You'd think giving Andrew Friedman the key to the city -- after watching him build Lego palaces in Tampa -- would work out for Los Angeles. And it just might.
But this sudden collision of brains and Benjamins does not spell everyone else's doom as clearly as you think. Andrew Friedman's got some work to do, and it's going to take a minute.
The Dodgers carried a major league-record $235 million payroll into 2014. The team won 94 games, and secured the NL West pretty handily. And they were sort of a mess.
Their bullpen was sorry, ranking near the bottom of the league in FIP (3.64, 20th in the league), ERA (3.80, 22nd), BB/9 (3.79, 27th), LOB% (72.3%, 22nd), and WAR (0.6, 26th) (stats via Fangraphs). And this was a bullpen featuring Kenley Jansen (though, unfortunately, Brian Wilson). Among the quartet of Wilson, Brandon League, J.P. Howell, Kevin Correia, and Jansen, LA paid $33.8 million dollars. $33.8 million! The 2008 Rays -- Friedman's American League championship crew -- began the season with a $43.8 million payroll. Friedman, who has long piecemealed workable bullpens in Tampa, must find cheaper -- and better -- bullpen arms for Los Angeles. Could, say, a Kenley Jansen trade yield multiple adept relievers?
The non-Kershawian pitching staff has a bleak future. Clayton Kershaw is the best pitcher on planet earth, with Zack Greinke tagging along behind. Friedman can and should keep paying them in gold doubloons. Aside from these guys (and Hyun-Jin Ryu), though, the LA staff needs serious remodeling. Josh Beckett retired, Dan Haren -- maker of $10 million this year -- was bad and has a player option for next year. No Dodger minor leaguer looks ready to jump into the rotation, and the Dodgers likely won't splurge on another big-name free agent pitcher any time soon. Having Kershaw, of course, gives you a chance to win every game he attends -- but, well, try telling that to Matt Adams.
The Dodger outfield is a logjam of hilariously overpaid former All-Stars with unclear positional futures. In 2014, Carl Crawford had his best season since his Friedman-witnessed Tampa days, but the Dodgers still owe him $62 million over the next three years. Matt Kemp finally got his groove back, but LA still has to pay him over $100 million through 2019 -- by that time, Rihanna will be married to a Jonas brother, Kemp will weigh 250 and hit less than that, and the Dodgers still might not have a title. Yasiel Puig is on a team-friendly deal, but he struck out so furiously in the Divisional Series that Don Mattingly didn't even start him in Game 4. Then there's Andre Ethier, who will make $17 million to pinch hit until 2026 or something like that. None of these guys is a clear center fielder, and Friedman has no clear way out of any of these deals.
Catcher AJ Ellis was awful this year. Dee Gordon was a godsend, but only has a .314 lifetime OBP. Hanley Ramirez is almost certainly gone. Juan Uribe, too. Replacements for Ellis, Ramirez, and Uribe are not immediately clear or budget-friendly, and they're certainly not within LA's farm system.
Will Friedman stick to his guns and sign temperate free agents to sensible deals, or bust out the oversized checks just because he can? Dodger fans -- expectant of a title each of these last two years -- are not exactly eager to sit around and wait. But Friedman might need time -- time to rebuild the minor league system, time to acquire the right free agents -- and less flash than what Los Angeles is used to in order build a title contender in his image. And even then, as the 2014 Dodgers have proved, "title contender" means far less than "title winner."