’s awfully fun to think about a starting pitching rotation that goes Clayton Kershaw-Zack Greinke-David Price-Hyun-Jin Ryu-anybody on earth. And, though this will probably get me publicly pilloried, they would have an immediate alternative if they can’t lock up Kershaw to the mega-deal they’ve discussed and he somehow reaches free agency.
But to land a player as good as Price from an organization as savvy as the Rays, it probably would take the Dodgers’ top two prospects and then some. They'll have competition from at least a dozen teams. So, should they part with, say, Corey Seager and Zach Lee, are they, in fact, diminishing the future for the present? That certainly isn’t the idea.
2. Trade for Elvis Andrus
As good as Hanley Ramirez is, he really isn’t a shortstop any longer. You can live with his defensive shortcomings at third base a lot more easily than you can at shortstop. Because he was injured so frequently last season, his defensive issues weren’t as evident as they might have been if he had stayed healthy.
Andrus, 25, is a superb defender, a patient hitter and an impact base runner. The Dodgers would lose a little pop by essentially swapping Andrus for Juan Uribe in their lineup, but they think they’ve added some in the Guerrero-Ellis exchange.
Would the Rangers, who just signed him to an eight-year, $120 million extension, consider moving him? Would the Dodgers take on that kind of money for a guy who hit .271 last year and has, essentially, no pop? Considering they plan on building around good pitching, it’s never a bad idea to have a defensive whiz at shortstop.
3. Let the free agents walk
We won’t belabor the point here because we posted on this topic yesterday, but the Dodgers’ 11 free agents are largely a group of 30-something role players. Perhaps it makes sense to hold onto Nick Punto or Skip Schumaker for utility purposes and lefty J.P. Howell should be retained, but otherwise the Dodgers should probably look elsewhere if they really are intent on getting younger. Tim Federowicz proved last year that you can trust young players in backup roles, at a fraction of the cost.
4. Trade Andre Ethier
Let’s face it. Carl Crawford and Matt Kemp, both of whom are massively paid and frequently injured, are untradeable, unless the Dodgers swallow huge chunks of their lengthy contracts. Unless they’re more worried about Yasiel Puig’s maturity issues than they’re letting on, they’re not going to part with a hugely talented 22-year old.
That means, the four-outfielder conundrum could finally become reality next April. Ethier, 31, has four years and $71.5 million left on his deal, which is a little easier to move. Even if Kemp, coming off two surgeries, is unable to play next year, the Dodgers will have Joc Pederson standing by at Triple-A. Pederson had an .838 OPS at Double-A Chattanooga and, at the time, some people thought he would be called up rather than Puig. Maybe the Dodgers could get a power arm for their bullpen in exchange for Ethier. Those seem to come in handy in October.
Ethier has been the subject of trade rumors for more than a year now. It might be time to turn the rumors into reality. ESPN’s Jim Bowden wrote that the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers and Seattle Mariners all could show some interest in Ethier.
5. Fast-track the prospects
That was one of the things Colletti mentioned about the Cardinals. They have been willing to move their young players quickly and to take a leap of faith and use them in key roles in the major leagues. If you trust the player, it makes sense.
Michael Wacha was at Texas A&M in 2012. Trevor Rosenthal was in community college in 2009. Joe Kelly and Seth Maness both pitched in college in 2011. Lance Lynn was at Mississippi in 2010. The pattern, of course, is that they are college guys and the Dodgers have gotten behind that trend in a big way, loading up on college arms last June.
The Dodgers don’t have that kind of elite talent in their system, but they’re working on it. Chris Anderson, Tom Windle, Chris Reed and Ross Stripling are all well-regarded prospects who were drafted off college teams in recent seasons. Lee was a high-school draft pick, but he’s had enough minor-league seasoning to be a factor next year.
You would think that, out of that group, there must be at least one or two pitchers capable of filling a rotation spot or meaningful bullpen role for the Dodgers. The Dodgers had a good experience with Paco Rodriguez, who was the first player from the 2012 draft to reach the major leagues.
There’s no more fulfilling way to get younger than to trust your own guys.