For the first time since 1988, the Dodgers are World Series champions. Regardless of what they do this offseason, they’ll enter 2021 as favorites to win it all again, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the club make significant moves in order to bolster its chances of a repeat.
- Mookie Betts, OF: $295MM through 2032
- David Price, LHP: $64MM through 2022
- AJ Pollock, OF: $30MM through 2022 (includes $5MM buyout for 2023)
- Clayton Kershaw, LHP: $23,333,333 through 2021
- Max Muncy, INF: $20.5MM through 2022
- Kenley Jansen, RHP: $20MM through 2021
- Joe Kelly, RHP: $12.5MM through 2021 (includes $4MM buyout for 2022)
- Chris Taylor, INF/OF: $7.8MM through 2021
Note on arb-eligible players: this year’s arbitration projections are more volatile than ever, given the unprecedented revenue losses felt by clubs and the shortened 2020 schedule. MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz, who developed our arbitration projection model, used three different methods to calculate different projection numbers. You can see the full projections and an explanation of each if you click here, but for the purposes of our Outlook series, we’ll be using Matt’s 37-percent method — extrapolating what degree of raise a player’s 2020 rate of play would have earned him in a full 162-game slate and then awarding him 37 percent of that raise.
- Austin Barnes – $1.3MM
- Cody Bellinger – $13.1MM
- Walker Buehler – $2.3MM
- Dylan Floro – $900K
- Corey Knebel: $5.125MM
- Corey Seager – $10.4MM
- Julio Urias – $1.7MM
- Justin Turner, Joc Pederson, Blake Treinen, Enrique Hernandez, Jake McGee, Pedro Baez, Alex Wood, Jimmy Nelson
There is very little to dislike about this Dodgers roster, though the team is facing some notable losses in free agency. It starts with third baseman Justin Turner, who has been an unexpected gem for the team since it signed him to a minor league contract before the 2014 campaign. The bearded Turner has since emerged as one of the faces of the Dodgers and one of their most productive players, but considering he’s 36 years old and there may not be a universal designated hitter in 2021, it’s possible the Dodgers will move on in the coming months.
If the Dodgers do let Turner walk, there are a few alternate routes they could take at the hot corner. Los Angeles could stay within and hand the position to Edwin Rios, who saw quite a bit of time at third in 2020, or shift shortstop Corey Seager there. Otherwise, Kris Bryant (Cubs), Nolan Arenado (Rockies) or even free-agent infielder DJ LeMahieu could end up as targets. An Arenado acquisition seems especially unlikely, though, in part because the Rockies and Dodgers are division rivals. ESPN’s Buster Olney recently reported there are “monumental” roadblocks standing in the way of a potential Arenado-Dodgers union.
Of course, one can’t rule out another major trade that would deliver a franchise shortstop to the Dodgers. They’re certainly in good hands at the position with Seager, but if they want to shift him to third, trading for the Indians’ Francisco Lindor would make sense. Lindor seems like a surefire bet to go in a trade this offseason because he’s projected to make anywhere from $17.5MM to $21MM in arbitration next year, and the Indians are a frugal franchise. The Dodgers have more than enough young talent to put together a package for Lindor, and as such a wealthy franchise, the four-time All-Star’s salary would not stand in their way. So, in short, the Dodgers are as logical a Lindor suitor as anyone.
Moving to the outfield, the Dodgers may wave goodbye to Joc Pederson, who has been part of the organization since it selected him in the 11th round in 2010. Pederson debuted in 2014 and has since delivered above-average offensive production, though the left-handed swinger has struggled versus same-handed pitchers. That doesn’t mean the Dodgers won’t bring Pederson back, but it doesn’t seem all that likely when considering the talent the team has in its outfield. Right fielder Mookie Betts obviously isn’t going anywhere. Cody Bellinger played the majority of the year in center, and he’s obviously there to stay. Pederson played 20 of 60 games in left, but that total fell short of AJ Pollock’s 22. The Dodgers also have Chris Taylor in the fold as someone who can play multiple outfield positions.
On the pitching side, the Dodgers are rife with quality arms, though they are dealing with some upheaval in their bullpen. The club made a notable trade last week when it acquired onetime All-Star closer Corey Knebel from the Brewers. Knebel was terrible over a small sample of work last season, but it doesn’t seem fair to write him off over what was his first action since undergoing March 2019 Tommy John surgery. As recently as 2018, Knebel was a terrific reliever; if healthy, it wouldn’t be surprising to see him at least re-emerge as a useful part of the Dodgers’ bullpen (especially considering their track record of getting the most out of veterans).
An effective Knebel would help the Dodgers replace Blake Treinen, Jake McGee and Pedro Baez, who are each free agents. Treinen was solid for the Dodgers after signing for $10MM last winter; McGee was even better on a per-inning basis after inking a low-risk deal in July; and Baez once again prevented numbers at a respectable clip. So how do the Dodgers replace those three? Well, they could re-sign any of them, but they’re otherwise looking at a free-agent market with a slew of familiar veteran relievers. And you can’t necessarily rule out another trade with the Brewers, who don’t seem to be closing the door on letting go of lights-out lefty Josh Hader. As with Lindor, the Dodgers have the talent to put together a deal for Hader.
The way the Dodgers assemble their bullpen will affect how they construct their starting staff (and vice versa). Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler have their spots locked down, and the same is probably true for David Price (if he returns next year after opting out in 2020). Beyond that group, Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May – who combined for 28 starts last season – remain clear candidates for rotation spots. All three look more than qualified, but if the Dodgers would rather make a sizable splash (whether that means for another starter or a position player), at least one of them could fall out of contention or even be dealt elsewhere. The team has the money to sign the No. 1 free agent available, NL Cy Young winner Trevor Bauer, and it’s worth noting president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman was at the helm of Tampa Bay’s front office when the Rays drafted 2018 AL Cy Young winner Blake Snell in 2011. Snell could now be a trade candidate for the Rays, so it’s hard not to connect him to the Dodgers partly because of the Friedman connection. Barring the acquisition of a front-line starter, though, the Dodgers don’t look as if they really have to do much in their rotation. It’s a good-looking group as it is.
However this offseason goes, the Dodgers will enter 2021 as a well-oiled machine that should once again push for a World Series championship. But considering their financial prowess, their array of talent and many other teams hesitant to spend because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this winter could give the Dodgers a chance to become even better. That’s a scary thought for the rest of Major League Baseball.