HomeSportsDodgers still favorites? Brewers still contenders? Marlins still committed?

Dodgers still favorites? Brewers still contenders? Marlins still committed?

In the second edition of our new weekly feature, let’s examine a few MLB teams’ approaches to this offseason. We’ll start at the high end, proceed to the middle and conclude at the sport’s cellar.

The Dodgers take back seat to divisional peers

By now, the Los Angeles Dodgers and their fans are used to the San Diego Padres’ persistent challenges, at least on the trade and free-agent markets, if not always on the field. Under president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers have cultivated a reputation as the team always lurking in the pursuit of top-tier players. But the Padres are increasingly one-upping them in that regard.

The Padres don’t even lurk. They tend to just emerge, at the last second, sometimes as the bidding winners. Such was the case with Xander Bogaerts earlier this month. They also outbid the Dodgers on sleeper starter Seth Lugo and signed resurgent veteran Matt Carpenter. This all succeeded a lucrative deal for key reliever Robert Suarez at the beginning of the offseason. 

Now, San Diego’s roster looks at least as good as Los Angeles’ for the upcoming season. But we should know by now that the Dodgers are not necessarily done adding to their team. They just might do it in more of a bargain fashion than fans would prefer. 

They last week signed one-time star Noah Syndergaard at a discount rate compared to what the Angels paid him for the 2022 season. Over the weekend, they replaced franchise cornerstone and team leader Justin Turner with J.D. Martinez, who projects to be about as valuable next year, at least in measurable metrics. L.A. guaranteed Martinez, who is three years younger, less than half the money the Red Sox committed to Turner.

The Dodgers have also promised to add an outfielder — probably someone with a better recent track record than another one-time star, Jason Heyward, whom they did sign to a minor-league deal. They will still get better before Opening Day, especially if an arbitrator upholds Trevor Bauer’s suspension and the $60 million the club once allocated to him is officially freed.

Even so, it’s fair to wonder if, for the first time in about a decade, the Dodgers won’t enter the season as the clear favorite to win the NL West. It’s not as if they’ll enter it in a distant second or third, either, and, as always, they retain the prospect capital to make any deadline acquisitions the first half of 2023 indicates are necessary.

Shohei Ohtani awaits as the prize of next winter, too. Remember: The Dodgers effectively opted out of the Bryce Harper and Manny Machado sweepstakes over the 2018-2019 off-season, then committed a similar sum to Mookie Betts before the following season. They’ve established by now that they think in the long term.

The Brewers balance cost-cutting with contending

The start to Milwaukee’s offseason clearly indicated an organization in a selling mode. With many of their 2022 contributors due raises in arbitration or free agency, the Brewers simply got rid of several. 

They traded outfielder Hunter Renfroe to the Angels in a salary dump, waived left-hander Brent Suter, and non-tendered right-hander Trevor Gott and others. They also let Jace Peterson, a journeyman infielder who established himself the last two seasons, take a two-year deal in, of all places, Oakland. And they traded Kolten Wong, one of their best players in 2022, to Seattle.

In so doing, the Brewers shaved a significant portion of their 2023 payroll commitments. Their 2022 figure was a franchise record, roughly $137 million, and the 2023 figure will likely be smaller.

But the Brewers don’t necessarily look a lot worse just yet. They received Jesse Winker, once a top hitter, in exchange for Wong. The elite top end of their starting staff remains intact. They recently swindled away William Contreras, another proven hitter they can probably play at catcher, from Atlanta in the strange, three-team Sean Murphy trade.

What might undo them, though, is one more move to save. Shortstop Willy Adames would make plenty of sense for the teams that missed out on all the dependable free-agent shortstops, particularly the Dodgers, Braves and Twins. If Milwaukee sells him, the 2023 team will surely suffer, but future Brewers squads will almost as surely benefit. New general manager Matt Arnold has been clear that his goal remains to make the playoffs in 2023. As of now, that still looks possible, if not likely.

What exactly is the Marlins’ plan?

Earlier this year, days after Derek Jeter left the organization because of concerns about spending capabilities, Marlins majority owner Bruce Sherman promised to invest in the club. They made a few free-agent signings, but nothing of the sort that augured any noteworthy improvement. Now, Miami is saddled with two veteran corner outfielders signed to unreasonable contracts as part of the short-lived splurge. 

Jorge Soler and Avisaíl García are by far the Marlins’ highest-paid players, and they combined to be inferior to replacement players in 2022. The Marlins’ offense, on the whole, needs significant work to reach passability. The club boasts the pitching staff of a dark-horse contender but the lineup of a lottery leader.

Their projected $83 million payroll — of which Soler and García will receive about a third — is already larger than last year’s figure. Improving the squad to anything approaching playoff viability would require soaring past the franchise record $115 million payroll from 2017, just before Sherman bought the team. 

So the Marlins appear stuck in purgatory. They are not selling or buying; more like fiddling. They already changed farm directors this summer and managers this winter, replacing Don Mattingly with his former player, Skip Schumaker. If 2023 is, as expected, another losing season, could general manager Kim Ng’s job be at risk? No executive could turn this team around in three years at their current payroll, but Ng, MLB’s first female GM, has not succeeded within the admittedly tight constraints. Executives are often axed in situations like this.

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Pedro Moura is the national baseball writer for FOX Sports. He previously covered the Dodgers for The Athletic, the Angels and Dodgers for the Orange County Register and L.A. Times, and his alma mater, USC, for ESPN Los Angeles. He is the author of “How to Beat a Broken Game.” Follow him on Twitter at @pedromoura.

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