The World Series champions added the National League Cy Young winner to their already-stacked rotation. What else is there to say: They’re ready to defend their title.
Major League Signings
- Trevor Bauer, RHP: Three years, $102MM guaranteed (opt-out after year 1 and year 2, $40MM in ’21, $45MM in ’22)
- Tommy Kahnle, RHP: Two years, $4.75MM guaranteed ($750K in incentives)
- Justin Turner, 3B: Two years, $34MM ($14MM team option for 2023)
- Blake Treinen, RHP: Two years, $17.5MM guaranteed ($8MM team option with $1.5MM buyout in ’23)
- Total spend: $158.25
Trades and Claims
- Acquired 3B Sheldon Neuse and RHP Gus Varland from the A’s for LHP Adam Kolarek and OF Cody Thomas
- Acquired RHP Jhan Zambrano from Rangers for RHP Josh Sborz
- Acquired RHP Kyle Hurt and LHP Alex Vesia from the Marlins for RHP Dylan Floro
- Acquired LHP Garrett Cleavinger from Phillies as part of three-team trade that sent LHP Jose Alvarado from the Rays to the Phillies and 1B Dillon Paulson, a PTBNL or cash considerations from the Dodgers to the Rays.
- Acquired RHP Corey Knebel from the Brewers for LHP Leo Crawford
Notable Minor League Signings
- Matt Davidson, Andy Burns, Rangel Ravelo, Enny Romero, Elliot Soto, Tim Federowicz, Brandon Morrow, James Pazos, Jimmy Nelson, Mike Kickham
Contemporaneous with Willy Adames being called out on strikes to seal the 2020 World Series, the Dodgers became the heavy favorites to repeat. That early in the offseason – literally seconds – the current champ almost has to be favored, but it was especially true of these Dodgers. After eight years of playoff blah-ness, they finally put the narrative of their postseason failures to rest. Thus began a new era of Dodger baseball.
What’s more, after eight consecutive division titles, one would think they snagged their 2020 rings in a last-gasp effort to validate an aging core. Au contraire: Somehow, they feel more like a team on the rise. Mookie Betts is entering just his second season with the team and the first of a 12-year mega-contract. The roster boasts an enviable collection of under-27 playmakers in Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Corey Seager, Julio Urias, Will Smith, Brusdar Graterol, Dustin May, Gavin Lux, and Tony Gonsolin. Even if we turn to the farm, there are reinforcements for the coming years on the way in Keibert Ruiz, Jacob Amaya, Josiah Gray, Michael Busch, Kody Hoese, Andy Pages, Ryan Pepiot, and whatever other scrap-heap pick-up they turn into their next Chris Taylor, Justin Turner, or Max Muncy (cough Sheldon Neuse cough).
Much has changed in the months since their ascent to the peak of MLB’s hierarchy. Blake Snell, Yu Darvish, and Joe Musgrove now live in their division, Francisco Lindor and Carlos Carrasco are New York Mets, even the baseball itself is different. But one thing hasn’t changed: the Dodgers are still the favorites. Vegas has the Dodgers at +350, and they’re the overwhelming favorite pick among pundits.
Yet, it was largely a quiet winter for President of Baseball Ops Andrew Friedman. By the time February rolled around, the only free agent he’d signed to a Major League deal was Tommy Kahnle, who will likely miss all of next season recovering from Tommy John surgery.
Eventually, however, the Dodgers would step into the spotlight and flex their considerable financial might. They made their big splash in signing Trevor Bauer to a hefty, and yet relatively low-risk three-year deal that’s meant to maximize their current window without overburdening their long-term payroll. Though it took awhile to consummate, ultimately, Bauer in Hollywood was really the only way to appropriately end the polarizing righty’s much-publicized free agency.
For the Dodgers, the deal pushed them into tax payor territory for the first time since 2017. That’s notable mostly because teams have become so tax-averse in recent seasons, though for a team with resources like the Dodgers, it’s hardly a significant development.
The re-signing of franchise icon Justin Turner further pushed them into tax territory. Bringing back Turner on a two-year, $34MM deal pushes the Dodgers past the second tax threshold, meaning that every dollar on the payroll beyond $250MM gets a 62.5% tax. As of now, Cot’s Contracts has the payroll at $262MM, fairly well past that second tax line. If the Dodgers stay over this line for the entire season, they will also have their highest draft pick in 2022 moved back ten spaces. Does that matter? Sure, but not as much as Turner and Bauer helping their title chances.
While Friedman opened up the checkbook this offseason in flashier fashion than is his custom, he also did so in smaller, more Friedman-ian ways. By signing arbitration-eligible players Barnes and Buehler to two-year deals, the Dodgers don’t gain any extra control, but they do get some cost certainty. Barnes signed for two-years, $4.3MM with an additional $400K on the table in incentives based on games played, while Buehler signed for a reasonable two-years, $8MM with a number of baked-in escalators based on the number of games started and where he finishes in Cy Young voting. Buehler will have two more seasons of arbitration eligibility after this deal expires.
The Dodgers said goodbye to a number of long-term pieces, too. Joc Pederson played 748 games as a Dodger, Kiké Hernandez 648 games, Alex Wood appeared in 95 games (only 9 this time around), Adam Kolarek made 46 masterful appearances over two seasons, Floro leaves after 104 appearances since his arrival in mid-2018, Terrance Gore never became a factor, Jake McGee gave them a solid 24 outings plus four more in the playoffs, and Pedro Baez departs after 355 games over seven remarkably steady seasons in the bullpen. The total contribution of those eight departing players amounted to 2.1 bWAR (5.67 bWAR when extrapolated to 162 games). Strictly speaking, Bauer could replenish that supply on his own.
Positionally, the Dodgers hope that Gavin Lux will end up taking many of the at-bats left behind by Hernandez and Pederson. Taylor will remain as their ninth position player. Matt Beaty or Neuse – acquired from the A’s – could get an opportunity to backfill the tail end of the roster. The positional flexibility of Taylor, Beaty, and Neuse will help account for any unforeseen injury pretty much anywhere on the diamond except catcher, where the Dodgers have another highly-regarded prospect in Ruiz waiting in the wings.
The most substantive difference between the 2020 Dodgers and the 2021 Dodgers comes on the pitching side. In the rotation, Bauer is the newcomer alongside returning heroes Buehler, Clayton Kershaw, May and Urias. May somewhat surprisingly won the fifth starter’s job, sending veteran David Price to the pen along with Gonsolin, their other primary depth option. That’s seven quality arms that they can turn to throughout the season to soak up chunk innings. Beyond those seven there is a drop-off, but Jimmy Nelson made the roster, and he’s another former starter who will be in the Dodgers’ bullpen.
The bullpen itself is the unit that will look the most different after losing recent mainstays like Baez and Floro. The Kahnle signing might help, but not until 2022. For this season, bringing back Blake Treinen was huge for this team considering the little bit of uncertainty surrounding Kenley Jansen. Jansen is the longest-tenured Dodger after Kershaw, and tales of his demise may be slightly overblown. Despite his struggles, he still finished 2020 with 11 saves in 27 games with a 3.33 ERA/3.03 FIP. His velocity is down, but his batted ball numbers from the regular season were still excellent. Regardless, Treinen was a solid understudy during the playoffs, and he has experience closing games. Graterol’s slow start to the season paired with Joe Kelly being on the injured list has made Treinen all the more critical.
Corey Knebel is the third piece that could prove instrumental to preserving wins. Though he missed all of 2019 and posted just a 6.08 ERA/6.64 FIP, the Dodgers got him before the Brewers were going to DFA him, so the cost was minimal. Prior to his injury, Knebel owned a 3.15 ERA/3.11 FIP over 223 innings with 57 saves. His velocity didn’t come all the way back in 2020, but his curveball was money. He may need to devise a new approach, but he’s an interesting gamble for a somewhat-diminished bullpen.
All told, Bauer’s addition to Kershaw and Buehler at the top of the rotation was the impact move. The roster was already in such good shape, however, that not much else needed to be done to stay ahead of the rapidly-rising Padres.
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