The Batter’s Box: Off-season blues?


A packed Dodger Stadium at night. Photo by Chris Yarzab.

For many Golden Eagle Dodger fans, it was an off-season of heartbreak.

Longtime Dodger mainstays and exciting superstars bid farewell to manager Dave Roberts’ club. Fans were crushed to see their favorites flee, making many Golden Eagles feel like empty nesters.

Four notable departures gave the Dodgers the reputation as this year’s team to pillage: center fielder Cody Bellinger, third baseman Justin Turner, starting pitcher Tyler Anderson and shortstop Trea Turner.

Even more un-Dodger-ly was the front office’s seeming refusal to replace the LA icons with similar star power.

General manager Andrew Friedman has built a reputation for splash, making some of the biggest deals of the off-season every year for the past three, starting with the trade for and extension of Mookie Betts before the 2020 MLB season. He followed a 2020 World Series title with the record-breaking signing of Trevor Bauer.

Even after having to write off Bauer’s contract as a result of sexual assault allegations against him, as announced by Major League Baseball, he did not back off from his aggressive strategy.

Just last year, he snatched the beloved longtime Atlanta Brave Freddie Freeman.

Compared to the loud and proud off-seasons of yesteryear, the Boys in Blue went silent. As a result, they lost a lot. A failure, right? Let’s look deeper.

Perhaps the off-season wasn’t so terrible.

The Dodgers have fewer big names than last year, undoubtedly, and the incredible talents that left will be deeply missed, but there may be a method to the madness (or, more properly put, the sadness).

How could the Dodgers let the long-beloved Cody Bellinger walk, known so well for his fabulous defense? Possibly, it’s for just that reason. Why is he specifically known for his defense?

Since his admittedly superhuman MVP season in 2019, Bellinger has posted a batting average of .212, and, according to the all-around batting statistic OPS (on-base plus slugging percentages), he has been well below average in each of the past two seasons.

His playmaking excellence at perhaps the most important defensive position on the field made him valuable and fun to watch, but his replacement equivalent in hitting value could come from the minor leagues.

How could the Dodgers ever replace the pine tar-soaked bat of reliable veteran Justin Turner?

Maybe with All-Star J.D. Martinez. Three years younger, Martinez may have a better chance of delivering an explosive season deep into a storied career and for a slightly lower price, considering Martinez signed a one-year, $10 million deal compared to Turner’s two-year, $21 million deal.

How could the Dodgers lose Tyler Anderson to the crosstown rival Angels after his career-best season by nearly all metrics? The Dodgers signed Anderson to a one-year deal worth $8 million before last season, and he will now make $39 million over three years with the Angels because of his improvement. What made Anderson better?

It’s impossible to know for sure, but many signs point to Dodgers pitching coach Mark Prior, who has developed a reputation for helping struggling pitchers re-find their elite stuff. Coming into the season, Anderson had a career earned run average (ERA) of 4.62, significantly worse than the league average. He notched a 2.57 ERA this season to go along with an All-Star selection.

His presumed replacement is Noah Syndergaard, who the Dodgers signed on a one-year deal worth $13 million. It is a similar situation, and although Anderson was notably better than Syndergaard last year, Syndergaard’s career ERA of 3.42, along with being three years younger, make him a justifiable replacement.

Finally, how could the Dodgers possibly justify losing elite hitter and speedy fan favorite Trea Turner, especially the year after losing another superstar shortstop in Corey Seager?

Turner was a fantastic player by nearly every metric, and his departure is impossible to spin in a positive light.

Except when you look at the contract he received from the Philadelphia Phillies: Turner signed for 11 years and $300 million. The Dodgers, being one of the richest teams in baseball, could have matched or upped that amount to bring him back, but Turner’s greatest aspect is his speed, and how long can anyone remain the fastest man in baseball?

The 11-year contract will take Turner into his 40s, and having flexibility at that position may serve the Dodgers better over time.

But to many fans, it is not the supposed strategic mistakes of the off-season that upset them, but the loss of so many Dodger personalities, and, as a result, a large portion of the identity of the team.

For the past three years, the Dodgers owned the best odds of winning the World Series immediately before the season began. This season, you may need to utilize an entire hand to count the teams with more complete rosters than the Dodgers.

Still stacked, headlined by stars such as Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Julio Urias, the Dodgers are not a team to be taken lightly. But they are not a super-team chock-full of established big names excelling in all phases of the game. Rookie infielder Miguel Vargas and rookie outfielder James Outman will likely get significant playing time, along with relatively unproven players such as outfielder Trayce Thompson or starting pitcher Dustin May.

A fan base that has given Dodger Stadium the best attendance numbers 10 years running deserves a stellar product on the field. Maybe that’s just what they’ll get. In exchange for the dominance of recent years, there’s hope that the Dodgers can provide more excitement and suspense this season.

Last year (and for most of the 10 consecutive playoff seasons), there was never any doubt about winning the division (or at least about making the playoffs).

The final months were like busywork as the Dodgers un-suspensefully trudged their way to the first seed in the playoffs. This year, there are no guarantees. The division rival San Diego Padres are elite, and every month, game, and inning should feel abundantly impactful entering a season with no assurances.

An increased underdog mentality might even garner more conviction in the postseason, at least compared to the underwhelming ending in the National League Division Series last season. This year, the crowds at Chavez Ravine should be louder than ever.

Disclaimer: This story has been modified from its original printed version.