Big move may cure Dodgers' World Series blues

December 29th, 2019

The Dodgers are one of baseball's superpowers because of record, money, market and history. Over the past decade, they won more division titles than anybody else in the sport -- seven in a row, from 2014-19. They made it to two World Series during the 2010s, a feat topped only by the Giants. Los Angeles is coming off a season in which it won 106 games -- the most in the history of the franchise, going all the way back to Brooklyn.

But do you know why Dodgers fans want the team to figure out a way to make a trade for or ? Because as much as Los Angeles has done, it hasn’t quite been enough. Dodgers fans want the world ... as in World Series. It’s why the Dodgers remain one of the compelling stories of this offseason, even if they haven’t made a big move yet.

The rallying cry in Brooklyn was always “Wait Till Next Year.” But the Dodgers were sure last year was going to be that year for them. They thought they were on their way to a third World Series in a row -- something no team in baseball has done since Joe Torre’s Yankees made it to four in a row between 1998 and 2001. They were even poised to become the first team in nearly 100 years to lose two World Series in a row and come back to win the next one.

Then came Game 5 of the National League Division Series against the Nationals -- who won 13 fewer games during the regular season than the Dodgers did. They were leading, 3-1, entering the eighth inning. Then, they weren’t -- because Anthony Rendon and Juan Soto hit back-to-back home runs at Dodger Stadium to tie the game. Later, Howie Kendrick hit a grand slam off in the 10th. The Dodgers would not even be going back to the NL Championship Series, remaining without a World Series win since 1988.

Here is what Dave Roberts, their manager, told me right before the playoffs began:

“Winning 106 games is an amazing accomplishment. We understand the ultimate goal is to finish the season off with a championship, but what we did this season is something no Dodger team has ever done. That can never be taken away.”

But Rendon, Soto and Kendrick sure tried. Just like that, what was going to be one of the great Dodgers seasons of them all suddenly wasn’t. Now, it is another "Wait Till Next Year" offseason for them. They didn’t get Gerrit Cole, because the Yankees did. Rendon ended up down the freeway in Anaheim. Hyun-Jin Ryu -- who started 29 games, won 14 and had a 2.32 earned run average -- just signed with Toronto. So far, the biggest offseason move the Dodgers made was for reliever , who was a terrific closer for the A’s in 2018 before he lost that job last season.

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It is difficult to say a team coming off a 106-win season and a seventh straight division title is at a crossroads. But maybe that's where the Dodgers are.

The Yankees, another superpower, are coming off a 103-win season, and last won the World Series in 2009. It wasn’t enough. They just went out and signed Cole for nine years and $324 million. Afterward, Hal Steinbrenner, their owner, couldn’t have been plainer in explaining why:

“We need to win some championships.”

Steinbrenner wasn’t talking about division titles, or pennants. The Dodgers are in the same place. But as talented and as deep as they are, maybe it is time for them to make the same kind of big play the Yankees just did. They are deep. Their farm system is consistently rated in the Top 10 by MLB Pipeline. It’s never been ravaged the way, say, the Red Sox system has been over the past few years. But the Red Sox were willing to trade away at least some of their future to win their fourth World Series title in this century in 2018.

Now, we’re going to find out if the Dodgers are willing to do the same to finally get across the finish line. No one is sure how serious the Indians might be about moving Lindor, one of the thrilling young talents in the game. Or how serious the Red Sox are about moving Betts, the American League MVP in 2018, who is about to enter his last season at Fenway before free agency.

But if the Indians and Red Sox are serious, how can the Dodgers not be interested in bringing one of them to L.A.? The best free-agent starting pitcher, Cole, is off the market. The best free-agent hitter, Rendon, plays for the other team with Los Angeles in its name. But Betts has become one of the best all-around players in the game, and has made it quite clear he wants to get paid when his time comes. He is 27. Lindor is 26. Either one of them would be one of the game’s bright young stars going to a place for stars.

The Dodgers have done a lot. Won a ton, but just not enough. They are at a crossroads, even after winning 106, a place where they need to do something to make their fans believe next season will be different. Like acquiring Frankie ... or Mookie ... or Nolan Arenado.