COMMENTARY | MLB's hot stove was burning during last week's Winter Meetings in Orlando, as it often does during this time of the year.
But the Los Angeles Dodgers were noticeably inactive during the offseason's busiest period, and they'll be better off for it once the season begins.
The Dodgers have been anything but frugal since Guggenheim Baseball Management took control of the team in the spring of 2012, so it was natural to assume that they'd be major players in this year's free-agent market. But those who follow the team closely know that outspending the competition every offseason was never part of the team's long-term strategy.
Team president Stan Kasten made it clear early on that in order to create a sustainable model of success, Los Angeles must excel at scouting, drafting and developing talent, both domestically and in the international markets. The Dodgers were once among the premier organizations in baseball in these areas, but had become one of the worst during the Frank McCourt era, largely due to the former owner's refusal to give his scouting department sufficient financial support.
After missing the postseason in 2010 and 2011, Los Angeles spent lavishly to build a team that could contend right away. General manager Ned Colletti was given the green light to aggressively pursue trades and bring in free agents that would immediately improve the on-field product, and he did exactly that.
By the time the 2012 trade deadline had passed, the Dodgers had acquired shortstop Hanley Ramirez from the Miami Marlins and completed the largest trade in MLB history (in terms of player salaries), acquiring Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford from the Boston Red Sox.
Los Angeles capped off its spending spree by signing last year's top free-agent pitcher, right-hander Zack Greinke, to a six-year, $147 million contract.
The Dodgers missed the playoffs in 2012, but their short-term plan paid off in 2013. Los Angeles won its first NL West division title since 2009 and advanced to the National league Championship Series, falling to the St. Louis Cardinals in six games.
Though 2013 was an overall success, the Dodgers' World Series drought still stands at 25 years and counting. Despite failing to bring home the ultimate prize, the Dodgers are well-positioned to contend for the foreseeable future, which allowed the team to be judicious when approaching free agency this offseason.
Los Angeles could have doubled-down on its spending spree and gone all out to sign former New York Yankees second baseman Robinson Cano. Instead, the Dodgers took a more prudent approach to filling their vacancy at second -- created when they declined the 2014 option on Mark Ellis -- by signing 26-year-old Cuban infielder Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract.
The Dodgers could have also chosen to re-sign Ricky Nolasco -- who they acquired from the Marlins via trade last summer -- to a multi-year contract. The Los Angeles-area native pitched extremely well for the Dodgers during the second half, positioning himself for a substantial long-term deal this offseason.
The Minnesota Twins rewarded Nolasco with a four-year, $49 million contract, while the Dodgers signed former Washington Nationals right-hander Dan Haren -- another Southern California Native -- to a more team-friendly one-year, $10 million contract (the deal could be worth as much as $13 million with incentives).
The Dodgers also retained some insurance in their bullpen by re-signing Brian Wilson to a one-year, $10 million deal with an option for 2015 that could reach another $10 million, based on 2014 appearances.
While all of these transactions happened before last week's Winter Meetings got underway, the biggest offseason move could be the one the Dodgers didn't make.
During a meeting last Wednesday with Matt Kemp's agent, former major league pitcher Dave Stewart, the team stated that it had no intentions of trading the two-time All-Star. Los Angeles also failed to trade Andre Ethier or Yasiel Puig despite speculation that the team was looking to move one of its high-priced outfielders this offseason.
There's still plenty of time for a deal to take place before next spring, but the Dodgers appear more likely to maintain their depth in the outfield. Given the recent injury histories of Kemp and Crawford, and Puig's apparent disregard for his own safety, that's probably a wise decision.
After the Winter Meetings ended, the Dodgers addressed their last remaining need by re-signing free-agent third baseman Juan Uribe two a reported two-year, $15 million contract. Third base was perhaps the weakest position among available free agents heading into the offseason, so Los Angeles was wise to retain Uribe as a short-term answer at the hot corner.
He performed poorly during his first two years in Los Angeles. However, Uribe had a surprisingly strong bounce-back year at the plate and in the field, along with serving as a mentor to Puig.
Top prospect Corey Seager may be ready to take over third base as early as 2015, so a two-year deal for Uribe provides an ideal bridge for the Dodgers. Although the 2012 first-round pick is currently playing shortstop in the minor leagues, his 6-foot-4-inch, 215-pound frame may necessitate a move to the hot corner, particularly since, at just 19 years old, he is still filling out.
The Dodgers' relative lack of activity this offseason serves as further evidence that Kasten and his management team are serious about building a long-term winner in Los Angeles. If they stick to the plan, Dodgers fans could be smiling for a mighty long time.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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