2012 Organizational Rankings: #19 Los Angeles Dodgers

Dave Cameron laid out the methodology behind the rankings last Friday. Remember that the grading scale for each category is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

2012 Organizational Rankings

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL

Los Angeles’ 2011 Organizational Ranking – #23 

2012 Outlook: 45 (19th)

While Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten and their team agreed to buy the Dodgers from Frank McCourt for more than $2 billion yesterday, these rankings were compiled before that became public, and the ratings reflect knowledge that the team would be sold but not to whom or for how much. There’s still much we don’t know about the Dodgers new ownership group and how their investment will impact the future of the team, but it’s probably fair to say that if we re-did the rankings today, the Dodgers would grade out a bit higher. After all, there are already rumors about the new owners upgrading via mid-season trades if they get approved in time and the team is contending. But for now, we evaluate the Dodgers outlook in 2012 based on the current roster.

Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw can’t do everything themselves. Last year’s National League MVP-runner up and Cy Young winner were magnificent in 2011 and still the Dodgers ended the season just above .500 with a record of 82-79. Even if Kemp and Kershaw give repeat performances this season, their supporting cast in 2012 isn’t much improved.

Jamey Carroll and Rod Barajas are gone, and while that may elicit chuckles, they were fourth and fifth in hitters’ WAR for the team in blue last season.  In December, I looked at the changes to the offense and found a bit of an upgrade, but not much. A big year from Andre Ethier, who will be a free agent at the end of the season, would give the Dodgers’ offense a much-needed boost.

The Dodgers’ rotation looks weaker than in 2011. Kershaw and Chad Billingsley anchor the staff again but Huroki Kuroda has been replaced by Aaron Harang, the fifth spot (held mostly by Rubby De La Rosa, who’s out after Tommy John surgery) is now held by Chris Capuano and Ted Lilly is a year older. The bullpen returns pretty much intact and is a strength of the team.

While the 2012 Dodgers don’t look much better than the 2011 version, the National League West is wide open this season. The Diamondbacks are favored by some to repeat at division champs, with upgrades to the starting pitching in the form of Trevor Cahill. But Arizona got career years last season from Ryan Roberts and Justin Upton, among others, and there are questions if they can repeat. The Giants, on the other hand, tried to upgrade their offense, with the additions of Melky Cabrera and Angel Pagan. Whether that will work and whether the  stellar pitching will shine again are big questions.

If the Dodgers are competitive for either the division or the two wild card slots by mid-summer, the new owners are likely to make moves to put the Dodgers right in the thick of things.

2013+ Outlook: 47 (21st)

Trades and free-agent signings should become the norm for the Dodgers for some years if they want to upgrade their position players. As Marc Hulet explained in his Top 15 Dodgers Prospects, Los Angeles has a wealth of good arms on the farm but not much else. That being said, Kershaw, Billingsley, Lilly, Capuano, and Harang are all signed through at least 2013, suggesting the Dodgers don’t expect more than one starting-pitcher prospect to crack the big-league roster anytime soon. When that happens, it will likely be right hander Nate Eovaldi.

Other than Kemp, the only position players signed beyond 2012 are Juan Uribe, Mark Ellis, Jerry Hairston, Jr., and Tony Gwynn, Jr., for a combined $17.150 million in salary. A tidy sum, for sure, but nothing compared to the amount paid for the Dodgers by the Johnson/Kasten group. These contracts will not get in the way of upgrades by trade or free-agent signings.

Yesterday, Jim Breen discussed the Dodgers’ likely and unlikely free agent and trade targets. You can read Jim’s thoughts here.

Financial Resources: 51 (12th)

Talk about transition. The Dodgers went from being in bankruptcy to being sold for more than $2 billion. Dave Cameron is already asking what, if anything, supports the $2 billion sale price but, for now, the answer seems to be: it’s what the Johnson/Kasten group thought the franchise was worth now.

The big outstanding question is how much the new owners will spend after laying out $2 billion just to purchase the team. Putting aside the $11.5 million or so the Dodgers will still pay Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones this year and next, the 2012 payroll is in the range of $90 million. Next year’s payroll is already above $80 million. As mentioned, Ethier will be a free agent, as will first baseman James Loney. Replacing them with the kind of players the Dodgers need to get to the next level will likely cost $12-15 million/year per player, pushing the payroll closer to that of the Dodgers’ chief rival, San Francisco Giants.

As part of the bankruptcy process, the Dodgers and FOX reached a settlement that allows the Dodgers to pursue a new TV contract at the end of 2012 but FOX has certain rights of first refusal. Based on the Angels’ new TV contract — $3 billion for 20 years — the new Dodgers owners could be flush with cash in the near future.

Baseball Operations: 38 (29th)

They say money can buy happiness. If that’s the case, the new Dodgers owners may to have spend — and spend big — on revamping the baseball operations side of the team.

Ned Colletti has been the Dodgers’ general manager since 2005, when he replaced noted sabermetrician Paul DePodesta. Colletti came to the Dodgers from the San Francisco Giants, where he was Assistant GM to Brian Sabean. Colletti is considered (like Sabean) to be firmly in the old-school style, where scouting far outweighs sabermetic analysis.

In the offseason, the Dodgers hired Alex Tamin as Director of Baseball Contracts, Research and Operations. Some hailed the move as a sure signal that the Dodgers had seen the sabermetric light. Others, like RotoGraphs’ Mike Petriello who writes about the Dodgers at Mike Scioscia’s Tragic Illness, were not so convinced.

On the scouting side, the Dodgers are led by Logan White, who is well-regarded, according to Marc Hulet. That’s good, because as we discussed, the Dodgers need to focus on replenishing the farm system with talented, young position players.

Overall: 46 (19th)

The Dodgers are moving in the right direction. And quickly. The Johnson/Kasten group will infuse new money, new life and, if they are smart, new personnel and resources into the organization. Kemp and Kershaw are superstars, an outstanding nucleus around which to re-build the team in the next few years.

For this season, the Dodgers may not be much more than Kemp and Kershaw. A strong start to 2012, however, could put the new owners in a position to make moves at the trade deadline to compete for the NL West or one of the two wild cards. The new owners also need to focus early and often on the baseball operations side, as it lags behind nearly every other team in the majors.

The Dodgers may not be contenders yet but soon, Dodgers fans. Very, very soon.

We hoped you liked reading 2012 Organizational Rankings: #19 Los Angeles Dodgers by Wendy Thurm!

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Wendy writes about sports and the business of sports. She's been published most recently by Vice Sports, Deadspin and NewYorker.com. You can find her work at wendythurm.pressfolios.com and follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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Kemp does a lot, but he probably doesn’t anchor the rotation.