COMMENTARY | After fielding the most expensive baseball team on the planet, dominating the sports pages for most of the year, and winning their first division crown since 2009, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back to being one of the premier brands in all of sports.
But with the team's World Series drought now at 25 years and counting, can 2013 be considered a success year for the franchise?
If you believe that a team with a $223 million payroll comes with a championship-or-bust label attached to it, then the Dodgers obviously failed. However, an objective review of L.A.'s accomplishments reveals an organization with a lot to be proud of.
Let's briefly look back at the key events and transactions that occurred prior to, during and after the 2013 season to break down how the Dodgers made this a successful year:
Preseason and Spring Training
Following a series of in-season trades and free-agent signings, the Dodgers began 2013 as one of the favorites to reach the World Series. With most of the roster set before New Year's Day, Los Angeles made just three under-the-radar signings before spring training began, but all three proved to be key to the team's success.
In January, the Dodgers signed free agent lefty J.P. Howell and right-hander Ronald Belisario to bolster the bullpen. They also re-signed catcher A.J. Ellis, who proved to be a cost-effective solution at catcher.
Los Angeles entered the spring with injury concerns surrounding key veterans such as Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Kenley Jansen, Ted Lilly and Chad Billingsley. And the news got worse when shortstop Hanley Ramirez fractured his thumb during the championship game of the World Baseball Classic, costing him the first six weeks of the 2013 season.
The injury news wasn't all bad, however, as the health of Kemp and Crawford encouraged the Dodgers to take an extended look at Yasiel Puig. Puig responded with an incredible spring that helped expedite his call up to the majors during the season (more on that later).
Despite the precarious health of some of their star players, the Dodgers ended spring training listed at 9:1 odds to win the World Series, slightly behind the Washington Nationals (7:1), Detroit Tigers (8:1) and Toronto Blue Jays (8:1), and, fittingly, tied with the Los Angeles Angels.
Of course, revisionist history shows us that the Dodgers fared better than all but one of those four teams, with the Tigers also losing in their league's championship series.
Regular Season and Postseason
The Dodgers were decimated by injuries all season, losing players that were expected to be major contributors for nearly all (Billingsley, Lilly and Josh Beckett) or significant parts of the season (Kemp, Ramirez and Crawford). Those games lost played a large roll in L.A.'s 20-32 start, but the Dodgers rebounded to have about as successful a regular season campaign as one could expect.
They won 92 games and finished atop the National League West for the first time since 2009.
Los Angeles hoped to end their championship drought during the 25-year anniversary of their last World Series title in 1988, but it was not meant to be. The St. Louis Cardinals eliminated the Dodgers from the National League Championship Series in six games.
The Dodgers were clearly able to achieve their goal of contending for championships at the major league level. But in order to maintain that success over the long haul, Los Angeles must rebuild a minor league system that had become one of the worst in baseball during the Frank McCourt era.
Having gone heavy on high-upside, high-school-aged talent in 2012, the Dodgers seemed to turn their attention to players who were closer to reaching the major leagues during their 2013 draft. Los Angeles used each of its first three picks on a college player, and only six of its first 28 selections were players with no college playing experience.
Once Guggenheim Baseball Management took control of the Dodgers in the spring of 2012, management spared no expense while significantly upgrading the team's major league talent. General manager Ned Colletti was allowed to complete several major trades and free agent signings, transforming Los Angeles into a World Series contender by the end of the 2013 season.
With premier talents like Ramirez, Beckett, Crawford , Adrian Gonzalez and Zack Greinke already in the fold, the Dodgers entered this offseason with very few holes to fill. Combined with one of the shallowest free agent pools in recent memory, Los Angeles chose to forgo the sexy signings in favor of the more prudent moves.
Instead of adding former New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano to their already star-studded lineup, the Dodgers signed 26-year-old Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract to take over the position.
Although Ricky Nolasco was a key contributor to Los Angeles' run to the postseason, the team declined to re-sign him to a multi-year deal. The Dodgers instead chose to sign former Washington Nationals right-hander Dan Haren to a one-year, $10 million contract.
The team opted to re-sign two of its own free agents with its most recent transactions. The Dodgers reinforced their bullpen by re-signing Brian Wilson to a one-year, $10 million deal that includes a team option for 2015. Los Angeles also addressed its temporary void at third base by re-signing Juan Uribe two a reported two-year, $15 million contract.
The Dodgers' best move this offseason may be their decision not to trade one of their high-priced outfielders, despite speculation prior to the Winter Meetings that Los Angeles might look to do so. The Dodgers were able to endure Kemp's absence in 2013 because of the availability of Andre Ethier, Crawford and Puig, and that depth may again be a big part of the team's success in 2014.
Geoff Ratliff is an MLB and fantasy baseball enthusiast and a former Featured Columnist for the Los Angeles Dodgers for Bleacher Report. He is also the co-host of the baseball podcast Pop Fly Boys and COO Fantasy Sports Warehouse.
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