LOS ANGELES — Here’s the thing about the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ offseason, which may or may not have concluded with Thursday’s notable-yet-uninspiring A.J. Pollock signing: They probably didn’t get better, but they definitely didn’t need to.
The Dodgers, coming off back-to-back World Series losses, have chosen the pragmatic route, which shouldn’t surprise anybody who has followed the career of Andrew Friedman, their president of baseball operations.
Instead of chasing a once-in-a-generation star in Bryce Harper, a 26-year-old with considerable greatness ahead of him, the Dodgers shifted to the next tier of free agency, acquiring a 31-year-old center fielder who provides balance to their lineup and relief to their payroll. In agreeing with Pollock, the Dodgers went conservative, capitalizing on the inadequate rosters that make up the rest of their division. And they chose, most of all, to remain below the luxury-tax threshold.
Like it or not, this is who the Dodgers are.
Every year, it seems, agents put the Dodgers into the mix for all of the best players, and fans inevitably get excited only to be let down when the acquisitions are slightly less glamorous than expected. Under this regime, the Dodgers won’t tie an inordinate percentage of their payroll to one player. They won’t concern themselves with capturing offseason headlines. And they won’t mortgage their future for one season.
They were all pipe dreams.
This, now, is reality: Outfielders Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, sent to the Cincinnati Reds to save money and relieve redundancies, have essentially been replaced by Pollock and top prospect Alex Verdugo, who finally has a path to the big leagues; Machado has been replaced by young shortstop Corey Seager, a 24-year-old two-time All-Star who is near the end of his recovery from Tommy John surgery; catcher Yasmani Grandal has been replaced by Russell Martin, a lesser player at this stage of his career; and starting pitcher Alex Wood, who also went to the Reds, has been replaced by late-game reliever Joe Kelly, a swap that alleviated a surplus and addressed a need.
Steamer projects the five players who left to combine for 12.5 FanGraphs wins above replacement in 2019, all while costing their new teams more than $80 million. The five players the Dodgers will replace them with project for 11 WAR, but will cost a quarter of that price.
Pollock has relatively even left/right splits throughout his career, which probably means he’ll be one of four fixtures in the Dodgers’ lineup, along with Seager, third baseman Justin Turner and first baseman Cody Bellinger, who may provide some help in the outfield corners. Against lefties, the Dodgers can use David Freese at first base, Enrique Hernandez at second, Chris Taylor in left field and Bellinger, an above-average center fielder, in right. Against righties, it can be Bellinger at first base, Max Muncy at second, Joc Pederson in left field and Verdugo in right.
Pollock’s deal — a five-year, $60 million contract for purposes of the luxury-tax threshold, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan — carries considerable risk when considering the injuries that have limited him to 237 games over the past three seasons. Pollock batted .315/.367/.498 during a breakout season in 2015, but his slash line dipped to .261/.323/.473 thereafter.
His signing pushes the Dodgers right up against the $206 million luxury tax threshold for 2019, which might signal this as their final significant addition of the winter. Perhaps a trade for Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto or Cleveland Indians ace Corey Kluber can still be worked out. But the likelihood of such moves is always slim, even for organizations as thoroughly deep as the Dodgers.
At worst, the Dodgers have flexibility in their lineup, depth in their rotation and promise in their bullpen, all of which should lead to 90-plus wins and a division title for the seventh consecutive season.
Their fans will have to settle for that.