2017 Fantasy Baseball: Los Angeles Dodgers Team Preview
The Los Angeles Dodgers have had a pretty busy offseason thus far; but, when you’re coming off of four consecutive 90-plus-win seasons and four straight division titles, your offseason probably consists of a lot of housekeeping tasks. President of Baseball Ops, Andrew Friedman, and his front office team got things started early by dealing veteran Howie Kendrick to the Phillies in order to clear up some payroll and roster space.
Next, the club turned its focus to resigning three of their biggest free agents Rich Hill, Justin Turner, and Kenley Jansen. Hill signed a three-year, $48 million deal in early December, and Turner followed suit a little closer to Christmas with a four year, $64 million deal. The next domino to fall for the Dodgers was Jansen, who inked a record contract for a closer worth $80 million over five years.
LA spent a lot of money retaining some of their key contributors; however, the club also filled a void at second base by trading pitching prospect Jose De Leon to the Tampa Bay Rays for super utility man, Logan Forsythe. Forsythe, who hit a career high 20 homers last year, will play mostly second base for the Dodgers, but should provide the team with some extra versatility as well.
Forsythe will slide right into the lead-off spot in place of the departed Kendrick, and Andrew Toles will take the everyday job in left field to start the season. The Dodgers also have Trace Thompson, Andre Ethier, Enrique Hernandez, and Scott Van Slyke who can all see some at-bats as outfielders.
2B Logan Forsythe
SS Corey Seager
3B Justin Turner
RF Yasiel Puig
CF Joc Pederson
LF Andrew Toles
The Dodgers plan to use four lefties in their starting rotation again in 2017. Some concerns with this particular strategy arose last offseason after the club signed Scott Kazmir to a three-year deal, but having too many lefties did not prove to be the problem in LA; the issue was health. Much like the Mets last year, the Dodgers pitching staff was completely ravaged by injuries as Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Brandon McCarthy, Brett Anderson, Alex Wood, and Hyun-Jun Ryu all missed time with varying DL stints. All of the aforementioned arms will returning this coming season, which gives manager Dave Roberts some much needed pitching depth.
LHP Clayton Kershaw
RHP Kenta Maeda
LHP Rich Hill
LHP Julio Urias
LHP Scott Kazmir
TOP DRAFT PICKS (STUDS)
Being that the Dodgers have objectively the best starting pitcher, closer, and shortstop in the National League, their top draft picks for 2017 are fairly obvious. I’ll get to Jensen a little later in this article, so we’ll focus on Kershaw and Corey Seager for right now.
Kershaw has been the best pitcher on planet Earth since 2011 (not hyperbole) and is the only pitcher I’d consider drafting first overall. Now, I’m sure you’re well aware of Kershaw’s prowess on the mound by now so I don’t want to bore you with too many stats; but for the sake of context, here are a few to support that “first overall” claim: In the last three years alone, Kershaw has won an MVP and Cy Young in the same season by leading the league in wins, ERA, FIP, WHIP, and complete games; he became the first pitcher to strikeout over 300 batters in a season since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002; and he racked up a 6.5 WAR in a season he was 13 starts shy of his career average.
As for Seager, I can’t stop thinking that this is the second coming of Cal Ripken Jr. Seager won the National League Rookie of the Year unanimously in 2016 and finished in third place in the MVP voting as well. He slashed .308/.365./.512 in 687 plate appearances and finished in the 10-top in the NL in hits, run, and wRC+. He’s got unbelievable poise for a 22 year-old and will only continue to get better as time goes on.
HIGH CEILING (SLEEPERS)
Kershaw and Seager are slam-dunk first round picks for this season, but the Dodgers balanced roster offers some fantasy value as well. Joc Pederson may not be as comparable to Mike Trout as we thought he was when he first came up in 2015, but he’s actually pretty damn good when you look at the numbers. Pederson’s .847 OPS last season (as well as his 129 wRC+) was well above league average, and his 3.6 WAR is even more impressive considering he’s used in a platoon. His dramatic splits will likely keep him in that role for 2017; but even so, his .246/.352/.495 slashline was better than several of his National League counterparts who were elected to the All-Star team including that of Bryce Harper.
LOW FLOOR (BUSTS)
One Dodger position player to stay away from in this year’s draft is Adrian Gonzalez. A-Gon was a perpetual 30 and 100, sweet-swinging first baseman in his prime; but at this point in his career, his once All-star bat is quickly trending towards league-average. Gonzalez saw his slugging percentage drop 45 points from .480 to .435 in 2016. He’s begun swinging at a lot more off-speed pitches, which coupled with the decline in power, makes me think that his bat may be starting to slow.
Most importantly, however, is that A-Gon’s game hasn’t evolved with the rest of baseball. The totality of a player’s skillset is much more important in today’s MLB landscape than it was when Gonzalez debuted in 2004, and his value has taken a major hit because if it. A-Gon still drove in 90 runs last year thanks to the tremendous talent ahead of him in the lineup, but the fact that he only scored 69 runs of his own is pretty telling. This, along with A-Gon’s declining 8.7% walk-rate, makes me think he’s changing his approach to try and drive in those runs rather than looking for pitches to really drive. 90 RBI is still a great mark, but with a 112 wRC+ and 1.3 WAR, it makes me wonder just how much those RBI are truly worth.
Now, getting back to the closer situation in LA, the Dodgers have a really great one here, and he’s coming off of his best season as a professional yet. Kenley Jansen etched a career-high 47 saves in 2016 and posted some other gudey numbers for a closer including a 13.63 K/9, 5.6% HR/FB, 1.83 ERA, and 1.44 FIP. Jansen accomplished this by employing the Mariano Rivera method, in which he primarily threw different variations of his cutter. This should help Jansen maintain his consistency as he heads into his age 29 season.
IMPACT MINOR LEAGUERS
Even after dealing De Leon to the Rays, the Dodgers still have assets in their minor league system and prospects knocking on the door of the show. Top-3 prospects Cody Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, and Willie Calhoun will all begin the year in Triple-A, but Bellinger seems most likely to make an impact at the big league level in 2017. He has a smooth lefty swing, an advanced approach at the plate, and a build that will allow him to keep adding power as he matures. Bellinger has taken big steps in the last two seasons as well, exploding for 30 homers in High-A in 2015 and blasting another 26 between Double and Triple-A last season. Not only is the bat there for Bellinger, but he also rates out at a plus defender at first base and even played 21 games in centerfield with the Rancho Cucamonga Quakes in 2015. If he continues hitting, we could see Bellinger make his way into the Dodgers lineup late in the year.