SAN DIEGO — Dave Roberts looked optimistic, and he sounded optimistic.
This offseason, this month, these Winter Meetings were going to be different. The Dodgers’ manager stopped short of guaranteeing anything, of course, but when he spoke to the media Tuesday afternoon, it was pretty clear he was pleased with his front office’s approach to wooing players on the free-agent market.
“We’re being more aggressive than I can recall,” he said with a grin, “so whatever that means.”
What Roberts — and Dodgers fans everywhere — hoped after three consecutive seasons ended in colossally disappointing fashion was that reinforcements were on the way. And not just solid backups or back-of-the-rotation starters, but genuine superstars, the true difference-makers who could help the 2020 season end with a celebration, not sadness.
“It’s pretty clear how excited and eager our organization is about engaging,” Roberts said, “which we haven’t been as much in the past with other free agents.”
The front office brigade, led by president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, came to these meetings in San Diego loaded with money, motivation and, they hoped, even a little momentum. Gerrit Cole, the top starter on the market was a Southern California kid, and his desire to pitch on the West Coast was considered to be a big factor. Stephen Strasburg, starter 1B on the market, was from Southern California, too, and Los Angeles could easily be considered just the right distance from his San Diego roots.
And Anthony Rendon, the superstar who doesn’t crave the spotlight, would fit in well with a team with other superstars, from future Hall of Famer Clayton Kershaw to 2019 NL MVP Cody Bellinger. And the Dodgers even got their incumbent third baseman, Justin Turner, to proactively agree to switch positions so the Dodgers would even avoid any sort of position controversy, should they have landed Rendon.
None of those things happened, though.
The Dodgers reportedly went to $300 million with deferrals for their offer on Cole, but the Yankees gave him $324 million, with no deferrals, so you know how that ended. Strasburg, likely, was a pipe dream. He’s comfortable with the only franchise he’s ever known — he just led them to the World Series title — and returned to the Nationals.
And Rendon? That, um, didn’t work out.
The Dodgers didn’t make Anthony Rendon an offer, per sources. Their sense was he didn’t want to play in LA. Orange County apparently was a different story.
— Jorge Castillo (@jorgecastillo) December 12, 2019
Seems it wasn’t Los Angeles he wanted to avoid, just the Dodgers. That’s not ideal.
The offseason, of course, isn’t done. There are other starting pitchers on the market, and Josh Donaldson would make a nice third-base addition after passing/missing on Rendon. So we’ll stop short of saying it’s a disappointing offseason for the Dodgers, and instead just say the Winter Meetings were a big disappointment.
The Dodgers aren’t alone. Here are three other teams leaving San Diego with a profound sense of frustration.
Why they’re here: The Twins needs starting pitching help, and it just so happens that this is an outstanding offseason for teams needing to bolster their rotation. And the Twins have money to spend, which again matches up with a talented crop of starters. And with a starter or two on board, the Twins are capable of again winning the AL Central with that lineup. And with the right starter(s), a deep run in October isn’t out of the question.
“One thing I have done is encouraged any players that we’ve spoken to to connect with our players like, please, reach out to our guys, talk to them, ask anything you want,” manager Rocco Baldelli said. “I think they will like what they hear. All that being said, the players that we have, our roster, I think it’s a very competitive roster as is. I think we have a team that can go out there and win a bunch of games.”
But the starters have started to fall off the board. The Twins were never really contenders for Cole or Strasburg, but Zack Wheeler’s gone, too. Even back-of-the-rotation guys like Cole Hamels, Rick Porcello and Michael Wacha are off the board. And the thing is, there are lots of contenders still shopping for starters, which means the price for guys like Madison Bumgarner and Hyun-Jin Ryu isn’t falling anytime soon, and shorter-term guys like Dallas Keuchel and even buy-low bounce-back candidates have multiple options.
So, yep, fans in Minnesota are, shall we say, a bit restless.
Why they’re here: The Rangers, as has been mentioned every single time anyone’s talked about their offseason goals, are opening a new ballpark in 2020. And what better gift for fans buying tickets than to put a shiny new star at third base, the perfect replacement for now-retired Cooperstown-bound third baseman Adrian Beltre? Anthony Rendon is from Texas, played college ball at Rice and felt like a perfect fit.
But the Rangers didn’t make that happen, and it looks like they’re not going to make a deal with Josh Donaldson, either.
I get the sense the rub with Donaldson is less about $$ and more about years. Rangers would prefer 2, and I keep hearing Donaldson wants 4. My suspicion is that he’s sticking to his guns — and with Rendon off the market, why wouldn’t he?
— Levi Weaver (@ThreeTwoEephus) December 12, 2019
Why they’re here: Unlike the other teams mentioned, the Red Sox aren’t on this list because the front office has failed to deliver on perceived expectations. The Red Sox are here because there aren’t really any expectations for improvement, which is a big deal for a franchise with two World Series titles in the past seven years.
“Somebody asked me, what do you guys need to accomplish in the upcoming two days? I said, well, honestly, the thing that we need, we can’t get in two days here,” manager Alex Cora said. “We’ve got to wait until February and see if we’re healthy, and that’s the most important thing.”
Instead, the questions have been about which stars might get traded. Will Mookie Betts, the perennial MVP candidate who’s one year away from free agency, be dealt, and could the Sox possibly get fair value in return? Will 2018 World Series hero David Price (and his hefty contract) be moved? What about Chris Sale?
This, putting it mildly, isn’t where Red Sox fans expected to be a year ago.