Winter Meetings Update: Dodgers Trades Strengthen the Middle
The Los Angeles Dodgers have been quite busy this week. New GM Andrew Friedman has carved up the Winter Meetings and reshaped his now slightly less pricey roster. David Wiers wrote up the fantasy spin Matt Kemp’s departure, the highest profile piece of the Dodgers’ reshuffling, and Scott Barzilla handled the fantasy fortunes of LA’s primary trading partner, the Miami Marlins. Here, we’ll focus on the impact to the middle of the Dodgers defense, which is now stocked with four new starters.
Jimmy Rollins | SS
In a move that’s got a little “Ray Borque on the Avalanche” vibe to it, Rollins completes a total turnover of the middle infield in LA. It’s a bit of a demotion
I haven’t found a clear statement either way, but I’ll assume that Rollins will either lead off or hit second for the Dodgers. Yasiel Puig’s .382 is the best returning OBP for a Dodgers regular, and I doubt Don Mattingly will want his best hitter at the top of the order. It’ll likely either be Rollins, Carl Crawford, or Kendrick; I’ll give J-Roll the benefit of the doubt as the experienced veteran. Assuming he’s at the head of that offense, he’ll be in a great position to score 80-plus runs, something he hasn’t done since 2012.
Don’t expect much change in his batting average though. It’ll be a success if he can reach .250, but that seems unlikely with his strikeout rate on a five-year climb to last year’s career-worst 16.4% mark. Rollins will run because he’s always run; 20 steals is a pretty safe bet.
The big question with him is going to be the power. The 17 bombs Rollins popped last season was his best total since 2009, but it’s likely to be his last hurrah as viable power source. His homers averaged only 367 feet; nobody in baseball hit more homers with as short an average distance. Brian McCann comes closest, but he was able to feast on Yankee Stadium’s short porch. Rollins won’t be so lucky in his new digs.
He’ll be a fine option for fantasy, just don’t count on the power. His 2013 season is a better benchmark, with a bit of extra run production mixed in.
Verdict: Take ‘er easy
Howie Kendrick | 2B
Kendrick won’t move far as he slides in from Anaheim to replace the departed Dee Gordon at second base. He brings a different profile to the middle infield, but his on base skills and balanced blend of power and speed will be an excellent addition to the Dodgers lineup.
Kendrick had a terrific season in 2014, slashing .293/.347/.397, swatting seven homers, and swiping 14 bags. The counting stats are solid for a middle infielder and his batting average, as always, was excellent. Batting average is a notoriously difficult stat to project, but Kendrick’s been about as consistent as anybody in baseball in that department. Since breaking into the league in 2007, he’s never hit worse than .279.
You worry a bit that the hand-eye skills might wane with age, which is why it’s really encouraging to see the improvements in Kendrick’s ability to control the strike zone. His walk rate spiked to a career high level and his contact rate was his best mark since 2010. He also curtailed some free swinging tendencies that started to develop back in 2013.
Spinning it forward to the other team in LA, fantasy owners can expect more of the same from Kendrick as a Dodger. He’ll still get on base a ton and likely hit near the top of another very productive lineup. Even without Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp, and Dee Gordon, the Dodgers still feature one of the better offenses in the National League. You can look forward to solid R and RBI totals, as well as a good chance at a slight uptick in home runs. Neither of LA’s parks are particularly hitter-friendly, but Dodger Stadium has profiled as a top ten park for home runs in two of the last three seasons, per ESPN Park Factors. If Kendrick’s ground ball rate drops back down to his career norm, expect at least double digit dingers in 2015.
Joc Pederson | CF
After being seemingly boxed out of the LA outfield, the Matt Kemp trade has thrust the Dodgers’ most MLB-ready prospect into the starting job in centerfield. There’s no question that Pederson has the ability to handle things defensively from the jump, but let’s suppress our collective enthusiasm a bit on his ability to contribute at the plate. He’s toolsy as hell, but his minor league numbers are inflated by his hitter-friendly surroundings in Albuquerque. The batting average isn’t going to come along right away, but his athleticism can translate into immediate contributions in power and speed.
I’m thinking of him like a younger, more interesting version of Will Venable. He could certainly be more, but it’s not safe to count on more than a Northern Venable.
Verdict: Pump the brakes
Yasmani Grandal | C
Grandal was likely brought in for his receiving skills, but unless your league has progress to the point where it scores framing runs, we’re mostly interested in his offensive contributions. It is worth noting, though, that Grandal scores out much better than A.J. Ellis as a pitch framer, which could be a nice boost for Zack Greinke, Brandon McCarthy, and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
Offensively, Grandal actually looks quite a bit like Ellis, with an outstanding walk rate propping up a frightfully poor batting average. Grandal does, however, bring some power to the table. Well, more than some; he finished eighth in baseball in average fly ball distance last season, despite hitting in the sea-soaked air of San Diego.
At a position without a ton of sure-thing fantasy options, Grandal provides a good deal of upside. He’s flashed a solid power stroke in both the minors and majors, and he only just turned 26 years old. Steamer isn’t as optimistic, but I could absolutely see him slugging 20 homers, given a full season’s worth of playing time.