Clayton Kershaw is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. (Associated Press photo)
While others lose weight and read more books and call their parents, we tried to go beyond the obvious here — i.e., “Win a World Series” — to come up with a checklist of some New Year’s resolutions more specific to the Dodgers.
In no particular order, here we go:
1. Don’t let Clayton Kershaw reach free agency. Jan. 17 is when teams and players exchange salary arbitration figures, and Kershaw is in his final year of arbitration eligibility. There’s an element of curiosity here: How much could the game’s best pitcher make in arbitration? The Dodgers, and their fans, would rather not know. The other important date to circle here is sometime in late October, the date when eligible free agents hit the market once the World Series ends. If Kershaw doesn’t have a contract by then, what will it take for the Dodgers to re-sign him? Would a championship and the largest contract in baseball history — the Dodgers might be able to offer both — be enough? The longer the left-hander goes without a multiyear extension, the more tempting it is to speculate why he’s determined to test the market. Until he re-signs, that speculation will linger.
2. Stay healthy. OK, this one applies to every team, and the Dodgers have enviable depth in their outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen to withstand the inevitable DL trips of 2014. That said, it’s not a stretch to say that the October injuries to Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and (to an extent) Andre Ethier are what separated the Dodgers from the 2013 World Series. Dodger players spent more days on the disabled list in 2013 than all but six MLB teams. Luck always plays a significant role in injury statistics, but Stan Conte will try to create some better luck in 2014. He’ll absorb the duties of head athletic trainer Sue Falsone, who left to pursue other opportunities.
3. Re-sign Ramirez. Ramirez is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, too. Thanks to a lot of bad injury luck, he played only 86 games in 2013, but he was the Dodgers’ most productive offensive player when healthy. A full season of a 191 wRC+ is probably unsustainable. Anything close to that will result in a lucrative payday.
4. Manage the farm intelligently. A concern for any team in any year, but consider recent history. Relatively speaking, there wasn’t much to manage in the Dodgers’ system until mid-2012. Because of that, they aren’t in great position to package any prospects in an off-season trade — say, for David Price — or sign a free agent who would cost a first-round draft pick. Now, the Dodgers at least have some intriguing prospects at Double-A (Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling, Zach Lee), High-A (Corey Seager) and Low-A (Chris Anderson, Julio Urias). If they aren’t traded, they need to produce. If they are traded, the return needs to be huge.
5. Make a decision on Don Mattingly. At the end of the season, this is what I wrote: “If [Mattingly’s] contract isn’t extended by the time the 2014 season begins, questions about his standing within the organization remain legitimate. The challenge of commanding a clubhouse as a ‘lame duck’ manager will linger. If Mattingly does get his extension between now and spring training, then we’re all left to wonder what took so long.” These questions haven’t been answered yet.
Some bullet points for a Berchtold’s Day: