The Dodgers won the most regular-season games in the franchise’s 133-year history, cruising to a 111-51 record. Unfortunately, that success made it all the more disappointing when the Dodgers didn’t even win a playoff round, falling to the Padres in four games in the NLDS. Los Angeles now faces the possible departure of several key members of the roster, yet also a potential opportunity to reload with more premium talent.
- Mookie Betts, OF: $320MM through 2032 ($99MM is deferred)
- Freddie Freeman, 1B: $135MM through 2027 ($50MM is deferred)
- Chris Taylor, IF/OF: $45MM through 2025 (includes $4MM buyout of club option for 2026)
- Max Muncy, IF: $13.5MM through 2023 ($10MM club option for 2024, no buyout)
- Blake Treinen, RP: $8MM through 2023 (conditional club option for 2024 based on Treinen’s health)
- Austin Barnes, C: $7MM through 2024 ($3.5MM club option for 2025)
- Daniel Hudson, RP: $6.5MM through 2023 ($6.5MM club option for 2024)
- Note: Trevor Bauer is suspended without pay for the 2023 season, though Bauer is appealing the league’s ruling
- Justin Turner, 3B: $16MM club option for 2023 ($2MM buyout)
- Danny Duffy, SP: $7MM club option for 2023
- Hanser Alberto, IF: $2MM club option for 2023 ($250K buyout)
- Jimmy Nelson, RP: $1.1MM club option for 2023
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projected 2023 salaries via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Cody Bellinger (5.160): $18.1MM
- Julio Urias (5.117): $13.7MM
- Walker Buehler (4.168): $8.1MM
- Caleb Ferguson (4.088): $1.1MM
- Yency Almonte (3.143): $1MM
- Will Smith (3.090): $5.2MM
- Dustin May (3.059): $1.4MM
- Trayce Thompson (3.010): $1.7MM
- Edwin Rios (3.003): $1.4MM
- Brusdar Graterol (2.167): $1.2MM
- Tony Gonsolin (2.152): $3.5MM
- Evan Phillips (2.136): $1.4MM
- Non-tender candidates: Bellinger
- Trea Turner, Clayton Kershaw, David Price, Tyler Anderson, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Heaney, Joey Gallo, Tommy Kahnle, Chris Martin, Kevin Pillar, Robbie Erlin, Beau Burrows
The price of being a perennial contender is that anything short of a World Series title feels like a letdown, though the Dodgers’ record has been so overwhelmingly good over the last decade that it’s hard to say that the franchise isn’t moving in the right direction. This is the argument president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman made in his after-season press conference, and yet it is also an argument Friedman has had to make in seven of his eight seasons running the L.A. front office. Still, the 2020 World Series title is very recent evidence that Friedman’s approach can indeed get the Dodgers over the finish line, and the team will certainly go into 2023 as one of the favorites to capture another Commissioner’s Trophy.
Dave Roberts is coming back as manager, which isn’t surprising since the contract extension Roberts last spring hasn’t even officially begun. Friedman also implied that the entire coaching staff will return, unless any coaches are offered promotions with other teams. Adding to the “getting the band back together” feeling is the fact that the Dodgers already addressed some winter business by reaching extensions with Max Muncy, Daniel Hudson, Austin Barnes, and Blake Treinen during the season.
Of these new deals, Barnes is the only one who received a multi-year guarantee. The Muncy, Hudson, and Treinen extensions all essentially amounted to the Dodgers guaranteeing a pre-existing club option for 2023, while adding another club option for 2024. There was still some risk in these decisions, given that L.A. has now committed $14.5MM to two relievers who combined for 29 1/3 innings last season — Hudson was pitching very well before tearing his ACL in June, while Treinen barely pitched at all due to persistent shoulder injuries.
Muncy had an unusual season, and was undoubtedly impacted by a partial UCL tear in his left elbow suffered on the last day of the 2021 regular season. Muncy opted against surgery, and then struggled to a .161/.310/.303 slash line over his first 339 plate appearances before turning it around to hit .247/.358/.500 in his final 226 PA. His extension was announced a few weeks into that late-season hot streak, indicating that the Dodgers are confident that Muncy can get back to his old form when fully healthy.
Even with these four potential free agents locked up, Los Angeles still has a long list of names set to hit the open market, and even more notables that could also become free agents depending on club options or non-tenders. Muncy’s extension may be seen as a hedge against an infield overhaul, considering that Trea Turner will be one of the headliners of the 2022-23 free agent class, backup Hanser Alberto is probably unlikely to be retained, and the Dodgers face a $14MM decision on whether or not to exercise the club option of longtime staple Justin Turner. The third baseman turns 38 in November and is coming off an inconsistent 2022 season,
The first base and catcher positions are locked down by Freddie Freeman and Will Smith. Muncy can play second or third base, and Gavin Lux can continue at second base or slide over to shortstop if Turner departs. Edwin Rios has been plagued with injuries over the last two seasons, but he has shown enough flashes of hitting potential and the Dodgers will likely tender him a contract and hope he can contribute to the corner infield mix (though like Muncy and Freeman, Rios is also a left-handed hitter). Top prospect Miguel Vargas made his MLB debut last season and also figures to be a factor in left field or third base, even if the Dodgers may not be sure about his eventual position in the majors. Super-utilityman Chris Taylor can fill in all over the infield, though Taylor was mostly deployed as an outfielder last season and is looking to bounce back after a disappointing season.
Many teams would be quite satisfied with a starting infield of Smith, Freeman, Muncy, Lux, and a Vargas/Rios platoon at third base, with Taylor as a multi-position backup and touted rookies Michael Busch (a top-100 prospect in his own right) and Jacob Amaya knocking on the door for their own Major League debuts. But…this is the Dodgers we’re talking about. They prize roster flexibility, and they have the financial resources and minor league depth to pursue just about every free agent or trade candidate on the market.
It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where the Dodgers exercise Justin Turner’s option, re-sign Trea Turner, and just run things back with the core infield of an 111-win team. If Trea Turner departed, Los Angeles could certainly turn to one of their other star shortstops in the free agent market, and there have been some rumblings that the Dodgers are looking at Carlos Correa as their top alternative at the shortstop position.
L.A. could also potentially upgrade the infield by adding to the outfield, such as a scenario where Mookie Betts is suddenly a big part of the second base mix when Aaron Judge is signed to play right field. The Dodgers (as is their nature with every top free agent) have at least some interest in Judge, and while both Judge or Betts could be in the same outfield if one of them occasionally plays center field, returning Betts to his old second base position would certainly bolster the infield in the event of Trea Turner’s possible departure.
Because this is the Dodgers, a scenario can’t be ruled out where both Judge and Trea Turner are signed, with Los Angeles flexing its payroll muscles once again. That said, a case could be made that the Dodgers might see this winter as a chance to reset their luxury tax penalties. A lot of money is coming off the books in the form of the in-house free agents, leaving around $165.4MM committed to the 2023 roster in dollars, and a projected Competitive Balance Tax bill of just under $184MM.
Obviously, the Dodgers don’t have any qualms about paying CBT penalties in general, as they’ve soared over the tax line in each of the last two seasons. Three consecutive years of tax overages increases the penalties, however, both in terms of actual money paid on the tax bill, and (most importantly for the Dodgers) continued impact on the compensation both received and handed out regarding qualifying-offer free agents. For instance, Trea Turner will surely be issued a QO and reject it to test the market, and if signs elsewhere, Los Angeles will receive only a pick after the fourth round of the draft as compensation. Likewise, if the Dodgers signed Judge or another player who turned down a QO, the Dodgers would have to give up their second- and fifth-highest picks in the 2023 draft, as well as $1MM in international bonus pool funds.
All of these penalties would disappear next winter if the Dodgers got under the $233MM luxury tax threshold in 2023, and the roughly $49MM of current tax wiggle room would allow for L.A. to still make some necessary roster additions. The Dodgers can also carve out more room by trades or non-tenders, and Cody Bellinger’s projected $18.1MM salary stands out in this regard.
Since winning the NL MVP Award in 2019, Bellinger has hit only .203/.272/.376 with 41 homers over 1143 plate appearances. His offense particularly cratered following shoulder surgery during the 2020-21 offseason, and other injuries have also contributed to Bellinger’s sharp decline at the plate. Though he is still an excellent defensive center fielder and a strong baserunner, that’s a skillset that the Dodgers can replace for a lot less than $18.1MM. (Speculatively, Friedman might look to an old friend from his days in Tampa Bay now that former Gold Glover Kevin Kiermaier is entering free agency.)
There is a chance Bellinger isn’t tendered a contract and then re-signed to a lower salary, but of course he could also pursue a change of scenery with another team looking to buy low on a former MVP. Friedman is likely to explore trade possibilities for Bellinger before the non-tender deadline, but apart from a scenario where Bellinger is swapped for another team’s undesirable contract, interested clubs might see if they can wait out the Dodgers and then pounce on Bellinger if he is indeed non-tendered.
Despite Bellinger’s struggles, his departure would leave a hole in the Los Angeles outfield. Betts remains the cornerstone piece, and journeyman Trayce Thompson unexpectedly broke out in a huge way after being acquired in an under-the-radar pickup from the Tigers in June. Thompson played so well that he certainly has earned a place on the 2023 team, but without much of a track record of consistent MLB success, the Dodgers might still consider him more of a part-timer than as a sure thing for everyday action. If nothing else, Thompson might at least take over Bellinger’s role as a defensive standout, with upside at the plate.
As noted, Taylor is looking to rebound from a disappointing season that was plagued by injuries. Joey Gallo didn’t hit well after joining the Dodgers and probably won’t be re-signed. Kevin Pillar missed almost the entire season due to a fractured shoulder but might be a better bet to return as a depth option, since he’d only require a minor league contract. Lux, Vargas, and rookie James Outman are other in-house names for at least occasional outfield duty, plus Busch and another top prospect in Andy Pages should get involved in the outfield mix.
Even with all these names available, it seems as if there’s enough instability here that it seems likelier that the Dodgers make a notable outside acquisition to address the outfield rather than the infield, as the infield can be more easily addressed just by “only” exercising Justin Turner’s option. Whether that outside acquisition is a blockbuster like a Judge signing or a major trade, or maybe just more lower-tier moves to add another regular to the lineup, expect Los Angeles to check into all possibilities.
The same can be said about the starting rotation, as again, the Dodgers have some well-regarded prospects in Michael Grove and Ryan Pepiot who made their Major League debuts in 2022. Just slotting Grove and Pepiot behind Julio Urias, Dustin May, and Tony Gonsolin doesn’t leave much depth, however, and L.A. will certainly want more veteran experience in the starting five.
Clayton Kershaw rejoined the Dodgers on a one-year, $17MM free agent contract last season, signing the day after the lockout ended. Kershaw said he took the time provided by the lockout to both heal up some injuries and consider his future, and the result was an excellent (if injury-shortened) 2022 campaign. Even as Kershaw is entering his age-35 season and health questions may limit him to around the 124 innings he has averaged over the last two seasons, Kershaw has still looked like one of the league’s best pitchers when he’s on the mound. Barring a change of heart, Kershaw looks like a good bet to return to action in 2023, and will almost certainly do so either with the Dodgers or perhaps his hometown Rangers (who have big need in the rotation and a lot of money to offer).
Re-signing Kershaw would check off one major box for the Dodgers’ offseason, but they also have to address the potential losses of Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney. Two lower-cost free agent signings from the 2021-22 offseason, Anderson pitched so well that he made the All-Star team and made himself a borderline qualifying-offer candidate, while Heaney missed time with shoulder problems but still contributed a 3.10 ERA over 72 2/3 innings.
Heaney’s injuries might increase chances of a return to Los Angeles, as he might not require a multi-year contract, and the Dodgers could use Pepiot and Grove as backup plans if Heaney has to miss more time. One would imagine L.A. would also want to retain Anderson given how he broke out in Dodger Blue, but the Dodgers might also prefer to look for “the next” Tyler Anderson, i.e. another relatively inexpensive veteran who might blossom under the watch of pitching coach Mark Prior.
Between finding these hidden gems and their ability to draft and develop homegrown pitching talent, the Dodgers have been able to field a consistently strong rotation despite numerous injuries (such as the Tommy John surgery that will likely keep Walker Buehler sidelined until 2024) and off-the-field issues like Trevor Bauer’s suspension. That said, Los Angeles always seems to be an arm or two short heading into the playoffs, as injuries have often forced the Dodgers to reshuffle both their rotation and bullpen, sometimes with disastrous consequences.
As such, it is certainly possible that the Dodgers could bolster this group with a pitcher who provides more durability than Kershaw or Heaney, and has more of an established track record than the rookies. The free agent market offers several major names, and while there aren’t a ton of clubs with enough quality pitching to offer in trades, the Marlins do fit that description, and L.A. had some interest in right-hander Pablo Lopez at the deadline. The Dodgers have the prospect depth to at least start a conversation about any pitcher in trade talks, though some possibilities are more realistic than others — for instance, even though the Angels’ possible sale has cast a lot of uncertainty over the franchise, it is hard to imagine the Angels dealing Shohei Ohtani to their local rivals.
Turning to the bullpen, the Dodgers figure to have some interest in re-signing Tommy Kahnle or deadline pickup Chris Martin, even though the current relief corps is pretty deep. The biggest question is at the back of the bullpen, as it doesn’t look like saves leader Craig Kimbrel is in the team’s plans. Kimbrel was removed from the closer’s job and wasn’t even included on the Dodgers’ NLDS roster following a season that saw him post a 3.75 ERA over 60 innings, with a lot of walks and hard contact allowed, plus a drop in his usually-elite strikeout rate.
If Los Angeles doesn’t adopt a closer committee or turn to one of its in-house options as a top choice for the ninth inning, Edwin Diaz is the top closer available in free agency if the Dodgers wanted to splurge. Such names as David Robertson or Taylor Rogers might hold some interest for the L.A. front office, and while a reunion with Kenley Jansen is possible, it might be a little unusual to see Jansen return to the Dodgers a year after they were comfortable in letting him depart to join the Braves.
Then again, pretty much anything is on the table for a creative front office that has money to spend and prospects to trade, so another active offseason awaits for the Dodgers. Any number of headline-grabbing moves are possible, as well as less-heralded transactions (like obtaining Thompson or Yency Almonte) that end up paying big dividends during the season.