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Don't write the Dodgers off yet, you fools

Even if the Dodgers stand pat, they'll contend. And you know they won't stand pat.

Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

It was unthinkable, absolutely unthinkable that the Dodgers would lose Zack Greinke. The Dodgers were the team that considered Carl Crawford's contract to be an Adrian Gonzalez tariff. They've been elbowing people out of the way on the international market for years now. They outbid multiple teams to get Hector Olivera, then considered his signing bonus to be an Alex Wood tax. They signed Greinke the first time because they could offer the money and laugh at the teams that couldn't. There was no stopping the Dodgers' money-printing machine. Of course they were going to re-sign him.

And then a division rival signed him away. A small-market division rival. Even worse, the Dodgers were likely the third-place team in the Greinke race. They weren't even the runners up for one of the most important players on the team that won the NL West three years in a row.

A brief history of the Dodgers' offseason: They were in on David Price, then they focused on Greinke. And when they lost, they figured they would trade for Aroldis Chapman, who turned out to be a very disturbed individual. They then signed Hisashi Iwakuma, but he had a bum wing or knee or, no one really knows, and Ben Zobrist didn't want to play that far west. Even though everyone assumed they would just snatch up Johnny Cueto, he went to their division rival, too. When the Dodgers were in the middle of a trade for a 2015 All-Star it was just to shuffle prospects around, and then they just wandered around the airport for a while, waiting for spring training to start.

Except, you know that's not the end of the Dodgers' offseason. They have time. They have prospects. If they want to melt the hot stove into a teeny-tiny toothpick that they can arrogantly swirl around in their mouth, they can do it.

Let's check in with FanGraphs' depth chart for 2016, with ZiPS projections, and compare it to what the Dodgers actually did in 2015 at each position.

2015 WAR 2016 WAR (ZiPS projection) Difference
C 3.7 3.6 -0.1
1B 3 2.9 -0.1
2B 4.4 1.9 -2.5
SS 1.6 3.1 1.5
3B 3.7 2.9 -0.8
LF 5.6 2.8 -2.8
CF 4.6 3.3 -1.3
RF 2.1 4.6 2.5
SP 18 18.4 0.4
RP 4.5 4 -0.5

51.2 47.5 -3.7

The Dodgers are roughly four wins behind where they were. This is an extremely raw look, of course. A WAR-based projection is a movie trailer: maybe you can figure out the twist ending from it, and maybe you can't, but you'll at least get a sense of what's going on.

The biggest surprise? That the 2016 rotation projects to be better, mostly because of a full season with Alex Wood and a moderately healthy Hyun-Jin Ryu. The lefty-heavy rotation still has the best pitcher alive, and four good-to-competent arms behind him. Brandon McCarthy could be back in the middle of the season, and there's the lurking spectre of Julio Urias, the best man-child prospect in the upper levels of the minors since Felix Hernandez.

They should probably get another pitcher. But the computers are telling us they don't need to. According to the projections, the biggest problems for the 2016 Dodgers, in order:

  1. Andre Ethier not being nearly as good
  2. Chase Utley and Enrique Hernandez replacing Howie Kendrick
  3. Joc Pederson having two second halves instead of two first halves

The first one is a legitimate concern, considering that Ethier had a magnificent bounceback season at 33. The support around him -- Scott Van Slyke and Carl Crawford -- isn't loved by the projection systems.

The second one depends on your opinion of Hernandez and Utley. It's likely they'll be fine, with Hernandez offering the same upside he showed last year.

The third one is pretty gloomy considering Pederson's raw talent, but it's not like ZiPS is projecting him to be anything but a good player. It's just unwise to ignore that second-half collapse completely.

All three of those concerns have something in common: There probably isn't a lot the Dodgers are going to do about them. There isn't another Pederson pushing Ethier, so it's not like the Dodgers should pay him to play someone else. And it's not like the Dodgers should find a replacement for Pederson. Hernandez definitely earned a looksee as a starter after his limited time in the majors last year, and there's Utley and Austin Barnes and Micah Johnson and Alex Guerrero there, just in case it doesn't work out.

No, the only place it makes sense to upgrade is still with the pitching staff. Even if the additions of Ryu and Wood make the rotation better than you might remember, there's probably a way to upgrade on the quiet competence of Mike Bolsinger. There's a way to make Chris Hatcher the seventh inning guy instead of an eighth inning mainstay.

They have options. They can make the biggest trade in baseball. There's a cadre of national writers that are very, very insistent that every move the Dodgers make is a precursor to a Jose Fernandez deal. Trade for Frankie Montas? Must mean the Dodgers are after Fernandez. Hunker down and withdraw from the hot stove action? Probably means the Dodgers are deep into talks with the Marlins. Wink.

It doesn't have to be the Marlins, though. There's also Chris Archer, and even though he's inexpensive and the Rays should ostensibly contend, they'll always consider chances to be pragmatic and build a low-cost foundation. That goes for the A's and Sonny Gray, too.

The correct answer was probably "trade for Cole Hamels at any point over the last two years," but we're not here for the hindsight.

The Dodgers can also make a more reasonable trade for Jake Odorizzi. There's some logic behind emptying the farm for Odorizzi and Jake McGee at the same time, rather than just Gray or Fernandez, but there's even more logic in trading for Odorizzi alone and keeping both Corey Seager and Urias.

They could also trade for Julio Teheran or Drew Smyly, Jimmy Nelson or Trevor Bauer, Tyson Ross or James Shields. It doesn't have to be about Fernandez, Archer or Gray. It probably shouldn't be about Fernandez, Archer or Gray.

They can sign Mike Leake or Wei-Yin Chen, Scott Kazmir or Kenta Maeda. Chen would require them to give up the draft pick they thought they lost with Iwakuma, but Chen's probably the best pitcher left, too.

They can do none of the above, cross their fingers, and hope that their younger position players surpass those modest projections, and that Urias will be ready and outstanding before the year is over. It wouldn't be a very win-now strategy, but it would appeal to the folks with a long-term vision.

Regardless of what they do, it's not time to label the Dodgers' offseason a failure. It's been weird, sure. Filled with stops and starts and surprises. But it's not over, and they don't have to make a mega-whopper deal for Fernandez to salvage anything. They still have options, and the means to acquire just about anything worth acquiring. Writing them off seems like a good way to look silly later on.

(They still have Clayton Kershaw, you know.)

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