Perhaps no other team in MLB is as aggressive as the Dodgers when the opportunity to land elite talent presents itself. Coming off another trip to the NLCS, that wasn’t likely to change this offseason. It didn’t, as the Dodgers poached the top hitter from the team that knocked them out en route to a World Series title.
Major League Signings
- 1B Freddie Freeman: Six years, $162MM (deal includes deferrals that reduce net present value to around $148MM)
- LF Chris Taylor: Four years, $60MM (including buyout of 2026 club option)
- LHP Clayton Kershaw: One year, $17MM
- LHP Andrew Heaney: One year, $8.5MM
- LHP Tyler Anderson: One year, $8MM
- RHP Daniel Hudson: One year, $7MM (including buyout of 2023 club option)
- LHP Danny Duffy: One year, $3MM (deal also contains 2023 club option)
- 2B Hanser Alberto: One year, $1.6MM (including buyout of 2023 club option)
- RHP Jimmy Nelson: One year, $700K (deal also contains 2023 club option)
- RHP Trevor Bauer forewent opportunity to opt out of final two years and $64MM
- Team declined $12MM option on RHP Joe Kelly in favor of $4MM buyout
Trades and Claims
- Traded RF Billy McKinney and LF Zach Reks to Rangers for cash
- Traded LF Luke Raley to Rays for minor league RHP Tanner Dodson
- Traded LF Matt Beaty to Padres for minor league IF/RHP River Ryan
- Acquired RHP Craig Kimbrel from White Sox for LF AJ Pollock
Notable Minor League Signings
- Yency Almonte (later selected to 40-man roster), Eddy Alvarez, Pedro Báez, Dellin Betances, Beau Burrows, Robbie Erlin (later selected to 40-man roster, then outrighted), Carson Fulmer (via minor league Rule 5 draft), Sam Gaviglio, Shane Greene (later selected to 40-man roster, then designated for assignment), Ty Kelly, Jake Lamb, Jason Martin, Reyes Moronta (later selected to 40-man roster), Kevin Pillar, Yefry Ramirez, Stefen Romero, Tomás Telis, Mike Wright Jr., Daniel Zamora
- Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen, Pollock, Corey Knebel, Kelly, Albert Pujols, Sheldon Neuse, Beaty, McKinney, Reks, Andrew Vasquez, Scott Alexander, Darien Núñez, Edwin Uceta, Andy Burns
The Dodgers’ streak of eight consecutive NL West titles came to an end in 2021, but it wasn’t through any fault of theirs. 106 wins just wasn’t enough to catch the 107-win Giants, as those two clubs battled for the division down to the final weekend. The Dodgers got their revenge in the postseason, knocking off their archrivals in a tightly-contested NL Division Series, but their hopes of a repeat World Series title were dashed the following round by the eventual champion Braves.
Because of their consistently upper-tier payrolls and highly aggressive front office, the Dodgers are a team to watch every offseason. That was even more true than usual after 2021, as Los Angeles faced a number of potential key free agent departures. They’d stunned the baseball world by pulling off a Trea Turner — Max Scherzer blockbuster with the Nationals last summer. Turner is controllable through 2022, but Scherzer was headed for free agency. So was Corey Seager, whom Turner could ostensibly replace at shortstop. Franchise stalwarts Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen were going to be available, as was super-utilityman Chris Taylor and a couple solid veteran relievers (Corey Knebel and Joe Kelly, the latter of whom was bought out by the club due to concerns about his arm health).
There was no question the Dodgers would keep some segment of that group, but they were never going to hold onto the whole bunch. To begin the offseason, L.A. was faced with a few qualifying offer decisions. Tagging Seager and Taylor was an easy call, as neither would accept. Scherzer and Jansen were ineligible — the former because he was dealt midseason, the latter because he’d already received a QO in his career. The only borderline case was Kershaw, one of the greatest players in franchise history. Kershaw remained highly productive but ended the season on the injured list due to forearm/elbow inflammation.
The Dodgers ultimately elected not to issue a qualifying offer, but president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman quickly maintained that wasn’t for lack of interest in keeping the three-time Cy Young winner around. Friedman suggested Kershaw wanted some time to ponder his future with his family, seemingly deciding between a return to L.A. or signing with his hometown Rangers. Kershaw’s decision would linger for months, but there’d be plenty of pre-lockout activity for the club.
Los Angeles was the first team to sign one of MLBTR’s top 50 free agents, agreeing to an $8.5MM guarantee with starter Andrew Heaney a few days into the offseason. The left-hander was coming off a miserable 2021 season split between the Angels and Yankees, with the latter club designating him for assignment rather than carry him on their postseason roster. Heaney was bombarded by home runs, but his quality strikeout and walk numbers figured to make him an appealing buy-low candidate. The Dodgers installed him into their season-opening rotation, and he had an excellent first two starts before suffering a shoulder injury.
Adding Heaney certainly didn’t preclude the Dodgers from trying to keep Scherzer at the top of the starting staff. Los Angeles was in the bidding for the eight-time All-Star, but he eventually departed for a three-year, $130MM contract with the Mets. Within a day of seeing Scherzer depart, the Dodgers also pulled out of the bidding for their longtime shortstop. Seager agreed to terms on a ten-year, $325MM deal with the Rangers. That wound up being easily the biggest guarantee of the offseason, and the Dodgers merely picked up a compensatory draft choice after the fourth round for his departure.
Of course, the front office wasn’t going to idle as the rest of the league attacked the pre-lockout period with urgency. The Dodgers added capable set-up man Daniel Hudson on a $7MM guarantee, backfilling the relief corps in light of their departures. More importantly, they won the bidding for Taylor, bringing him back on a four-year, $60MM guarantee.
Taylor has had a stellar five-plus year run in Southern California. Acquired from the Mariners in what turned out to be a 2016 trade heist, he’s provided manager Dave Roberts with ample defensive flexibility bouncing between the three most challenging infield positions and both left and center field. Plenty of players nowadays are willing to man multiple positions, but few do so while consistently posting above-average offensive production. Taylor does, with enough power and patience to offset some swing-and-miss concerns. The Dodgers clearly valued the skillset he brings on both sides of the ball, as he wound up being one of just two multi-year deals they landed out.
The other wouldn’t come until after the work stoppage, but there were hints of its possibility during the pre-lockout frenzy. Some considered it a fait accompli the Braves would re-sign Freddie Freeman. He’d been a career-long member of the organization, won the 2020 NL MVP award, and mashed throughout last year’s World Series run. Atlanta would certainly make an effort to bring him back, and prevailing industry expectation early in the winter was they’d succeed.
By the time the lockout arrived, that sentiment was starting to dwindle. Freeman and the Braves hit a stalemate in negotiations about whether the team should offer a sixth guaranteed season. Rumblings emerged that the Dodgers could be in position to make a run at the three-time Silver Slugger winner. Not only are the Dodgers a potential factor on every free agent superstar, Freeman is an Orange County native who could welcome the opportunity to return to the area.
Coming out of the lockout, reports emerged that the Dodgers were making a spirited run at Freeman. They and the incumbent Braves were viewed as essential co-favorites in those first few days, and Atlanta’s preemptive acquisition of Matt Olson from the A’s pulled them from the running. That left the Dodgers as the likeliest landing spot, and while teams like the Yankees, Blue Jays, Red Sox, Padres and even Rays were mentioned as possible suitors late in the process, L.A. eventually got it done.
Freeman signed a six-year, $162MM pact that wound up being the fourth-largest free agent guarantee of the offseason (although deferrals reduced its actual net present value under $150MM). The Dodgers added another elite bat to an already loaded lineup, and they injected even more intrigue into the NL playoff race by poaching a homegrown superstar from one of their direct competitors.
The Braves, meanwhile, would throw a counterpunch of their own by signing Jansen to be their closer. While the front offices were surely making what they calculated to be the best baseball operations decisions, there’s probably some small amount of satisfaction in trading offseason barbs with potential budding rivals. Virtually all the top teams in the National League conducted or at least tried to orchestrate significant roster shakeups over the winter.
Having lost Jansen, the Dodgers faced a void in the ninth inning. It appeared they’d turn to Hudson or returning relievers like Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol there, but they instead opted for a much splashier move. The week before Opening Day, the Dodgers and White Sox aligned on a one-for-one swap of veterans. Los Angeles sent corner outfielder AJ Pollock to Chicago in exchange for Craig Kimbrel in an out-of-the-blue trade.
Kimbrel had become an increasingly tricky player to value. One of the sport’s best relievers for almost a decade with Atlanta, Boston and San Diego, his production had largely fallen off since he signed a three-year pact with the Cubs midway through 2019. Kimbrel was ineffective over the first two seasons of that deal and his contract looked like a negative-value asset before he returned to vintage form for a few months. The right-hander tossed 36 2/3 innings of 0.49 ERA ball for the Cubs during the first half of last season, striking out almost half the batters he faced in the process.
After the Cubs sent him to the White Sox in a crosstown deadline deal, however, his production sputtered. He allowed more than five earned runs per nine over the season’s final couple months thanks to significant home run issues. Kimbrel’s strikeout and swinging strike numbers remained strong, but they’d dipped from their otherworldly heights on the North Side. After the Sox exercised a $16MM club option on his services, it looked as if there may not be much trade interest.
In the end, the Dodgers felt comfortable enough with their position player depth to roll the dice that Kimbrel’s still a late-game weapon. Pollock had remained a very productive player, particularly offensively, when healthy. Yet the 34-year-old has battled numerous injuries in recent seasons, and the Dodgers arguably didn’t need another outfielder. They’ve never shied away from stockpiling depth, but the opportunity to address what looked like the relative weakest area of the roster — the bullpen — arose, and the front office took it.
No other team in baseball can match the talent the Dodgers have around the diamond. Will Smith is one of the sport’s best catchers, backed up by Austin Barnes. Freeman takes over at first base, allowing Max Muncy to rotate through second base, third base and the newly-implemented NL designated hitter. Former top prospect Gavin Lux finally gets an opportunity for regular run at second, with Justin Turner splitting time between the hot corner and DH. Trea Turner slides back from second base to his typical shortstop position in Seager’s stead.
Taylor is primarily a left fielder given the strength of the club’s infield, but he’s certainly capable of kicking back to the dirt if necessary. The Dodgers signed righty-hitting utilityman Hanser Alberto to add some more defensive flexibility, a move that squeezed the bat-first Matt Beaty off the roster. (L.A. traded Beaty to the rival Padres after designating him for assignment). Edwin Ríos returns from May shoulder surgery that prematurely ended his 2021 season to round out the infield.
The outfield primarily consists of Taylor, Cody Bellinger and Mookie Betts. The Dodgers elected to tender Bellinger an arbitration contract despite an abysmal 2021 season, placing faith in the 2019 NL MVP to bounce back. He’s not found anything approaching that kind of form in the early going, but he’s at least making an impact from a power perspective again after slugging just .302 last season. Combined with strong defense in center field, Bellinger’s still a valuable player, even if there’s probably some amount of frustration he’s not been able to maintain his early-career superstar form.
Most of the Dodgers’ remaining offseason moves could broadly be seen as taking shots on talented pitchers with injury concerns. Kershaw is the ultimate example, as he decided to return to the only organization he’s ever known coming out of the lockout. The Dodgers inked him to a one-year, $17MM guarantee, avoiding a long-term commitment but reinforcing Friedman’s claims from earlier in the offseason the franchise would spend to keep him around if Kershaw wanted to stay.
That wasn’t a mere legacy signing, as Kershaw is still the kind of ultra-talented pitcher they’d happily hand a postseason start when he’s right. He started the 2022 campaign with five excellent outings before experiencing some inflammation in his right hip/pelvis area. That’s less concerning than an arm issue would be, but he’ll miss at least a few weeks. The organization is surely hopeful he’ll be at full strength to take the ball alongside Julio Urías and Walker Buehler come playoff time.
Who else factors into that rotation mix remains to be seen, but the Dodgers have some options. Tony Gonsolin remains on hand, and Heaney should’ve long since returned from his IL stint for the stretch run. Dustin May is rehabbing from last spring’s Tommy John surgery, and prospects Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove have gotten brief looks in the majors so far. (Trevor Bauer is on the team’s restricted list after declining to exercise his opt-out clause, but he’s in the midst of the appellate process after Major League Baseball handed down a two-year suspension after finding he’d violated the Domestic Violence policy last month).
The club also figures to poke around the summer trade market for potential upgrades. They reportedly had discussions with the Reds about Luis Castillo over the winter, and the high-octane righty could be available again. Former Dodger prospect Frankie Montas and Tyler Mahle are among the other mid-rotation types who might be on the market.
This front office regime has been very willing to take some risks from a health perspective in pursuit of talent. Jon Heyman of the New York Post reported this week they made a one-year offer to Carlos Rodón, another hurler who fits in the high-octane, high-risk bucket. (Rodón ended up in San Francisco on a two-year pact that allows him to opt out after this season). Yet they’ll obviously need to collect bulk innings somewhere to avoid overworking the bullpen, and they took a step in that regard during Spring Training.
Los Angeles signed southpaw Tyler Anderson to an $8MM guarantee. He’s a bit against that archetype, providing lower-variance production at the back end of the rotation. Anderson isn’t flashy and doesn’t typically work deep into starts, but he reliably took the ball every fifth day for Pittsburgh and Seattle last season and offers a valuable complement to some of the riskier arms in the back-end mix.
Kimbrel and Hudson were the biggest bullpen additions, although the Dodgers took a couple low-cost fliers on talented but injured arms there as well. Acquiring Danny Duffy from the Royals last summer didn’t pan out as hoped, as he had a setback in his recovery from the flexor strain that had him on the injured list at the time. He didn’t pitch for the Dodgers in 2021, but the club brought him back on a $3MM guarantee with an incentive-laden option for 2023.
Duffy has been targeting a June return, and the longtime starter suggested he’d work in shorter stints this year as a means of preserving his health after a long layoff. He has the potential to make a late-season impact in the middle to late innings. That may not be true of Jimmy Nelson, who underwent Tommy John surgery last August. He signed a more affordable version of the “one-year guarantee with an option” arrangement in Spring Training, though, and could be a factor in 2023.
While the focus will obviously be on the on-field moves the Dodgers have made, they also conducted some notable administrative business. In January, they promoted AGM Brandon Gomes to general manager. That solidified him as Friedman’s #2 in the front office hierarchy and warded off the potential for another team to poach him by offering that same title elsewhere, which the Mets were reportedly considering. During Spring Training, they signed Roberts to a three-year extension covering the 2023-25 campaigns. That kept their World Series-winning skipper from entering 2022 under a lame duck contract, and it positions him to eclipse ten years in that role.
The Dodgers have been a win-now team since before the start of Roberts’ tenure. They’ve done a remarkable job of backfilling the roster internally, maintaining a perennially strong farm system that affords the depth for prospect promotions and blockbuster acquisitions of players like Betts, Turner and Scherzer. Paired with an ownership group that’s willing to spend for marquee free agent talent, they’ve orchestrated a more consistent run of recent success than any other franchise in the league.
That’s showing no signs of slowing down, and while teams like the Giants and Padres should push them at the top of the division, the Dodgers are among the handful of teams most likely to win the World Series in 2022. That’s more or less the tier they’ve occupied for a decade, and the long-term window is as open as ever.