By Mark FABRICK
Baseball’s annual winter meetings concluded last week in San Diego, and few teams made as much noise as the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Dodgers upgraded their defense and positional depth as well as their long-term financial flexibility; however, they traded away two prominent fan favorites in Matt Kemp and Dee Gordon.
The first domino fell on Wednesday when it was announced that the Dodgers had acquired Philadelphia Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins. The Dodgers had been in the market for a shortstop since the departure of Hanley Ramirez so this move didn’t come as much of a shock. Rollins is signed for one more year at $11 million.
The 36-year old Rollins brings a career line of .267/.327/.424 and four gold gloves with him after spending all of his 14-year career with Philadelphia. Rollins is a defensive upgrade over Ramirez and he has an all-business attitude when it comes to baseball, in stark contrast to the sometimes playful, sometimes moody, Ramirez. Rollins is also a nice stopgap, as the team views uber-prospect Corey Seager as the shortstop of the future. Seager is not yet 21 and could still probably use another year in the minors.
The Dodgers flipped all-star second baseman Dee Gordon and pitcher Dan Haren to the Miami Marlins later Wednesday for a package of players headed by pitching prospect Andrew Heaney. Heaney’s stint in Dodger blue didn’t last long when the team shipped him down the freeway to the Angels the same evening for their all-star second baseman Howie Kendrick.
Gordon’s speed on the base paths is on a whole other level, but Kendrick is superior to Gordon in every other facet of the game of baseball. Gordon’s career batting line is .272/.314/.345, Kendrick rocks a .292/.332/.424 career line. Kendrick also provides a modest defensive upgrade over the rangy, but sometimes shaky Gordon.
However, the most shocking move was yet to come. The Dodgers sent star outfielder Matt Kemp to the division rival San Diego Padres in a deal that was announced before most people had even woken up early last Thursday morning. It was tough for Dodgers fans to come to grips with this move.
Kemp has spent his entire nine-year career with the Dodgers. He is a two time all-star and almost won the MVP in 2011 when he was arguably the best player in the game. Kemp regained his power stroke during the second half of last season, but his defense has declined over the past couple of years due to several serious injuries he’s suffered and Kemp grumbled about being moved from center field.
In return for Kemp the Dodgers received talented, but troubled, catcher Yasmani Grandal and two pitching prospects, one of whom will go to Philadelphia in the Rollins deal. Grandal has major offensive upside for a catcher – and he just turned 26. Grandal will likely split time with A.J. Ellis, who is the consummate club house leader. But Ellis will also turn 34 next year and is coming off a season where he dealt with tons of nagging injuries and struggled not only offensively but throwing out would-be base stealers as well.
The move also paves the way for top prospect Joc Pederson to take over in center field and for Yasiel Puig to move back to right where he is a gold-glove caliber defender. The organization is high on Pederson and it’s clear they want him to get the opportunity to play. The outfield had a major logjam and the problem was not going to go away. Trading away Kemp hurts, but he also gets the biggest haul between him, Andre Ethier, and Carl Crawford. Look for the team to add another starting pitcher soon as well.
The Dodgers front office has taken on a decidedly “Moneyball” type approach to team building with the arrival of new president of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman and these moves reflect that. The Dodgers lost a major bat by trading Kemp, but their defense has been upgraded and their long-term flexibility is in a great spot.
Leave no doubt, the Dodgers are in it to win it. It will sting at first seeing Kemp in those funky beige San Diego uniforms, but to paraphrase team president Stan Kasten, fans will look past that when the Dodgers are at the top of the standings.