Expectations are different now, and Los Angeles Dodgers President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman better know it. There is no patience for a rebuild of any kind under the bright Hollywood lights, and every move—each decision—will be scrutinized, examined and dissected underneath the microscope. Now with more flexibility and decision-making power than he’s had heretofore since taking over the controls, the biggest offseason of Friedman’s MLB career has officially arrived.
Paying an unfathomable, staggering $87.5 million to players like Brian Wilson, Brandon League and Chad Billingsley not to put on the Dodgers uniform last season, Friedman now heads toward December without Zack Greinke under contract and very little guaranteed behind Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers also have a giant hole at second base and an outfield with nothing but question marks. The bullpen has been an issue since long before Friedman’s arrival, but he’s going to have to fix that, as well. Picking quantity over quality and choosing price points instead of talent hoping something will click is not the approach that’s going to win anything in Los Angeles—especially not the endorsement of a rabid fan base that is desperate to see the restoration of a historic Dodgers brand.
After running Don Mattingly out of the dugout so he could chase his own man, Friedman is under a mountain of pressure to correctly identify the next man in charge. Friedman hired Joe Maddon, a manager who redefined success and has transformed the mold for what is valued in the position. Fair or not, that’s going to be the standard to which he and the Dodgers are held. Unfortunately, that’s just going to cross off the first item on a lengthy to-do list.
On the player side, it begins with Greinke’s free-agent decision, but this is not a Dodgers team that can afford to navigate its universe around a self-centered sun. Greinke’s choice should be a selfish one, but Los Angeles is more than just one player away. Even if the two sides wind up concluding the courtship in reunion, both Greinke and the Dodgers are operating concurrently on separate planes.
The rotation behind Clayton Kershaw consists of Brett Andrson, a pitcher with plenty still to prove after accepting a one-year qualifying contract offer, and Hyun-Jin Ryu, who nobody knows how to project after major shoulder surgery resulted in him missing the entire 2015 campaign. After that? Even prettier with Alex Wood and Mike Bolsinger, and while the club will also get Brandon McCarthy back next summer after Tommy John surgery, it’s beyond obvious that this is a staff in need of major help.
Half of the starting infield has already gone under the knife this offseason. Justin Turner’s knee needed microfracture surgery, Kike Hernandez required a shoulder clean out and Yasmani Grandal underwent the same procedure. Joc Pederson rode an electric hot start to All-Star Rookie of the Year favorite before devolving into less than a platoon player in the season’s second half, Yasiel Puig couldn’t even show a flash of thunder after previously lighting up the league and the Andre Ethier-Carl Crawford platoon is a $40 million disappointment. Even Friedman has admitted to the problems his team has, and the hardest part about finding a solution is the absence of a clear answer.
“You look back over time and so many long-term free-agent contracts have worked out really poorly,” Friedman said. “More than anything else, you get to a point where you’re significantly hindering your ability to win in the future.”
That’s what Friedman told reporters when explaining the Dodgers’ approach in free agency, and it’s hard to understand that considering the position he’s in. It’s not that Friedman is wrong, but this is a franchise that just paid nearly $90 million to have the privilege of telling players to go away. The Dodgers have the bankroll to build a competitive advantage. You can’t walk both sides of that line and pretend not to fall off balance.
If Friedman concludes the offseason with the wrong guy in charge, without Greinke and failing to address the clear needs described, patience will be tested, loyalties will be tried and the young executive will have plenty of unfamiliar questions to answer.