Dave Roberts has never managed in the big leagues, but as the Dodgers went through the process of picking someone, he became the safe option for Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers' president of baseball operations. This was the smart political play.
If Friedman had stuck with his initial favorite, former outfielder Gabe Kapler, he would've been gambling some of his credibility not only with his bosses, but with some of his players — at a time when the Dodgers' leadership probably needs to start demonstrating acumen to the most important person in the organization, left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Based on conversations with evaluators around baseball, Kershaw continues to be widely perceived as the best pitcher on the planet and the Dodgers are in the midst of a window in which they have a chance to take advantage of a career that could rank among the best ever. Kershaw is in the top spot in our top 10 positional rankings that start today.
As the Dodgers' choice came down to two alternatives, Kapler or Roberts, the strong preference among some players was that Roberts get the job, because of lot of the Dodgers know him from his time working for the Padres, and because he has a lot of in-game experience as part of the San Diego staff.
The perception of Kapler's candidacy, in some important corners of the Dodgers' organization, is that it was built on his relationship with the front office — Friedman, most notably. And if Kapler's inexperience as a manager had manifested during the 2016 season and the Dodgers had failed to make the playoffs under Kapler's watch, Friedman would've been blamed and undercut his own standing with his bosses, and with some players.
Kershaw turns 28 in March, and will have the opportunity to opt out of his contract after the 2018 season, something that the Dodgers need to remember, because Kershaw is the worthy heir to Sandy Koufax's legacy.
The top 10 starting pitchers in MLB in 2016:
1. Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers
He already has three Cy Young Awards and two other finishes in the top 3, and while some media and fans fretted over his ERA early in 2015, the Dodgers never did, believing that he was only a couple of small adjustments away from dominating hitters as he had in the past. In the second half, Kershaw had a 1.31 ERA, with 15 walks and 141 strikeouts in 109 2/3 innings.
Kershaw's 2016 season will be his ninth in the big leagues, leaving him just one short of the 10 needed for Hall of Fame consideration, and once he goes past that benchmark, he'll be a first-ballot lock. Kershaw's adjusted ERA+ stands at 154, which ties him for the best all time among starting pitchers, with Pedro Martinez.