Since Andrew Friedman took over as the Dodgers' President of Baseball Operations, the Dodgers have been fascinating to watch, at least from a front office standpoint. At last year's Winter Meetings, the Dodgers seemed to be involved in every trade that took place, and they have not slowed down since then. In the last six months alone, they have been involved in two massive three-team trades.
There appears to be growing frustration in Los Angeles, though, especially with the Dodgers' early exit from the postseason and the team's lack of impact moves this offseason. Zack Greinke opted out of his contract and signed with the Diamondbacks, even though the Dodgers have the ability to outspend every other team in baseball. The Dodgers also had seemingly done deals for Aroldis Chapman and Hisashi Iwakuma fall through (although the team does appear to have good reasons for not going through with these deals). After Clayton Kershaw, the Dodgers have a rotation full of question marks, and they have seen three of the best free agent starters sign with their division rivals.
Despite everything that has happened this offseason, the Dodgers are in a better position than ever to compete in 2016 and beyond as a result of some of the moves made by Andrew Friedman and company over the last year. Looking ahead to 2016, the Dodgers are in an excellent position to win the NL West title for the fourth year in a row. At this point in time, FanGraphs depth charts have the Dodgers at 47.6 WAR, which roughly equates to a 95-win team. This total is the second-best in all of baseball behind only the Cubs (51.8 WAR), and it puts them eight games in front of the Giants and 16 games in front of the Diamondbacks. One could argue that the Dodgers do not need to make any moves in order to feel good about their chances of making the playoffs next year, but they will likely strengthen their position even further by filling one of the spots in their rotation between now and Opening Day.
The Dodgers look even more imposing, though, when you look at their long-term outlook, both in terms of young talent and money coming off the books in the next couple of years. The Dodgers have a core of elite position players in Corey Seager, Joc Pederson, and Yasiel Puig, and these players are cost-controlled and under team control for multiple years. An argument can be made that Yasmani Grandal should be included in this group, as he was quietly one of the best catchers in baseball this season when his pitch framing value is included. He is under team control for at least another three years.
The Dodgers also have one of the best farm systems in all of baseball, despite the fact that they have been drafting at the back end of the first round for several years now. The Dodgers' system was a consensus top-three system after the trade deadline, and their system is still loaded despite losing Corey Seager to the major league team. They are especially deep in pitching talent, with elite arms like Julio Urias, Jose De Leon, Grant Holmes, and Walker Buehler headlining a system that is strong from top to bottom. Their system also figures to be good for years to come, especially in international talent. The Dodgers spent big in the international market this summer, signing the top two players available and six of the top 50 overall (according to Kiley McDaniel's rankings).
Looking at the Dodgers' payroll, it appears that the team will have enormous financial flexibility in the coming years, as costly veterans like Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, and Adrian Gonzalez will be gone within the next 2-3 years. In fact, the Dodgers have no payroll commitments beyond 2018, assuming Clayton Kershaw exercises his opt out after that season. This will enable the Dodgers to spend big on a potentially historic class of free agents that offseason, with names like Bryce Harper, Manny Machado, and Jose Fernandez set to be available.
At this point, it is hard not to envy the Dodgers and their current situation, and the moves made by Andrew Friedman have only strengthened their presence as one of the best teams both in the present and in the future. In general, the moves made by the current Dodgers' regime have involved adding young talent without hurting the team's ability to contend in the present. For example, the Dodgers managed to get rid of Matt Kemp while he still had value, getting Yasmani Grandal, Zack Eflin, and Joe Wieland in return. (Eflin was then flipped for Jimmy Rollins.) The Dodgers made another fascinating move at this year's trade deadline when they basically ate money in order to acquire talented young starter Alex Wood and prospect Jose Peraza from the Braves.
Even when they have traded young cost-controlled talent, they have managed to get more young cost-controlled talent in return. For example, they flipped Dee Gordon to the Marlins in exchange for Andrew Heaney, Enrique Hernandez, Chris Hatcher, and Austin Barnes. (They subsequently traded Heaney to the Angels to acquire a different starting second baseman in Howie Kendrick.) Hernandez proved to be a valuable part-time player for the Dodgers in his first full season, while Hatcher posted solid numbers out of the bullpen. Barnes should not be forgotten either, as he projects to be a potentially above average hitter at the catcher position.
Andrew Friedman has made the Dodgers an even scarier team long-term because he understands how to value young talent. Eating the salaries of Bronson Arroyo and Michael Morse may be a weird thing to do in order to acquire Alex Wood and Jose Peraza, but it is more cost-effective than paying full market value for players in free agency. Friedman has also shied away from trading top prospects for short-term gains, and so far these moves have worked out well. While many expected the Dodgers to acquire a David Price or a Cole Hamels at the deadline, they opted to hang on to their top young players, including key contributors like Joc Pederson and Corey Seager. As it turned out, the Dodgers did not end up needing a big deadline acquisition to win their division.
Amidst all the craziness of the Dodgers' complicated moves, there appears to be a clear organizational plan that involves winning in the present without hurting the team's ability to do so in the future. The Dodgers are attempting to win a World Series by reaching October as many times as possible, and given the unpredictable nature of October, this may be a wise strategy. They are also managing to succeed in this strategy in a more efficient and cost-effective way, which could pay dividends down the road, especially if the team can get under the luxury tax threshold for at least one year. Even with their relatively quiet offseason, the Dodgers are in an excellent position moving forward, and I fully expect them to continue to dominate the NL West for years to come.