The Dodgers could be the biggest wild card in Las Vegas

ByAlden Gonzalez via ESPN logo
Monday, December 10, 2018

LAS VEGAS -- If they were motivated enough -- if they were bored enough -- the Los Angeles Dodgers could make the types of moves that would rattle the entire industry. They could pluck from their vaunted minor league system, or strip from a major league surplus, to acquire any of the available top-of-the-rotation starters. They could tap into their near-limitless funds and sign someone such as Bryce Harper, a 26-year-old superstar with considerable greatness ahead of him.

Or they could do nothing all winter, reconvene in the spring, and still be good enough to win 90-plus games throughout the summer.

The Dodgers enter this year's winter meetings in Vegas as their sport's greatest wild card, possessing baseball's equivalent of pocket aces while they wait for the flop. For proof, check out this potential depth chart:

Catcher: Austin Barnes, Kyle Farmer

Infield: Justin Turner, Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, David Freese

Outfield: Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Alex Verdugo

Utility: Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez

Starting pitching: Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Julio Urias

Relief pitching: Kenley Jansen, Dylan Floro, Tony Cingrani, Pedro Baez, Caleb Ferguson, Josh Fields, Scott Alexander

That's a deep outfield, a healthy infield and a robust starting rotation. The bullpen could use some work, and an every-day catcher is still necessary, but those are areas that teams can rather easily shore up in one offseason.

The Dodgers -- coming off back-to-back World Series losses, which extended their championship drought to 31 years -- are primed for big moves, if they so choose.

The most important name in all of this might be Verdugo. He's so ready to play in the major leagues that sending him down for another season of Triple-A would make him a wasted asset. But he remains blocked. The Dodgers currently have Pederson, Puig and Kemp at the corner-outfield spots, with Bellinger, Taylor and Hernandez all options in center.

They would love to get value out of Kemp, Pederson or Puig, who stands to make more than $10 million in his final year of arbitration. But the highest return would come from Verdugo, a 22-year-old star in the making with six years of club control. He can be the centerpiece of a deal that might bring back someone like Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer or Noah Syndergaard.

And another starting pitcher could be part of that package.

The Dodgers will, in all likelihood, trade one of their starters. When Kershaw signed a three-year, $93 million extension and Ryu accepted the $17.9 million qualifying offer in early November, it gave the Dodgers at least six major league starting pitchers without including Stripling (an All-Star starter in 2018) or Urias (a potential future ace in this staff).

Maeda could help out in the bullpen, but he is more valuable as a trade chip than he is as a non-closing reliever. The same can be said about Hill and Wood, both of whom are only a year away from free agency. The Dodgers have enviable depth here, which is why the only starter they would consider in a trade is a difference-maker at the top.

Sure, the Dodgers will eventually get a catcher. But it probably would be for only a one- to two-year stopgap -- a reality that might rule out Yasmani Grandal -- because top prospects Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz are on their way.

Yes, the Dodgers also will add some relievers. But the glaring volatility of that role is enough to keep them from spending big on it.

The Dodgers have a chance to think much bigger than that. They could add another elite starter to the top of a rotation that includes a future Hall of Famer (Kershaw) and one of the game's brightest young pitchers (Buehler). And they could bring a megastar like Harper -- perhaps the closest thing to LeBron James that baseball can produce -- to the bright lights of L.A.

Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, who will operate without a general manager this offseason, hasn't signed a player to a nine-figure contract since he arrived in October 2014. Last offseason, the Dodgers -- aiming to dip below the luxury-tax threshold and halt the escalating repeater tax -- committed less than $5 million to outside free agents.

Then the Dodgers reached the World Series again, and then they came up short again.

To clear the final hurdle, they could stray from convention.