(We will preview one team's offseason each day leading up to the start of free agency. Now up: the Los Angeles Dodgers.)
Another "World Series or bust" season has ended in a bust for the Dodgers, and that will undoubtedly make for a busy offseason in Tinseltown.
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Although the Dodgers have made three consecutive postseason appearances for the first time in franchise history, they fell well short of their aspirations of winning their first World Series in 27 years, as they were eliminated in the NLDS for the second consecutive year.
As they strive to snap their postseason woes, president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi and the Dodgers brass will be back at the drawing board this offseason to assemble not just a championship-caliber roster but a team that will realize its championship potential.
Three things Los Angeles must address this offseason:
1. Thoroughly evaluate managerial post. Don Mattingly has been the subject of intermittent criticism during his five-year tenure with the Dodgers, but his ability to manage egos and keep his clubhouse on an even keel is often understated.
With Mattingly as manager, Los Angeles has posted a 446-363 record in five seasons and has won three consecutive NL West titles. Nonetheless, the team has fallen short of expectations in the postseason, particularly in the past two years.
In the wake of another disappointing conclusion to the season, the Dodgers front office needs to distinguish: a) how much of the team's shortcomings, if any, stem from Mattingly; b) if he would benefit from a more balanced roster; and c) who, if anyone, could do a better job as the team's skipper.
While Mattingly is under contract through 2016, he is currently on a three-year contract extension granted to him by former Dodgers GM Ned Colletti and was inherited by Friedman upon his arrival last offseason.
In general, the Dodgers' postseason woes have been a result of a shaky bullpen, poor late-inning performances by ace Clayton Kershaw, and an inconsistent offense. But Mattingly might become the scapegoatfor the team's perennial struggles.
2. Fortify the bullpen. Blame Kershaw or blame Mattingly for the Dodgers' postseason woes, but ultimately it boils down to the unreliability of the bullpen leading up to closer Kenley Jansen. In the past two seasons, the Dodgers bullpen has ranked in the bottom half of MLB in ERA during the regular season (2014: 3.80 ERA, 22nd; 2015: 3.87 ERA, 19th).
The Dodgers 'pen has hampered its World Series aspirations (2014 postseason: 6.48 ERA; 2015 postseason: 4.61 ERA) by failing to provide backup to dominant starters Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
That has been apparent in Kershaw's Game 1 starts of the NLDS in back-to-back seasons, as Mattingly was tentative to pull Kershaw despite a Cardinals rally in 2014 due to the futility of the bullpen. And Mattingly was let down by the bullpen in 2015 after having a short leash on Kershaw after he loaded the bases in the seventh inning.
While the Dodgers have a few solid relievers in Jansen, lefty J.P. Howell, and right-handers Yimi Garcia and Chris Hatcher, there are many question marks beyond them. That includes flame-thrower Pedro Baez, who has been awful in the postseason in the past two years (16.88 ERA) despite holding a 3.12 ERA during the regular season in that span.
In order for the Dodgers to make a serious run at the World Series, they'll need a sturdy bullpen in place.
3. Hold on to Greinke. Although he is under contract through 2018, there's still a chance Greinke won't be wearing Dodger blue next season, as he will reportedly exercise an opt-out clause in his contract in order to land a bigger deal.
Armed with the deepest pockets in baseball, the Dodgers would be foolish to let Greinke slip from their grip, regardless of the hefty price it'll require to lock him down following his Cy Young-caliber season in 2015.
Greinke has had three of the best seasons of his 12-year-old career with the Dodgers, posting a 51-15 record with an immaculate 2.30 ERA. The 31-year-old righty had a historic season in 2015, holding a sensational 1.66 ERA with a 19-3 record.
With Hyun-jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy expected to be healthy in 2016 after missing the 2015 season and with the potential addition of an elite starter like David Price, Johnny Cueto or Jordan Zimmermann from the free-agent market, the Dodgers will have the dominant rotation they envisioned -- and Greinke will be an important component of that equation.
If World Series is truly the goal, the Dodgers will have to keep their one-two punch in Greinke and Kershaw intact.