-- The Los Angeles Dodgers have figured out how to take control of the NL West, having won the division three straight seasons, but they keep tripping on the next step. For the third year in a row, their World Series quest ended early. For the second year in a row, they couldn't get past the first round of the playoffs. Here are my final grades for Dodgers players and management:
Owner: Guggenheim Baseball group
The Dodgers' owners have done quite well with their investment and have put record resources into the team, paying more than $300 million for player salaries this season, a North American record. Principal owner Mark Walter has let his baseball operations people do their jobs with minimal meddling. If only they could find a way to get their team on TV for the majority of Southern Californians.
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman's group
Though Dodgers fans felt the need to win immediately, Friedman, general manager Farhan Zaidi and senior vice president of baseball operations Josh Byrnes are thinking long term. There's no other way to explain why their only trade deadline deal was more about 2016 -- adding rotation piece Alex Wood and reliever Luis Avilan -- than it was about 2015. The Dodgers' front office kept up a frenetic pace and had some nice finds: for example, getting Mike Bolsinger for nothing, landing Enrique Hernandez and dumping a good chunk of Matt Kemp's salary. They also had some questionable moves, including trading eventual NL batting champion Dee Gordon and seeing acquisitions Mat Latos and Jim Johnson completely unravel.
Manager Don Mattingly
Say what you will about Mattingly, this was probably his finest season as manager. He took input from the front office and mixed and matched his hitters to maximize platoon advantages. He kept the faith in some inexperienced relievers, and eventually a couple of them, Chris Hatcher and Yimi Garcia, rewarded his trust. The clubhouse culture was the best since the new owners came in and started importing superstars with little thought about how it would affect team morale. Mattingly facilitated a seemingly smooth transition at shortstop, from Jimmy Rollins to Corey Seager, in late September. But will all that be enough to save his job? ( Editor's note -- this was posted before news broke that Mattingly won't return )
On May 21, he was 2-3 with a 4.32 ERA and all anybody wanted to ask him, in various ways, was what was wrong with him. It turns out, nothing was wrong with him aside from the fact that balls put in play are subject to the laws of physics and chance. Eventually, his luck turned around and he wound up leading the majors with 301 strikeouts and 232 2/3 innings. He even overcame some doubts about his playoff moxie with seven strong innings on short rest to win NLDS Game 4 in New York.
The probable NL Cy Young winner got off to a roaring start, going 5-1 with a 1.48 ERA in his first two months. He never really slowed down, staying healthy and pitching with amazing command and poise all year. The effort figures to earn him a nine-figure contract after he opts out of his Dodgers deal. The question is whether that will take him out of the Dodgers' sights given his age (32) and innings load.
People got down on him because of his rough NLDS Game 3 start in New York, but aside from two bad pitches, a lot of that was the result of bad luck. Two of the hits he allowed never left the infield. For the first time since he was a rookie, he stayed healthy and gave the Dodgers more than 30 starts and 180 innings, far more than they expected. Because of his age and ground ball rate, he figures to get a nice contract this winter, and the Dodgers will show some interest.
His 12 starts with the Dodgers weren't as good as his 20 starts for the Atlanta Braves, and he was just as unsuccessful as Anderson in his one playoff appearance. The Dodgers have a lot riding on him. He'll be just 25 years old next season, and advanced statistics suggest he had a disproportionate amount of bad luck. Still, his velocity was down in 2015 and some people worry about his unique mechanics.
OK, so he fell apart in September and, even on good days, was only good for about six innings. But the Dodgers were expecting virtually nothing from him in spring training, and they got him in a cash deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He helped stabilize the rotation at a time when it was in danger of falling apart.
People have started to note a strange uptick in pitchers' velocities as the ulnar collateral ligament in their elbow begins to tear. McCarthy experienced that the past two seasons, but it eventually got to the point that he had to undergo a ligament replacement surgery after making just four starts for the Dodgers. The loss of McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu was the blow the Dodgers never quite recovered from as the front office was unable to find strong replacements.
He struck out 10 times as many batters as he walked. In the majority of his innings, nobody reached base. He saved 36 games despite missing all of April and a chunk of May. He might be the most underrated reliever in the game.
Once he came back from the disabled list, he was among the league's most reliable setup men, though most Dodgers fans seemed hesitant to trust him. In the playoffs, he kicked it into another gear, giving the Dodgers faith that he'll be a big part of their bullpen next season.
After a fast start, he hit a wall in midseason, but after being demoted to Triple-A to concentrate on throwing more off-speed pitches, he showed signs of becoming the late-inning strikeout artist the Dodgers need. They'll be counting on him heavily in 2016.
His ERA (5.17) after the trade wasn't good, but a strong WHIP (1.149) and decent strikeout-to-walk rate (3.60) suggest he was better than that number suggests. Oddly, he was more effective against right-handed batters than left-handers. He's a versatile guy and could be the key lefty next season.
He keeps tricking them after all these years. His numbers are sort of the opposite of Avilan's. He has a great ERA (1.43) and less impressive peripheral numbers. He was one of the leaders of the bullpen and a good clubhouse presence.
It looked as if his career was about to end when a neck injury radically sapped his velocity, but he came back late and by late September was throwing the ball as well as he had all season. That convinced Peralta, 39, that he'd like to give it another shot next season. He'll probably get a chance somewhere, maybe even in L.A. Friedman is a big fan.
Overall, the experiment of turning a failed closer into a regular reliever was a success. At times, he was Jansen's primary setup guy. But his struggles against left-handed batters late in the season cost him a playoff roster spot.
He has had a couple of years to prove he is a major league pitcher and hasn't quite pulled it off, but because he is among the hardest throwers in the organization, he'll continue to get chances. Maybe he'll just figure it out one day, and then the Dodgers will have a useful late-inning piece or even a starter. Either path is still open.
He was a lot like Garcia, showing flashes of dominance and flashes of inexperience. Like Frias, he has a fastball that is capable of brushing triple digits, so the Dodgers will continue to give him all the time he needs to develop.
He nearly gained a foothold in the major leagues at long last, but he struggled after the All-Star break and was optioned to Triple-A. He couldn't work his way onto the playoff roster because there were better left-handed options available. He'll be 29 next season, and it will be interesting if he is still with the organization next spring.
Most teams would gladly take a catcher with a .756 OPS who excels at pitch framing and appears to be improving in most aspects of his catching. What was troubling about Grandal's season was how he completely fell apart in the second half after a left shoulder injury, batting .162 with a .498 OPS after the break.
He revived his career after an awful start as he struggled with returning to a backup role. By September, it was unclear who was the primary catcher and who was the backup. Ellis got his bat going and finished with a .758 OPS. He is a huge asset to any pitching staff, and the Dodgers will think long and hard about letting him go.
He did what he usually does: provide steady production in the middle of a lineup. He led the team in home runs (28) and RBIs (90) and was second in OPS (.830). The question with Gonzalez is age. He'll turn 34 next May, and the Dodgers eventually will have to come up with a succession plan, though he is signed through 2018.
Kendrick, Gonzalez and Justin Turner were the reliable producers that Mattingly could build his lineups around. Kendrick led the team with a .295 batting average and showed a little more pop than in 2014, slugging .409. His defense seems to be regressing a bit, however, and he isn't great at getting on base in ways other than the base hit. It appears he will be a Dodger for only one season.
When you look at his numbers, it's a wonder the Dodgers stuck with him as long as they did. But Corey Seager needed time to develop at Triple-A and Rollins did have a steadying influence, at times, on the infield. If he can convince other teams he can play multiple positions, his career should continue beyond 2015, but it won't be with the Dodgers, most likely.
He nearly carried the Dodgers to the NLCS, hitting six doubles against his old team, the New York Mets, in the division series. That may have been surprising to people who hadn't been watching him hit the past two seasons. He worked his way back from the brink after signing a minor league deal two winters ago, and now he is among the most consistent players in the National League.
The Dodgers promoted him because they needed infield depth, but they soon found his talent was too profound to be relegated to the bench. In 27 games at the end of the season, he batted .337 with a .986 OPS. He played solidly at shortstop, quieting some of the talk of an impending move to third base. He didn't do much in the playoffs, but give him a break. He's 21. He'll be the Opening Day shortstop in 2016 barring something unforeseen.
He was the part that just didn't quite fit anywhere. Despite a roaring start, with nine home runs in the first two months, he had nowhere to play. The Dodgers didn't trust his defense either at third base or left field. He became bitter and was hoping for a trade that never happened. It appears his future will be in the American League..
He became the classic Gotham villain against the Mets in the NLDS after his hard takeout slide broke shortstop Ruben Tejada's leg. For the Dodgers, he served a useful role, filling in while Kendrick was out and helping the team improve what had been horrendous base running. Given the numbers he put up, 2015 may have been the end of the line for one of the best players of a generation.
One of the most dynamic catalysts in the game at one time, Crawford, at 33, is right around league average. That doesn't bode well for the remaining two years of his contract. It will be interesting to see whether the Dodgers try to find a way to move him, or keep him as part of a platoon in 2016. Either way, they'll be paying a good chunk of his $43 million remaining salary.
His pattern was very similar to Grandal's: showing All-Star form in the first half before practically falling apart after the break. But unlike Grandal, Pederson had no injury alibi. His swing simply became easy prey to good starting pitchers. He is an athletic, fundamentally sound center fielder with big upside, so the Dodgers would love to see him fix the holes in his swing this winter and come to camp intent on being an every-day guy. The jury is out.
A lot of the things that are being said about Crawford were being said about Ethier before he re-established himself with a strong 2015 season. His pop returned to the tune of 14 home runs and 20 doubles. He continues to sit routinely against left-handed pitchers, though, and he'll be 34 next season. He's part of an aging group of Dodgers position players. Friedman's group will be intent on shedding some of them to gain roster flexibility.
He is 24, is signed to a team-friendly contract, and has the skills to be a Gold Glove right fielder. On the other hand, his production has been in radical decline, he had two long-term hamstring injuries, and he is never easy to manage. The Dodgers could look to trade him, but his value is way down because some teams wonder whether his expanding body will continue to lead to leg injuries. The Dodgers would love for him to show some initiative this winter, get in shape, and commit himself to staying healthy.
He had to push his way onto the field, but he took off and ran with the opportunity he got, eventually displacing Pederson as the every-day center fielder until a hamstring injury struck. Hernandez will be viewed as part of the team's core going into next season, but will it be as the team's every-day second baseman or as a utility guy?
His production went backward from a big 2014 season, and a wrist injury kept him off the playoff roster, but he remains a reliable masher of left-handed pitching. He'll be arbitration-eligible for the first time, which could compel the front office to consider trading him. But if Puig goes, they'd be better off keeping him as a versatile backup who can also spell Gonzalez at first base.