(Photo: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images) With the LA Dodgers’ ouster from the postseason party this week, the organization now faces one of the more interesting offseasons that any team will be confronted with. Reports are in that Zack Greinke is going to opt out of the rest of his deal and become a free agent and his skills are precisely what the Dodgers can’t afford to lose.
Greinke has an option. Manager Don Mattingly does not.
Mattingly famously indicated in 2013 that he didn’t want to manage with one year left on his contract and the Dodgers extended him through 2016.
So now, Mattingly is coming to the last year of that deal. LA’s early exit from the post season has wiped away any memory of the fact that he guided the Dodgers to the playoffs three straight years for the first time in team history.
The payroll was north of $300MM this season and you would think that that would be more than enough to have the team ready come October. Yet, the Dodgers had a pair of aces on the starting staff and a top-shelf closer, but not much else in the pitching department, and it is hard to imagine how they could get through the gauntlet of playoff baseball with that configuration. The starters behind Greinke and Clayton Kershaw were a collective mess and the bullpen was worse, except for closer Kenley Jansen. But getting the game to him was always an adventure, especially on the nights when Brett Anderson and the gang were starting.
The idea that the two Cy Young starters could do all the heavy lifting was flawed and the Mets showed them what three solid starters can do to anybody’s lineup. Four if you count Steven Matz, who lost his start.
And now Mattingly is in the crosshairs.
Mattingly certainly didn’t spend all that money and he managed the team he was given. If you want to question who he brought in from the bullpen at any given time, it is an exercise in futility. Chris Hatcher emerged in the NLDS as a solid option but he missed time due to injury this year and he had his scary moments as well. Who should Donny have brought in to relieve Kershaw in GM 1? Now, it looks like it should have been Hatcher but Pedro Baez got the call and gave up the hit to David Wright that drove in two of Kershaw’s runners. Put Hatcher’s and Baez’ stats side-by-side and it was hardly an egregious error by Mattingly.
So, with all of the problems on the mound; with last year’s famous logjam of outfielders that left almost everyone involved unhappy; with the ongoing circus of Yasiel Puig and his personality; and with the three-time World Series champs in his own division, Don Mattingly has brought this club home in first place three years in a row.
A case could easily be made that Mattingly has taken his given roster as far as it could be expected to go.
In five years at the helm, the Dodgers have never finished under .500 and have gone 446-363 for a winning percentage of .551.
The lineup. If you ask any Dodger fan, they will almost certainly tell you that the lineup is more of a headscratcher than what Mattingly does when Greinke and Kershaw aren’t pitching. The lack of a true leadoff hitter is certainly something that Mattingly can’t control, but his daily changes stretched all up and down the batting order.
Joc Pederson started the season in the number 8 hole and was an on-base machine (.461 in April). It made him a natural choice for the leadoff spot, but without the pitcher hitting behind him, Joc got challenged more and he wasn’t up to it. The weeks went on with Pederson looking overmatched to the point that his superior defense was hardly a fair tradeoff. A July slash line of .169/.229/.258 was horrific and he followed that up with .120/.384/.260 in August.
Something about those numbers nudged Mattingly to bench Pederson in favor of Kike Hernandez. Then Hernandez got hurt and Joc was right back out there.
The substitutions in-game were also a cause for concern. And the idea that a left-handed pitcher could enter a game and pitch to two left-handed batters as well as the right-handed batter in between them was foreign to Mattingly. Facing a left-right-left combo of hitters, Mattingly would need three relievers because his first lefty reliever couldn’t face the right-handed batter. J.P.Howell’s splits are pretty dramatic, but maybe pitching around the righty could be an option there?
A lot of these choices were subject to availability and game situation, without a doubt. It’s much easier for us to manage from in front of our televisions than it is for the guy on the top step of the dugout. If I linked a game where odd choices were made, it would be incumbent upon me to go back and look at who was hurt, how many times pitchers had been used, and any number of other of factors in the week leading up to that game. I’m not that motivated. And I’m not burying Mattingly here. I just know that the bullpen usage puzzled me many times, too many to all to have been influenced by workload issues or some other uncontrollable factor.
Mattingly’s probably gone, but he doesn’t deserve it. For those thinking that $300MM should solve all problems, they need to look at where huge chunks of that money went. Brian Wilson. Matt Kemp. Dan Haren. Guys who are playing elsewhere or are out of baseball. This year was Salary Hell for the Dodgers. Next year, the Matt Kemp obligation drops from $18.5MM to $3.5MM. Wilson’s $10MM goes off the books. Haren’s $10MM and Brandon League’s $9.5MM….gone.
And that $24MM that they were going to pay Greinke is out there too if he does, in fact, opt out.
They almost got away with it in the Division Series, relying on Greinke and Kershaw to drive them home. They lost 3-2 in a winner-take-all GM 5 started by Greinke.
But this team wasn’t built for a deep October run. They would have ended up with Anderson facing Jon Lester, Alex Wood matching up with Jake Arrietta, or some other disastrous scenario. How many homers would the Blue Jays hit off of this Dodgers staff? How many runs would the Royals score? It wasn’t going to work.
If you look at the Mets and Cubs, they’re not top-heavy. They are complete teams. The Dodgers need to build their roster to be as solid, top to bottom, and they already have a lot of the key pieces needed. Maybe Pederson can hit at the big league level, maybe he can’t, but a middle infield of Corey Seager and Jose Peraza would be brilliant defensively, adequate at the very least offensively, and very cheap.
How do they spend the money on pitching? David Price? A few solid contributors to start and to come out of the bullpen? If they do it right, they have more than enough money to spend. It’s the decision-making that is crucial. They all but have to trade Puig. That has to bring a pitcher with value. It’s not going to bring somebody as spectacular as the jewel of free agency, Price. But it has to be somebody who will be solid.
Brandon McCarthy should be back, whatever that’s worth. He came to the Dodgers off of a 200-inning season. They could use that.
So, it appears that the Dodgers will reload this offseason and they have the resources that few other teams have or are willing to part with, namely huge money. They don’t need a staff ace, they have Clayton Kershaw. They don’t need a closer, they have Kenley Jansen. Those are great pieces to have in place.
If they build smart, it would be a shame for Mattingly to not be around for it.