Dec 20, 2014 6:36 AM
LA Dodgers chart new course with rebuilt roster
The Associated Press
LOS ANGELES (AP) Andrew Friedman has thoroughly overhauled a 94-win team in his first two months running the Los Angeles Dodgers. None of his myriad moves made a bigger, more baffling splash than his trade of popular slugger Matt Kemp and $32 million to a division rival for what might be no more than half of a catching platoon.
When Friedman is reminded he'll be loathed in his new town if Kemp's curious departure doesn't lead to World Series success in L.A., the new president of baseball operations replies with a laugh.
"Not any more than we'll hate ourselves," Friedman said.
Friedman formed a master plan for deconstructing the Dodgers when he left parsimonious Tampa Bay to take over the highest-spending team in baseball, and his front office has been quick to implement it this winter. He has already made ample use of the Dodgers' seemingly bottomless financial resources, committing tens of millions just to get unwanted players out of town.
He might not know how his moves worked until next fall, but Friedman is confident about what will be left when the dust settles in Chavez Ravine on what he called "a frenetic offseason."
"Our overarching goal coming into the offseason was to take a very strong collective of players and do our best to mold them into a highly functioning baseball team," Friedman said, referring to the disparate Dodgers roster that didn't always jell last season. "We feel like these moves speak to that, and we're excited about the way our position group fits together, how they complement one another."
Since Friedman took over from Ned Colletti, Los Angeles has parted ways with Kemp, speedster Dee Gordon, hard-hitting Hanley Ramirez, fourth starter Dan Haren and expensive reliever Brian Wilson. The Dodgers have a new double-play combination in Howie Kendrick and Jimmy Rollins, new catcher Yasmani Grandal, right-hander Brandon McCarthy and a grab-bag of new relievers in their place, stabilizing the Dodgers' defense and addressing several possible problems from the plate to the clubhouse.
When looking at the team that lost to St. Louis in the division series last October, many Dodgers fans saw the NL West champions as a sports car in need of a polish and a tuneup. Friedman put the Dodgers on blocks and ripped out several key components, determined to get more speed and performance out of an awfully expensive machine.
The moves might confuse fans, but they're intriguing to the players they're designed to help.
"They're always moving forward, trying to get better," Kendrick said Friday. "There's always ways you can get better. That's been very cool to come into an organization that wants to improve their game.
The Dodgers are putting their money where Friedman's brain is: They're paying $32 million of the $107 million Kemp will make over the next five seasons, and they're paying Wilson and Haren roughly $10 million apiece not to pitch for them next year. They even spared a few million to pay Gordon in Miami.
"We don't want to be sort of tied down by financial obligations," new Dodgers general manager Farhan Zaidi said almost dismissively this week.
That's only possible because they're the new Dodgers, with their multibillion-dollar TV contract and ownership that desperately wants to win the franchise's first World Series since 1988.
Last season under Colletti, the Dodgers supplanted the Yankees as baseball's biggest spenders with a payroll of more than $257 million, the biggest in baseball history. The new front office already has more than $220 million committed for next season, and they're likely to rule the payroll race again.
Friedman realizes he took his greatest risk in moving Kemp for Grandal, a largely unproven catcher with a drug suspension in his history. Kemp was popular and usually productive, a homegrown hitter and one of the franchise's cornerstones.
"He was a really popular player because of how gifted he is offensively," Friedman said of Kemp. "We get it. I have a lot of respect for what he can do in the batter's box. You have to give up talent to get talent, and we felt this put us in a position to be a better baseball team. Nothing we've done in the last two months have we done lightly."
The 31-year-old Kendrick is eager to get to work with the 36-year-old Rollins as the Dodgers' new middle infield. Both players are coming from the two longest-tenured double-play combinations in the majors: Rollins and Chase Utley in Philadelphia, and Kendrick with Erick Aybar in Anaheim.
The Dodgers got Rollins to waive his no-trade clause to be a part of a run at another World Series championship. Rollins also is looking forward to assuming a leadership role with the Dodgers, whose clubhouse chemistry seemed quite suspect at times last season.
"I've had successes, I've had failures," Rollins said. "I have a lot that I can provide. When people have questions, hopefully I can have answers. If things start going a little crazy, I could bring a little stability. ... That'll probably be my job, to be the glue and make sure everything works."