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Following a World Series loss to the Houston Astros, the Dodgers will enter the 2018 season with the majority of their core intact. The NL West division competition won’t figure to get any easier, however, and the organization’s payroll obligations already exceed the luxury tax threshold, which will make it more complicated to patch holes through free agency. The good news is that they enter the winter with wealth in another area … their deep farm system.
- Clayton Kershaw: $98MM through 2020 (can opt out of contract following the 2018 season)
- Kenley Jansen: $66MM through 2021
- Justin Turner: $48MM through 2020
- Rich Hill: $34MM through 2019
- Adrian Gonzalez: $21.5MM through 2018
- Kenta Maeda: $18MM through 2023
- Scott Kazmir: $16MM through 2018
- Brandon McCarthy: $10MM through 2018
- Logan Forsythe: $8.5MM through 2018
- Yasiel Puig: $7.5MM through 2018 (under club control through 2019; eligible for arbitration following the 2018 season)
- Hyun-Jin Ryu: $7MM through 2018
Arbitration-Eligible Players (projections via MLBTR contributor Matt Swartz)
- Yasmani Grandal (5.115) – $7.7MM
- Luis Avilan (4.146) – $2.3MM
- Alex Wood (4.123) – $6.4MM
- Tony Cingrani (4.088) – $2.2MM
- Josh Fields (3.162) – $2.2MM
- Pedro Baez (3.059) – $1.5MM
- Enrique Hernandez (3.054) – $1.3MM
- Joc Pederson (3.022) – $2.0MM
- Yimi Garcia (3.004) – $700K
Other Financial Obligations
- $24.5MM to Yaisel Sierra through 2021
- $14MM to Hector Olivera through 2020
- $6.5MM to Erisbel Arruebarrena in 2018
- $5.5MM to Matt Kemp through 2019
- $2MM to Dian Toscano through 2019
- 2B Chase Utley, OF Andre Ethier, OF Curtis Granderson, OF Franklin Gutierrez, SP Yu Darvish, RP Brandon Morrow, RP Tony Watson
At the kickoff of last year’s offseason, reports surfaced that the Dodgers were under pressure from MLB to cut payroll, though CEO Stan Kasten insisted that it wasn’t a mandate. While there hasn’t been word of any similar pressure this winter, Los Angeles already has over $207MM in guaranteed commitments for 2018 before so much as even inquiring on any free agents. Forty million of those dollars are owed to a combination of Adrian Gonzalez, Scott Kazmir and a group of players who are no longer on the roster. While it’s probably not safe to expect the Dodgers to be stingy, it wouldn’t be at all surprising to see them shy away from long-term, high-risk contracts, especially with some notable extension candidates making up the core of the MLB roster and another wave of talent budding in the upper minors.
That minor-league system includes six players in MLB Pipeline’s top 100, four of whom are either at the Double-A or Triple-A level. Their top two prospects, Walker Buehler and Alex Verdugo, could help at the major league level early in 2018. With that kind of farm system, it’s possible we could see the Dodgers swing a major trade. I already noted that they’d be an ideal fit in a hypothetical Marcell Ozuna trade with the Miami Marlins, and indeed it seems like they’re in play for Giancarlo Stanton to an extent as well (though certainly his contract is larger than anything it would take to sign any of this year’s free agents). On paper, it seems like Verdugo in particular would make the most sense as a trade chip, depending upon how the club views a deep set of outfielders, though it remains to be seen whether the Dodgers have any real interest in dealing him.
Speaking of Stanton, the Dodgers appear to be one of the best fits for his services. Not only are they one of the few teams with both the prospects and financial muscle to lure the NL MVP from Miami, but they may have an added advantage considering Stanton is an L.A. native. In fact, recent reports indicate that he’d approve a trade to the Dodgers; if he truly wants to land there, and the team is at least willing to offer enough to force the Marlins’ hand, then this could be a match. But it’s not presently clear just how much interest the Dodgers have and whether Stanton would push hard to go to one specific team.
The possibility of adding a big bat ties into a complicated picture on the position-player side. It seems probable that Gonzalez will take at least some of the time at first base to open the season, so as things stand currently, the Dodgers would enter 2018 with some combination of Chris Taylor, Cody Bellinger, Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson in the outfield, with Enrique Hernandez likely to fill a backup role and Andrew Toles as a sort of dark horse for playing time. Of course, Gonzalez faded badly in an injury-riddled 2017 season, ending with a shockingly poor .242/.287/.355 slash line in just 252 plate appearances last year. If he can’t rebound to some semblance of his former self, the Dodgers might ultimately opt to cut him loose (and eat his enormous salary) in order to move Bellinger back to first. This concern could lead to L.A. signing a platoon partner for Gonzalez at first, or adding a cheap right-handed outfield option to their roster. From my point of view, however, it doesn’t make much sense for the Dodgers to mess around with the middle- and lower-tier options at those positions. Their roster is already crowded with many players of that type, so it might not be worth sacrificing a roster spot to add another part-time bat to the mix.
Logan Forsythe is currently listed at the top of the second base depth chart for the Dodgers, and it would be perfectly reasonable to open the season with him at the keystone. Justin Turner and Corey Seager are obvious locks for their positions, so it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers making any real changes to their infield. They could, however, explore some veteran backup options. It wouldn’t be a complete shock to see them re-sign Chase Utley. The Dodgers could probably use a lefty-hitting infielder, and the 39-year-old veteran fits the bill. Other options to hit from the left side include switch-hitters Erick Aybar and Jose Reyes, but the trade market could well hold more promising possibilities.
The back end of Dodgers’ rotation for the past couple of seasons has been a patchwork quilt of oft-injured hurlers who provide solid value when healthy. But the front end is absolutely dynamite; legend Clayton Kershaw will once again be the team’s opening day starter, while Rich Hill and Alex Wood are locks for the number two and three spots. Beyond that, things get a little murkier. Kenta Maeda was a lights-out relief pitcher in the playoffs, and although he’ll probably open the season in the Dodgers’ rotation, they could also opt to use him once again as a relief ace. Buehler will contribute in some capacity this season, but I’d put my money on the Dodgers sending him to Triple-A to open 2018. Julio Urias will probably return from injury at some point as well, though that will be much later in the year and he’ll be nursed back to health with quite a lot of caution. Beyond that, whether they sign a free agent pitcher or employ a wait-and-see approach with their brittle rotation depth seems like a coin flip.
If they do sign a free agent pitcher, a reunion with Yu Darvish seems plausible. Despite an implosion during the playoffs, Darvish was solid for the Dodgers overall and comes with an extensive track record of success. Beyond him, they could be in on Jake Arrieta, or attempt to trade for Chris Archer of the Rays or Michael Fulmer of the Tigers. With the kind of rotation depth the Dodgers have, it makes more sense for them to look at large upgrades rather than risky players like Andrew Cashner or Tyler Chatwood.
The Dodgers bullpen is largely in good shape. Tony Watson and Brandon Morrow are set to depart as free agents, but the dominant Kenley Jansen remains under contract as the team’s closer. Luis Avilan, Tony Cingrani, Pedro Baez, Ross Stripling and Josh Fields will all be back as well. Their rotation depth could bleed over into their bullpen, meaning one of Brandon McCarthy, Hyun-jin Ryu or Maeda could pitch in relief to start the season. With all this in mind, it seems as though the bullpen doesn’t need much help. It wouldn’t make much sense, then, to spend big money on Greg Holland or Wade Davis, but they’ll probably explore options from the next tier. A reunion with Morrow would make plenty of sense, and beyond him there are names like Bryan Shaw, Juan Nicasio and Mike Minor that could hold appeal.
What stands out most about the Dodgers organization is its depth of resources and the multitude of ways in which it could combine them. The team could acquire a big name trade target by moving assets at the minor league level or in the majors (Pederson or Yasmani Grandal come to mind), or it could throw a wad of cash at a free agent. The Dodgers will probably make a push for Shohei Ohtani, and landing the two-way star would mean yet more possibilities for corresponding roster tweaks. At the end of the day, it seems likely that they’ll make at least one significant acquisition, and probably more than that. Under Andrew Friedman and Farhan Zaidi, the Dodgers have sought to build without simply relying on bringing in expensive veterans from outside the organization on long-term commitments. But after coming up just shy in the 2017 World Series following five-straight NL West titles, the desire to finally win it all could provide significant motivation to cash in financial and prospect capital and put a super team on the field.
What route Dodgers end up taking this winter is anybody’s guess. But we can safely presume that they won’t have a quiet offseason. They have loads of options and they’ll be exploring all of them. I expect the name “Dodgers” to pop up often in trade and free agent rumors, and I expect them to be at the epicenter when the dominoes start to fall.