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The 2019 season resulted in another NL West title but more playoff disappointment for the powerhouse Dodgers. Now, newly extended president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman is once again looking for ways to get the Dodgers their first World Series championship since 1988.
- Clayton Kershaw, LHP: $46.67MM through 2021
- A.J. Pollock, OF: $42MM through 2022 (including $5MM buyout for 2023)
- Kenley Jansen, RHP: $38MM through 2021
- Joe Kelly, RHP: $21MM through 2021 (including $4MM buyout for 2022)
- Justin Turner, 3B: $19MM through 2020
- Kenta Maeda, RHP: $12MM through 2023
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Pedro Baez (5.059) – $3.3MM
- Enrique Hernandez (5.054) – $5.5MM
- Joc Pederson (5.028) – $8.5MM
- Chris Taylor (4.037) – $5.0MM
- Corey Seager (4.032) – $7.1MM
- Ross Stripling (3.115) – $2.3MM
- Max Muncy (3.027) – $4.6MM
- Cody Bellinger (2.160) – $11.6MM
- Julio Urias (2.117) – $1.7MM
The Dodgers have been eminently successful since Friedman came over from Tampa Bay to take the reins after the 2014 season. However, despite their financial might, they haven’t been aggressive in handing out large contracts during the Friedman reign. In fact, the Friedman-led Dodgers haven’t issued a single $100MM-plus contract. That could change this offseason, though, as the Dodgers work to finally push themselves over the top in 2020. So far this offseason, they’ve been connected to the three best free agents available – right-hander Gerrit Cole, third baseman Anthony Rendon and righty Stephen Strasburg (the latter two helped bounce the Dodgers from the playoffs this year as members of the Nationals). It’s entirely possible all three will require contracts worth at least $200MM and $30MM or more per year, and giving out that type of deal would obviously represent a radical change of course for the Dodgers.
On paper, the team certainly has the money for a Cole-Rendon-Strasburg splash, but if the Dodgers are still leery of the luxury tax, any of those signings would be difficult to swing. The Dodgers’ luxury-tax projection for 2020 is currently at just south of $180MM, per Jason Martinez of Roster Resource and FanGraphs. The first level of the tax next season will fall between $208MM and $228MM. If the Dodgers spend anywhere in that vicinity, the league would hit them with a 20 percent overage tax. Should that deter the Dodgers from making major improvements this winter? Frankly, no, but as we’ve seen time and again, team owners prefer to stay under the tax.
Tax aside, Friedman hasn’t been keen on passing out very long contracts, which could be problematic in regards to a potential LA pursuit of the game’s elite free agents. Cole and Rendon should each get at least seven-year guarantees, while Strasburg may end up at six. Friedman could offer any of those players a high-AAV deal for fewer years, as he reportedly did last offseason with Bryce Harper, but who’s to say any would leave a larger overall guarantee on the table from another club?
Considering the way they typically operate, some skepticism is warranted in regards to whether the Dodgers will actually reel in any of the three superstar free agents on the board. But let’s say it happens. If it’s Cole or Strasburg, he’ll further beef up an already strong rotation that boasts Walker Buehler and Clayton Kershaw as locks. Meanwhile, Friedman has suggested Julio Urias, Kenta Maeda and Ross Stripling have legit chances to comprise the rest of the rotation. Not to be forgotten, the Dodgers also have Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May among their starting options. At the same time, it would be unwise to rule out the potential re-signing of either Hyun-Jin Ryu and/or Rich Hill, who comprise the Dodgers’ two best free agents. Ryu would make for a nice, much cheaper alternative to Cole or Strasburg, though he’s also in line to do rather well on the open market. The aged Hill should be attainable on a one-year deal, and he has already said he’d like to remain a Dodger. If the Dodgers strike out on all of those fronts, perhaps they’d pursue a trade for a starter. Matthew Boyd, Corey Kluber and Chris Archer (whom Friedman knows well from Tampa Bay) are among the starters who may wind up on the block this offseason.
As is the case with their rotation, the Dodgers don’t necessarily have to do anything at third. Justin Turner remains a hugely valuable contributor, yet the club has nonetheless explored Rendon and the No. 2 third baseman in free agency, Josh Donaldson. The latter’s the type of short-term, high-AAV player who could be up the Dodgers’ alley. What would signing Donaldson mean for Turner, though? Well, the 35-year-old has said he’d be open to a position change, which would likely mean moving to first or second. Problem is that the Dodgers aren’t exactly hard up at either of those spots. Max Muncy can line up at either place, NL MVP-winning outfielder Cody Bellinger can play first on occasion, and stud prospect Gavin Lux garnered quite a bit of experience at the keystone late in the season. All that said, if the Dodgers do add Rendon or Donaldson, perhaps they’d shop Turner. Odds are they wouldn’t have much trouble finding a taker, as Turner’s only signed for another year (at $19MM) and would make for an appealing consolation prize for teams that lose out on Rendon and Donaldson.
Staying in the Dodgers’ infield, there’s also at least some chance of a new shortstop coming to town. The Dodgers are well-equipped there with Corey Seager, but he’s not the type of game-changer Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor is. Lindor has another two arbitration-eligible years remaining and, relative to his performance, figures to earn more-than-reasonable salaries in that span. Nevertheless, because the Indians are unlikely to extend the 26-year-old, his name has been bandied about in trade speculation for months. Should he actually become available, Los Angeles is reportedly among the teams that would consider a pursuit. It’s anyone’s guess what a Lindor acquisition would mean for Seager. Perhaps he’d wind up in Cleveland or elsewhere via trade. Regardless, despite his waning team control, Lindor’s good enough to bring back a haul in a trade. The Dodgers may have the ammunition to pull off such a strike, though, considering their wealth of assets in the majors and minors.
Speaking of trades, the Dodgers could go that route and subtract from their lineup. Outfielder Joc Pederson is coming off a 36-home run season, though he has now come up in trade speculation in back-to-back winters. The White Sox seem particularly interested in Pederson, who’s controllable for one more year and should collect a fair salary worth less than $10MM. Pederson’s a valuable player, so the Dodgers can simply keep him, but as MLBTR’s Steve Adams previously noted, they’d be brimming with good outfielders even after his departure (Bellinger, Alex Verdugo, A.J. Pollock, Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Kyle Garlick and Matt Beaty). Furthermore, dealing Pederson may help the Dodgers upgrade an area of greater concern on their roster.
The bullpen was often a source of frustration for the Dodgers in 2019, including during their NLDS loss to the Nats. Long-dominant closer Kenley Jansen looked more mortal than ever, while last winter’s big-money Joe Kelly signing probably didn’t produce the Year 1 results the Dodgers wanted. Those two will be back next season, though, as will Pedro Baez, Dylan Floro, Scott Alexander, Adam Kolareak and Casey Sadler. Meanwhile, the hurlers from the Dodgers’ surplus of starters who don’t crack their rotation could also factor into the mix. In all, not a bad group. The Dodgers could still do better, though.
The question is: How can the Dodgers upgrade their bullpen from outside? It might not be that easy in free agency, where the No. 1 reliever on this year’s market, Will Smith, has already signed with the Braves. That move crushed the hopes of the many who wanted to see Will Smith pitching to Will Smith in Los Angeles in 2020. With Smith (the pitcher) and Drew Pomeranz (Padres) now off the board, this year’s class of unsigned relievers looks a lot less inspiring. Dellin Betances, Steve Cishek, Kevin Gausman, Daniel Hudson, Collin McHugh, Joe Smith and Will Harris are some of the best choices left, and the Dodgers have shown interest in former A’s closer Blake Treinen. Meantime, the trade market could feature Ken Giles (Blue Jays), Keone Kela (Pirates) and Mychal Givens (Orioles), to name a few. Whether or not the Dodgers acquire anyone from that bunch, it doesn’t appear they’ll be spending an exorbitant amount of cash on trying to better their relief corps in the coming months.
Unlike some other NL clubs (the Padres and Braves, for example), the Dodgers haven’t orchestrated any headline-grabbing moves to this point in the offseason. However, considering their reported interest in several big fish, that could change as early as next week’s Winter Meetings. Even if the Dodgers veer away from adding any true standouts before next year, the Friedman-led club will enter 2020 as the odds-on favorites to win the NL West yet again. But that alone isn’t going to suffice for Dodgers fans, who have waited three-plus decades since their most recent title and have endured one letdown after another in recent postseasons.