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Inbox: Could Dodgers spend on big free agents?

Beat reporter Ken Gurnick answers questions from fans
@kengurnick
October 22, 2019

The Dodgers have boatloads of money coming off the books this upcoming year. Will they sign Anthony Rendon? Gerrit Cole? Build a bullpen? Seeing is believing. -- Bill If signing one of the most expensive free agents is a requirement for your support, you might want to find a team

The Dodgers have boatloads of money coming off the books this upcoming year. Will they sign Anthony Rendon? Gerrit Cole? Build a bullpen? Seeing is believing.
-- Bill

If signing one of the most expensive free agents is a requirement for your support, you might want to find a team other than the Dodgers. In the five offseasons of the current Dodgers’ front office, it has never signed one of the three most expensive free-agent contracts that winter. There’s already buzz about the Dodgers as landing spots for Cole or Rendon -- as there is every winter for every big-name free agent -- but I’ll believe it when I see it, too. This regime no doubt believes it rarely pays to invest a large percentage of total payroll resources in one player. It’s not about the player, it’s about the numbers. Take the three most expensive free agents over each of those five seasons -- 15 players at an average guarantee of $166 million -- only two of their teams won the World Series the next season (Patrick Corbin’s Nationals would make it three) and two others eventually won a World Series with one of those free agents. The Cubs (four) and Red Sox (three) accounted for almost half of the top 15, each with a World Series win.

Why didn’t the Dodgers start David Freese and get him more at-bats in the playoffs? Why were rookies starting over him?
-- Michael F.

I’m with you. Manager Dave Roberts said he preferred to save Freese for a specific high-leverage at-bat. But for a team with World Series aspirations, the Dodgers bucked conventional wisdom and leaned very heavily on rookies Will Smith, Gavin Lux, Matt Beaty and Dustin May. There’s a reason why so many postseason heroes are veterans, but the Dodgers chose to keep Freese and Russell Martin mostly on the bench during the NLDS. In his only playoff start, Martin drove in four runs.

I was just reading your story about Justin Turner. How does his positioning in the Dodgers’ shift alignment factor into his defensive ratings?
-- Paul

I’ve wondered that, too. This explanation comes from Neil Weinberg of Fangraphs:

“Ground balls in which the over shift is on are excluded from the individual calculations. So it’s like the play never happened. Because both stats are relative to league average, this is basically like saying everyone plays like a league average defender when the shift is on. Obviously not ideal, but that’s how it works for now. However, DRS has a stat called Shift Runs Saved which measures how many runs a team saves by using the shift. So it’s not credited as a run saved to any single player, just the team as a whole.”

I am not sure what the thought process was with using May. He seemed rather formidable as a starter and then they tinkered with him and tried him as a reliever, and he encountered some difficulties. I remember when Walker Buehler came up as a reliever and struggled. When they left him alone as a starter he did well. Shouldn’t they just leave him as a starter? Didn’t he get his high ranking as a starter?
-- Jeff, Lancaster, Calif.

This is what the Dodgers do. They aren’t alone, although they move players around like interchangeable parts about as liberally as any team. They’ve had success mostly with multiple-position players like Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy, Enrique Hernández and Chris Taylor. Veteran Kenta Maeda might be better in relief, but shifting young pitchers between starting and relieving is a greater challenge. The Buehler experiment was a disaster and results have been mixed with Julio Urías, Ross Stripling and May. But some of the greatest closers were former starters (Eric Gagne, Dennis Eckersley, etc.), so you don’t know if you don’t try.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.