Buster Olney: Los Angeles Dodgers

Players who could be traded this spring 

February, 25, 2015
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Los Angeles DodgersGary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsNo longer a part of the central cast in L.A., Andre Ethier is probably destined for somewhere else.
SARASOTA, Fla. -- Spring training is supposed to present a time of optimism, when players look around and think about what can be accomplished with the group in the room. But for a small handful, this can be a time of frustration because they know they just don’t fit in.

Andre Ethier is among those, as Mark Saxon writes; the veteran outfielder wants to be traded. From his piece:
Ethier is the longest-tenured Dodgers player, having broken in with the team in 2006. The Dodgers' tentative Opening Day plans are for Carl Crawford to start in left field, rookie Joc Pederson in center and Yasiel Puig in right, with Ethier the fourth outfielder.

"You're not wishing for it ever to end, but sometimes that opportunity takes you somewhere else," Ethier said. "I'm not going to do anything to sit here and force it. Hopefully it works itself out." [More…]

"I want the opportunity to play every day. My mind hasn't changed from when I told you guys that a couple months ago," Ethier said. "I felt like when I get a chance to play every day, I put up the numbers they ask of me. For some strange reason, it just happened that coming off a good 2012 season, in 2013 they took games away. You start to wonder why that happened. I feel like if I get a good full year in and get the at-bats, it starts to add up. It's tough when you get 300 at-bats and you're expected to hit 15 or 20 home runs."

Every time another team loses an outfielder or a designated hitter in the inevitable wave of injuries, Ethier will be an option. But he isn’t the only one who will probably spend this spring wondering if his playing time is going to happen in a different uniform.

Here are some others

Lineup questions that must be answered 

February, 19, 2015
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Yasiel Puig and Bryce Harper Getty ImagesWhere will 24-year-old slugger Yasiel Puig hit this season? And what about 22-year-old Bryce Harper?
When Joe Torre managed the New York Yankees, he liked to put pen to paper and jot down various lineup combinations to see how they might look and feel. His bench coach, Don Zimmer, would do the same, and they would discuss the combinations they had written out, like two mathematicians discussing a proof.

With lineups, however, there are no perfect answers, and no absolutes. Because the variables are changing constantly. Hitters streak or slump. Opposing managers poke and prod for the vulnerabilities in lineups, with different bullpen weapons. But most managers and general managers think about the possible structure of their batting order constantly, sorting through the quandaries.

Some are unwelcome problems. For instance, Phillies manager Ryne Sandberg must find a place to hit Ryan Howard, in the season after Howard has been told the team might be better off without him.

But other lineups present interesting puzzles, such as those that follow:

1. Who will hit cleanup for the Marlins?

Marlins manager Mike Redmond is experimenting with different lineups.

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Rafael Soriano and Francisco RodriguezGetty ImagesWith Kenley Jansen out, the Dodgers could turn to Rafael Soriano or K-Rod, both free agents.
The Tampa Bay Rays' record of drafting in Andrew Friedman's time as their general manager was spotty, including the moment when they passed on Buster Posey and chose infielder Tim Beckham. There also were mistakes on free agents such as Pat Burrell.

But Friedman's era in Tampa Bay was an overwhelming success, which is why the Dodgers stalked him with promises of potential and power until he agreed to take over their baseball operations. What the Rays probably did better than anything was build bullpens, year after year, despite constant turnover because of the team's financial limitations.

Consider the composition and work of the Rays' bullpens from 2008-14.

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MLB win totals worth a look 

February, 14, 2015
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Chase HeadleyJim McIsaac/Getty ImagesDespite limited offseason moves, expect the Yankees to come back stronger in 2015.
To understand how adept casinos are in their business, all you have to do is look around as you walk the Las Vegas Strip. Those massive buildings, with all f their glitter and lights, are there because the folks who run them know what it takes to win. When betting lines are established, well, you’d be crazy not to take them seriously.

But there are times when the lines raise an eyebrow -- like when they set their over/under victory projections for each of the 30 teams in baseball. On Friday, the Atlantis sports book in Reno posted their numbers. As usual, some are surprising -- and heck, they might even look like an opportunity, if I ever bet on baseball (and I don’t).

Here are five, in particular.

1. New York Yankees, 80 wins

The Yankees’ fan base is really concerned because unlike in past offseasons, New York wasn’t chasing the biggest stars.

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Dodgers matching Padres' moves, subtly 

February, 10, 2015
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DodgersIcon SportswireSan Diego has made a major splash this offseason, but the Dodgers have changed just as much.
The Padres’ tidal wave of moves has advanced them from unwatchable to a team that we’ll all be paying attention to in 2015, because of the stature of the players involved. Matt Kemp, MVP runner-up. Two-time All-Star Justin Upton. All-Star catcher Derek Norris. And now All-Star James Shields, who started games in the World Series a few months ago.

In comparison to all of that, the moves made by the Dodgers -- the defending NL West champions, a team the Padres are chasing -- have been unsexy, about functionality. It’s as if the Padres have rolled out the swimsuit issue of MLB’s offseason, while L.A. has been improving the printing process.

The Dodgers have invested in roster infrastructure, in depth. L.A. won 94 games last season, overcoming problems with their defense and production in some corners of their roster. The Dodgers were a dynamic offensive team in the second half of last season, leading the NL in runs after the All-Star break, and it’s very possible that with Kemp and Hanley Ramirez gone, Don Mattingly’s lineup won’t generate as many homers.

But L.A. has a chance for improvement

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Yoan MoncadaTwitter@yoanmoncadaYoan Moncada is a potential star out of Cuba. The Dodgers could lead the bidding.
Over the past few years, the financial power of the Dodgers' current ownership group has mostly manifested itself in the good old-fashioned way, with big contracts for individual players such as Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Clayton Kershaw, or in player procurement, including the record-setting salary absorption of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett.

But since the new front-office leadership was put in place, the Dodgers have flexed their financial might in much more subtle ways, pruning and fixing and bolstering. They merely flirted with Jon Lester, there's no indication they went after Max Scherzer, and they passed on Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and James Shields (or so it appears).

It's as if new president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman took over a sprawling mansion and has done most of his work on infrastructure, with caulk, putty and paint, rather than building another wing, as some expected he would.

This is part of the reason some team executives tracking Cuban star Yoan Moncada believe the Dodgers

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Where Shields may still fit 

February, 1, 2015
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ShieldsKyle Terada/USA TODAY SportsAt one point, it was thought that James Shields would land a nine-figure deal this offseason.
With the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, it’s apparent that James Shields reached the zenith of his negotiation leverage on the night of Dec. 9. That was the night when Jon Lester finalized his decision to go to the Chicago Cubs, and the San Francisco Giants and other teams faced the reality that they needed a Plan B.

Shields was in a good spot in that moment, it seemed, because unlike Cole Hamels, he wouldn’t require a trade investment of prospects, and unlike Max Scherzer, he wouldn’t require the equivalent of a Defense Department budget to sign. Whatever cards Shields held at that time were probably the best he has seen all winter.

But that leverage is now gone, and Shields is in the worst possible spot of any free agent, when most teams are finished spending for the winter and more readily identify reasons to dismiss an available player. In Shields' case, the loudest concerns are about his age (33), his heavy workloads (eight straight seasons of 203 or more innings pitched), his need for a ballpark that forgives his tendency to surrender fly balls to left-center field; his home games have been in the pitcher-friendly Tropicana Field and Kauffmann Stadium, and he has a career ERA of 5.42 in Fenway Park.

The longer a premium free agent like Shields remains unsigned, the more his negotiating strategy and leverage position gets picked apart. As we move into February, some executives have become convinced that while Shields was an interesting alternative on Dec. 9, he is now hurt by looming market alternatives.

“If you’re in a position where you’ve got money to spend, would you rather jump at Shields, or wait?”

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Deciding year in store for Yasiel Puig 

January, 31, 2015
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Yasiel PuigBrian Kersey/Getty ImagesYasiel Puig's lack of consistency could catch up to him this year.
Ned Colletti, the former general manager of the Dodgers, offered the perfect description of Yasiel Puig in the outfielder’s first spring training with the team.

“You can’t take your eyes off him,” Colletti said, as he recounted a typical day of watching Puig -- the power of his swing, the speed, the hyperaggression on the bases, and yes, the mistakes so egregious that you can’t help but laugh.

Puig is a living combination of Bo Jackson and the ’62 Mets -- a set of skills that guarantees him center stage for the rest of his life. There’s no telling what he’ll accomplish in his career,

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Notes from the MLB awards dinner 

January, 25, 2015
Jan 25
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Clayton Kershaw and Sandy KoufaxGetty Images, USA Today SportsClayton Kershaw has dominated his era, just like former Dodger great Sandy Koufax.
Our colleague Willie Weinbaum filed this from Saturday night’s annual baseball soiree.

On a night of transitions and tributes, the 92nd annual awards dinner of the New York chapter of the Baseball Writers' Association of America began with a moment of silence in memory of Mr. Cub, Ernie Banks. The evening concluded with the remarks of obscure former Cub Bob Hendley, who pitched a one-hitter nearly 50 years ago in the same game that the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax achieved perfection.

Koufax, who sat on the dais between one commissioner whose term was about to begin and another whose tenure was about to end, fulfilled the wish he articulated at the event a year ago -- to present Los Angeles' Clayton Kershaw with another National League Cy Young Award. Kershaw’s three awards equal Koufax’s career total, and he also received the NL MVP Award from Koufax, so the dominating lefties of eras a half-century apart each have one MVP too.

About 24 hours before Kershaw traveled to the banquet, his wife Ellen gave birth to their first child. In an emotional speech citing his family, Kershaw gave thanks by name to every Dodgers player and staffer he said he encountered daily last season. Surprisingly, he also expressed gratitude to the St. Louis Cardinals, the team that eliminated him and the Dodgers from the postseason.

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Does Scherzer improve MLB’s top team? 

January, 19, 2015
Jan 19
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Max Scherzer and Jordan ZimmermannGetty ImagesMax Scherzer will join an already-formidable rotation anchored by Jordan Zimmermann.
The Washington Nationals have agreed to a seven-year contract with Max Scherzer for a reported $210 million, half of it deferred -- Scherzer reportedly will receive $15 million annually for 14 years -- the most ever spent on a free-agent pitcher, the most ever paid out to a right-handed pitcher and the second-most dollars doled out for any pitcher, with the deal slotting in behind Clayton Kershaw's and ahead of Felix Hernandez's.

With that kind of payout, the Nationals can reasonably expect a marked upgrade in 2015, yes?

Well … not really.

Scherzer is an outstanding pitcher who has 492 strikeouts in his past 434 2/3 innings, and perhaps he'll be the guy who pushes the Nationals to a place they haven't gone before, the World Series.

But if Washington had maintained the status quo with its rotation -- arguably the best in the majors as it was -- the Nationals probably would've had an excellent chance to get to the postseason again. Here is the WAR (wins above replacement) for each member of the Nats' rotation in 2014:

Jordan Zimmermann 4.9
Doug Fister 4.5
Stephen Strasburg 3.5
Gio Gonzalez 2.3
Tanner Roark 5.1

That's a tremendous group, reflected in its cumulative 20.3 WAR, and there really is no reason to think that quintet wouldn't do something close to that in 2015, or maybe even better. Fister, who turns 31 in a couple of weeks, is the oldest of the group, and seems to be getting better and better. Gonzalez is 29, Roark is 28, Zimmermann is 28 and Strasburg is 26.

But the Nationals appear poised to break up the band.

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Top 10 infields in MLB: Rockies No. 1 

January, 17, 2015
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Troy Tulowitzki, Nolan Arenado and Justin Morneau Getty ImagesThe Rockies have issues elsewhere, but the infield is an enviable one.
Among all the team elements ranked in the ongoing series, getting a consensus on the top infields was the most difficult. At one point or another, more than half a dozen teams were mentioned for the top spot.

This is the fifth installment of the series, which has also covered the top 10 rotations, the top 10 bullpens, the top overall lineups and the top team defenses.

Today, it's the top 10 infields for overall play.

1. Colorado Rockies

The winter has been spent debating the value of Troy Tulowitzki

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The future of MLB in Cuba 

December, 18, 2014
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 President Barack Obama and President Raul Castro AP Photo/SABC PoolBarack Obama and Raul Castro are seeking to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba.
There is a temptation to say that the possible normalization of relations between Cuba and the United States could lead to rapid and significant changes in professional baseball, because we've all heard the harrowing stories of escape from the island of players from Orlando Hernandez to Yasiel Puig. We've seen the talent of players, such as Jose Abreu, who is widely regarded as one of the three or four best hitters in baseball after just one season of Major League Baseball.

But while there is general relief in the industry that change in the politics between two countries so close to each other geographically is imminent, there is also skepticism among executives familiar with baseball in Cuba that the landscape of baseball will see a marked shift anytime soon.

The inevitable first domino, some executives say, is that the incredible prices being paid to defectors from Cuba -- most recently, the Diamondbacks' signing of Yasmany Tomas to a $68.5 million deal -- will plummet. Maybe this won't affect the bidding on Yoan Moncada, the infielder who worked out for scouts last month in Guatemala, but some club officials believe that eventually the market will be undercut by the prospect of change.

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Winners and losers of the winter meetings 

December, 12, 2014
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SAN DIEGO -- In keeping with tradition, the Rule 5 draft was held on the final morning of baseball's winter meetings Thursday, and typically, executives pull roller bags into and out of that room, dying to get to the airport after four boring days of sitting around waiting for their phone to ring and picking through plates of stale room service nachos.

But that was not the feel this year. No, there were wry smiles all over the place as scouts and club officials chuckled over how this year's meetings turned into some kind of transaction stock car race. The Cubs and White Sox slammed against the news of each other; the Dodgers lapped the field in a Wednesday sprint that carried into Thursday morning; the Red Sox lost the Lester 500 but hit the checkered flag with three pitchers.

In the usual way, there were lots of winners and some losers -- the Giants, for example, who own October every other year but have gotten off to a slow start this winter, missing out on Pablo Sandoval and Lester. They want to make a deal sooner rather than later, assistant GM Bobby Evans says. But in light of the fact that these were not your typical winter meetings, we're going next level on the whole winners and losers thing

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Dodgers' makeover extreme -- and needed 

December, 11, 2014
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SAN DIEGO -- The new inhabitants of the Dodgers’ front office are well aware of the media portrayal of them as nerds wielding mechanical pencils stuffed into pocket protectors. “The sooner we get past us being the story,” one Dodgers official said, “the better it will be.”

After what happened here Wednesday, however, there is no chance that Andrew Friedman and his staff will able to exist in the shadowy fringes. Not since Whitey Herzog assumed control of the Cardinals and remade them into a track team with a flurry of moves have we seen a front office so decisively alter the composition of a roster and a team.

Based on the choices they have made, however, a more appropriate representation of Friedman’s gang could be as a cleanup crew dressed in hazmat suits, because they have quickly waded into the messiest parts of the organization, from the clubhouse culture to the club’s subpar defense, and taken care of business.

Which is what is needed. The Dodgers' level of dysfunction last season was extraordinary. Manager Don Mattingly is even-keeled and circumspect, and is not someone who overreacts, given his experience of playing in New York in George Steinbrenner’s worst years as owner. But he was so moved, so frustrated by what he saw in the Dodgers' players and their treatment of each other

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Miss on Jon Lester? Here's Plan B 

December, 9, 2014
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James Shields, Francisco Liriano & Max ScherzerUSA TODAY SportsJames Shields, Francisco Liriano and Max Scherzer are all still out there.
SAN DIEGO -- A week ago, some folks within the Giants organization thought they had little or no shot at signing Jon Lester. In the past 72 hours, that changed. Now the hope is building for the Giants, backed by their own significant offer. The Cubs have hoped all along that they might be able to get Lester, and some within the Red Sox offices have believed that all things being equal, Lester would value the comfort of a known quantity, his former team.

The Dodgers have always had the ability to throw more money on the table, and while that doesn’t mean everything in these talks, it puts them in the conversation.

For Lester, the choices are distinct.

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