GLENDALE, Ariz. — Think of the Dodgers as Sisyphus. Just they are pushing the rock up the hill in a Mercedes … with a chauffeur … while sipping Dom Perignon.
They have been the team with everything — except a championship since 1988.
And the last few years have been particularly taunting and title-less.
The Dodgers have won the past five NL West crowns, but the Astros won their first title last year (over L.A.), the Cubs the first since 1908 in 2016 (after beating L.A. in the NLCS), the Royals won for the first time since 1985 in 2015, the Giants — the hated rival Giants — finished second in the West to the Dodgers in 2014, but won their third title in five years (after not winning since 1954), and in 2013 the Red Sox won their third title in 10 years (after not winning since 1918).
“I absolutely feel we will get the rock to the top of the mountain,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.
The Dodgers have assembled the majors’ best record by 16 games over the past five years and won two more division titles than any other club. Yet, since the magic of Kirk Gibson and Orel Hershiser in 1988 — the year Clayton Kershaw was born — the Dodgers, despite a swell of stars and billions of dollars spent, have zero titles. That is two fewer than the Marlins, who didn’t exist until 1993 and have spent most years out of contention or blowing up their roster.
They are channeling the pre-1955 Boys of Summer Brooklyn Dodgers — brilliant squads that got tantalizingly close without a championship. The Dodgers do have five titles in L.A. — it only feels like forever since they last won.
“Until you win it all there is always the fear that you might not get there,” GM Farhan Zaidi said. “But you know what? That’s a great motivator, too.”
The Dodgers are large favorites to win the West for a sixth straight year and Bovada currently has only the Astros (5-1) favored over the Dodgers (11-2) to win the World Series. So is this 1955 — or not? Some thoughts?
The Kershaw conundrum
He is on a seven-year run finishing no worse than fifth in the NL Cy Young voting (with three wins). But the past two years have been curtailed by back issues. He looked fine Monday against the Brewers, getting seven of 11 outs via whiffs. But his health is now a persistent worry.
And after this season he can opt out of the final two years and $65 million of his contract. He said, “I don’t have a line in the sand” about negotiating now or in the future with the Dodgers. The industry sense is Kershaw will either favor being a legacy player and extend long-term with the Dodgers or return to his home area with the Rangers.
“Farhan, [president of baseball operations] Andrew [Friedman] and I are on the same page,” Kershaw said. That is prioritizing a championship above the personal. “There is a sense of urgency when you win as many games as we have and still have not won it all. We have to fix that.”
A taxing situation
The Dodgers had the majors’ No. 1 payroll each of the past five seasons, but won’t this year because — like the Yankees — they are vowing to get under the $197 million luxury-tax threshold. This offseason, that prevented them from landing Giancarlo Stanton (whose first choice was to go home to L.A.) or retaining Yu Darvish.
They did bundle the bad deals of Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy (all of which expire after this year) for the more spread-out contract of Matt Kemp. That has them lined up to stay under $197 million now and Friedman expressed confidence that enough available capital and prospects remain to upgrade the team come July.
No team better manipulated the shorter 10-day disabled list to provide fresh bodies and rest like the Dodgers. And around the diamond they are deep again.
Kemp and Yasiel Puig would rank high on most executives’ list of players they would prefer not to have for attitude reasons. But Kemp, in particular, has trimmed down and is on his best behavior, even doing needed extra work in the outfield. Yet, should that duo blow up, the emergence of Chris Taylor, touted prospect Alex Verdugo, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, Trayce Thompson and Andrew Toles gives the Dodgers enough quality to survive.
The same is true with an infield highlighted by corner stars Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner.
Roberts said at this moment the Dodgers lack the pitching depth of last season. Kershaw, Rich Hill and Hyun-jin Ryu offer rotation red flags, but Zaidi said top prospect Walker Buehler “is going to be a factor this year.”
Tom Koehler, who the Dodgers hoped would help ease the loss of Brandon Morrow in front of elite closer Kenley Jansen, is facing a long DL stint with an anterior capsule strain. In the Friedman-Zaidi administration (which is in Year 4), the Dodgers have done well at cobbling together effective bullpens (top 10 by FanGraphs Wins Above Replacement in each season).
“We are never going to talk about windows,” Zaidi said. “It is never going to be acceptable here not to have enough good players to win.”