Dodgers: Grading the Dodgers’ 2018 off-season moves

After coming up short in consecutive World Series, the Dodgers’ front office, led by Andrew Friedman, went to the free agent market to try to finally get them over the hump.

While some of the moves helped on the fringes, others clearly did not.  With the Dodgers’ season now over after a stunning Game 5 loss to the Nationals in the NLDS, let’s look back and see how those moves worked out.

A.J. Pollock

After clearing up some of the log jam in the outfield by trading away the right-handed bats of Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig, the Front Office inexplicably signed the injury prone A.J. Pollock to a 5-year $60 million contract.

The move seemed rather puzzling at the time given the fact that highly touted rookie, Alex Verdugo, was waiting in the wings.  It was even more puzzling given reports that the Dodgers were still showing interest in Bryce Harper.  Perhaps they were concerned Verdugo would not be able to cut it as an everyday player yet.

Perhaps they wanted another right-handed bat to help balance their lefty-heavy batting order who has had their share of struggles against lefty pitchers over the last few seasons.  Perhaps they didn’t really think they had a realistic chance of signing Harper.  Whatever the reason, they decided that Pollock was the best option.

The funny thing about injury-prone players is they tend to get injured.  By this measure at least, Pollock met expectation.  Pollock developed an infection in his surgically repaired right elbow and went on the IL on May 1st.  A.J. didn’t return until after the All-Star break.  Even after he returned, a lingering groin injury slowed him down and pushed him from center field to left field.

Pollock ended up playing 84 games in the regular season (I hope you took the under when I threw out 110 games back in February).  His final numbers for the regular season were 15 HR’s and 47 RBI’s with a slash line of .266/.327/.468.

Meanwhile Puig ended the season with 24 HRS and 84 RBIs with a slash line .267/.327/.458 in 149 games and cost over $2 million less doing it.  And how did Pollock fare in the postseason?  He went 0 for 13 with 11 strike outs.  But he did manage to reach base once on a walk.

Final Grade: C-

Joe Kelly

Going into 2019 it was apparent that the Dodger’s bullpen was a glaring weakness.  The Dodgers responded by signing Joe Kelly, the hard throwing right-hander who was instrumental in two of the Dodger’s recent postseason losses.

First when he all but took the bat out of the hands of the red hot Hanley Ramirez by breaking his rib in his first at-bat of the 2013 NLCS and more recently when he shut down the Dodgers with 6 innings of shut-out relief in the 2018 World Series.

Kelly got off to a horrific start before finally starting to turn things around in June.  However, a vague “lower body issue” limited him to just 5 innings in September.  His postseason performance was uneven, with a good showing in Game 1 and a terrible outing in Game 3.  And of course his Game 5 epic meltdown put the final nail in the Dodger’s coffin.  I guess in retrospect, Kelly was instrumental in three of the Dodgers recent postseason losses.

Final Grade: D+

David Freese

The Dodgers traded for Freese at the 2018 trade deadline for his right-handed bat and postseason experience.  They re-signed the 36-year old to a one-year contract to essentially fill the role vacated by Chase Utley; a clutch veteran bat with good postseason experience and a strong clubhouse presence.

In limited plate appearances Freese hit 11 HRs with 29 RBIs with a slash line of .315/.403/.599/1.002.  In short, Freese did everything the Dodgers could have asked.  I wish him well in his retirement.

Final Grade: A

Hyun-Jin Ryu

Ryu was clearly the best free agent the Dodgers had for 2019 although he technically never hit the market as he accepted the qualifying offer.  He was dominant for most of the season and led the majors with a 2.35 ERA while pitching over 180 innings for the first time since his rookie season.

He showed signs of tiring late in the season, but still managed to pitch respectably in his only postseason start.  The irony of Ryu being the Dodgers best free agent signing is that it kind of fell in their lap.  The Dodgers didn’t actually sign Ryu to a contract, but rather extended  him a qualifying offer, which Ryu accepted.

Since the current system was put in place in 2012, only 6 players out of 80 have actually accepted a qualifying offer.  In 2018, Ryu was the only player to accept.  While I obviously can’t prove it, I strongly suspect the front office did not expect him to accept the offer and was only doing it to secure a draft pick.  For that reason, I have discounted the grade for the FO signing Ryu.

Final Grade: A (for Ryu’s performance); B- (for FO “signing” Ryu)

Conclusion

While I have to acknowledge the Dodgers have done a good job of signing and developing young talent as well as finding big upside in other teams’ cast-offs (e.g., Justin Turner, Max Muncy and Chris Taylor), they have yet to impress with their efforts to sign established talent (e.g., Brett Anderson, Brandon McCarthy and Scott Kazmir).

Next: Where do the Dodgers' left-handed hitters rank in MLB?

If the Dodgers hope to finally win a World Series, the FO is going to have to do a better job with their free agent signings.  For starters, it might help to remind them that as one of the richest teams in baseball, they aren’t limited to shopping in the clearance bin.