It's hard to start an essay about the Los Angeles Dodgers without opening on the money. And rightfully so to some extent; their payroll was higher than the GDP of Palau last season.
According to Cot's Contracts, the Dodgers payroll topped out at just over $291 million last season. Heading into next season though, Baseball-Reference has the Dodgers payroll dropping to just under $244 million. That will still rank very high among the league in committed payroll. However, it does show that the Dodgers might be trying to flex their might in other ways.
The Dodgers -- who have one of the most exhaustive front office brass ever conceived -- are led by President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman. He was poached from the sabr-savvy and cost-conscious Tampa Bay Rays following the 2014 season. Friedman promptly installed Farhan Zaidi as the General Manager, stealing him from another cost-conscious team, the Oakland Athletics. Josh Byrnes also came over from the San Diego Padres to become the Dodgers' Vice President of Baseball Operations.
In short, the Dodgers have an impressive brain-trust. When Friedman and Zaidi came over, some wondered how a seemingly-unlimited payroll would impact the way they built their team. Let's see which direction 2016 points them.
The Dodgers made a few trades, but the biggest one they were involved in was really just as a third-party.
The trade that sent Todd Frazier from the Cincinnati Reds to the Chicago White Sox involved a few prospects from the Dodgers as well. The Dodgers sent Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler, and Brandon Dixon to the Reds in exchange for Micah Johnson, Frankie Montas, and Trayce Thompson.
Only one thing seems clear about this trade, and it's that the White Sox seem to come out ahead. Granted, Frazier is only under team control for the next two season. However, it seems like a pretty underwhelming package of prospects got shuffled around in his stead.
Peraza could end up being a major-league regular as early as this season for the Reds, but he was mostly blocked in the Dodgers system. While his speed seems to be his primary tool, his OBP seems to need some work.
Instead, the Dodgers will have Montas ranked as the fifth-best prospect in their system according to MLB.com. Johnson and Thompson are ranked 14th and 15th respectively.
The Free Agents
Instead of going on a spending spree, the Dodgers seem to have changed gears by adding many talented players at less expensive prices. It appears as though Zaidi et al. preferred depth this past offseason. And, instead of using their flexible payroll to throw huge sums of money at players, they instead seem to have committed longer terms to players. Many players seem to prefer job security quite a bit.
The Dodgers offseason began by Brett Anderson accepting his qualifying offer, and becoming one of the first three players ever to do so. While $15.8 million for a pitcher that will now unfortunately miss three-to-five months due to back surgery is less-than-ideal. However, it was Anderson's prerogative to accept the tabled offer. It's interesting to wonder what may have happened from the Dodgers perspective if he didn't accept the offer, but that is pure speculation.
With both Howie Kendrick and Chase Utley set to hit free agency, the Dodgers had to make a choice of who to retain. They re-signed Utley for one-year, $7 million. Then, after Kendrick stayed on the market into late January, the Dodgers snapped him back up to a two-year, $20 million deal.
To shore up their bullpen, the Dodgers added Joe Blanton to a one-year, $4 million deal. With the Pittsburgh Pirates last season, Joe Blanton struck out over a quarter of the batters he faced. While the 35-year old best years may be gone, his resurgence in 2015 certainly seems to have helped.
That about wraps up the short-term, suppressed-cost deals the Dodgers committed last season. Now onto the other type of deals: the longer term ones.
The Dodgers ended up with prized Japanese pitcher Kenta Maeda on an eight-year, $25 million contract. Maeda can earn in excess of $10 million extra based on incentives that include 30 games started and 200 innings pitched. There's a very realistic chance that Maeda makes $100 million over the eight year deal. A deal like that is a win-win for the Dodgers.
Less than two weeks later, the Dodgers agreed to a contract with Yaisel Sierra, another international free agent. The deal is worth $30 million over six years. While the deal isn't incentive-laden, the Dodgers still show a term commitment as opposed to an especially-significant dollar commitment. Especially by Dodgers-standards.
Then, just to mix it up, the Dodgers added Scott Kazmir on a three-year, $48 million deal. That doesn't fit nicely into either bin and, honestly, seems like the Dodgers are up to their old tricks of flexing payroll. However, Kazmir got a one-year opt-out, which adds yet another layer.
Reasons to worry
Through a skeptical lens, the Dodgers appear to be in a sort-of-transitional phase. Letting Zack Greinke not only depart but sign with a division-rival is tough to stomach. Instead of opting for a star-laden rotation, the Dodgers seemed to prefer depth this offseason, and that could cost them now that Anderson is down and with Hyun-jin Ryu's availability in question.
Furthermore, the Arizona Diamondbacks didn't only add Greinke. They took steps toward contention that could make them a much tougher team to beat. And then there's the San Francisco Giants, who made some great additions of their own and could expect their pattern of even-year championships to continue.
Justin Turner, Yasmani Grandal, and Enrique Hernandez could all start the season on the disabled-list. While the Dodgers depth could help them escape those injuries unscathed in the standings, it's less-than-ideal to open a season that way.
Reasons for hope
In a year where the Chicago Cubs are stealing almost all of the National League headlines, the Dodgers could actually benefit from being -- at least partially -- out of the limelight.
FanGraphs Depth Charts has the Dodgers pegged to finish with the second-best overall record in all of baseball at 93-69. PECOTA projects the Dodgers to finish even better, with 95 wins and even ahead of the Cubs.
The team has seemed to address major payroll concerns while continuing to field an overwhelmingly-competitive team. Despite Greinke departing, Clayton Kershaw is a perennial favorite to win the Cy Young.
Furthermore, the Dodgers will lean on some young up-and-comers next season. The top prospect in baseball, Corey Seager will look to break out at the shortstop position. Joc Pederson will look to build on last year's successes. And, in the event that the Dodgers run into additional pitching injury troubles, Julio Urias could be called upon.
While the NL West appears to be one of the tougher divisions in baseball, the Dodgers are in as good a spot as they can control and seem ready for continued contention.