The Offseason Dissection of the Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers have spent the better part of the last five seasons as the National League’s sole consistently great team, while still somehow finding a way to come up short in the end more times than not. I believe the Dodgers’ recent run can best be summarized by a common description of their longtime cornerstone, Clayton Kershaw: talented and brilliant for 162 games, but woefully ill-equipped to win in the Postseason.

Credit where it’s due, LAD managed to finally clinch their first World Series Championship since the 1980s last season, and conveniently it came alongside Kershaw’s only great playoff run to date. But for a team who boasted dynasty potential with three World Series appearances in a four year stretch, only winning one ring will long be remembered as a disappointing era of baseball in Tinsel Town.

You might ask why I’m speaking about the Dodgers as though their reign as one of baseball’s elite is over and done with, and I’d answer you with, “it might be”. This great Dodgers roster in 2021 has housed more stars than the Hollywood Walk of Fame, but as with any star in any form of entertainment, there comes a time when you must pay them or watch them leave.

Over the course of the next two seasons, the Dodgers are set to see a majority of their core and big name additions become eligible for free agency. It’ll be a tall task figuring out which of these talents will be most relevant to future success, but that is exactly what I’m trying to do here, in a little series I’m calling “The Offseason Dissection”. In an effort to examine what the Dodgers have now, and where they need to be come opening day of 2022, I’ve broken this team down position by position. I’ll talk who needs to stay and who needs to go. So with out further a do, let’s begin with the man who’s job that actually is:

FRONT OFFICE

This is perhaps the one area of this team that can be deemed the safest bet to retain their jobs in the Dodger organization for the long haul. Andrew Friedman has been nothing short of incredible at the helm of the front office for Los Angeles. He’s maintained a 100-game winning franchise (pandemic-shortened 2020 obviously excluded) for half a decade, through all facets of roster upkeep. He’s given well-timed big league promotions to impact players like Cody Bellinger, Walker Buehler, Will Smith and Dustin Mays. He’s made blockbuster trades happen for All-Stars like Max Scherzer, Mookie Betts and Trea Turner happen. He’s made some of the most ingenious free agent signings for guys like Blake Treinen, AJ Pollock and Albert Pujols. Perhaps most impressive is his ability to turn opposing teams’ trash into treasures like Max Muncy, Chris Taylor and Brusdar Graterol.

Los Angeles has done all of this wheelin’-and-dealin’ while consistently growing one of the leagues’ premier farm systems. To give some perspective, the Dodgers’ minor league crop has ranked in baseball’s top ten every season since 2015. They’ve now slipped to number 16 after moving a major prospect haul to the Washington Nationals at the Trade Deadline in 2021 for Scherzer and Turner, but in true Dodger fashion they’re projected to bounce back to the top of the list once the next international signing period comes around because of their league-standard international scouting department.

They’ve earned the right to be called the best front office in the National League, if not in all of baseball.

COACHING STAFF

If the Dodgers can field another 100+ win team next year, then 2022 could serve as a make-or-break season for Dave Roberts. The six-year manager of the Dodgers has seen unprecedented highs that might lead one to believe that he has plenty of job security:

  • Three 100+ win seasons
  • Five NL West Divisional Championships
  • Three World Series appearances
  • 2020 World Series Champion
  • A career playoff win percentage of .571

But the fact of the matter is that this is a team with World Series Championship expectations (think the Yankees of the NL), and almost-winning definitely doesn’t carry the same weight with this franchise that it does with others. Roberts has only one more season remaining on his contract with the Dodgers and despite his very public optimism of a new deal being worked out, it appears as thought the LA brass has been dragging their feet a bit in regards to extending their skipper.

If he’s unable to deliver another ring in 2022, it wouldn’t be terribly shocking to me if we were to end up seeing Los Angeles move in a different managerial direction for the following year.

STARTING ROTATION

As mentioned, the Dodgers brought Max Scherzer to LA at the mid-season Trade Deadline this year, partly in the hopes that he was the missing piece to take them to another World Series victory and partly in the hopes of keeping him out of the hands of their division-rivals the Padres and Giants. While the Dodgers should maintain optimism that they can resign him to a lucrative short-term deal, his ineligibility for a qualifying offer on account of being in a mid-season trade means that the Dodgers won’t even receive draft compensation in the equally likely scenario that he signs elsewhere. Adding to the star pitching conundrum is that Clayton Kershaw, their longtime ace, is also eligible for Free Agency this season and if he’s not made to feel like a priority this winter he could seek a fresh start on a new team.

While I think it’s likely that the Dodgers return at least one of the two top dogs (if not both), it’s important to take a peak at what remains in place behind them. LA undoubtedly will return their third ace in the equation, Walker Buehler, as well as youngsters Julio Urias and Dustin May to anchor sizable rotation roles. They can also opt to return Brusdar Graterol to the starting rotation, though I’d prefer seeing him continue to dazzle in the late-inning relief role that we saw him inherit throughout their recent playoff push.

It won’t be impossible to field a strong starting unit around of this core of young pitchers should Kershaw and Scherzer both leave in free agency, but any combination of alternate available arms also wouldn’t be nearly as dominant as what the Dodgers sent to the mound this season. Retention of their top pitching talents is a must in my eyes, and this is where the most money should be spent for the Dodgers this offseason.

Omitted from the list above is their big splash of last offseason, Trevor Bauer. Due to pending charges and a whirlwind of personal issues between he and the entire Dodgers organization at this point, it is a foregone conclusion that he will never be a part of their clubhouse again. What his fate is in the eyes of the rest of the baseball world however, is a very different question we could see answered this winter.

BULLPEN

The Dodgers bullpen features a whos-who of ultra-talented arms that’d likely be closing games if they were on a lesser ball club. The face of their reliever core has long been Kenley Jansen, but in light of high-profile collapses down the stretch in recent years he is probably on the list of most unlikely to return to the home clubhouse in Dodger Stadium. Next year will likely see the closer role be given to Blake Treinen out of Spring Training due to his career resurgence in 2021 with LA, but I personally would love to see the young and exciting Graterol get some looks at the 9th inning as well.

Outside of those two, former-Yankee Tommy Kahnle is set to make his much anticipated return to baseball next Spring as part of the Dodgers’ roster. LA will also return nearly all of their 10 most used bullpen arms from this season on account of them being under team control for at least another year.

Also of note, are a pair of prospects who LA has remained high on in recent months, even going so far as to make it known that they were untouchable for other teams in trades at the July deadline. Many scouts and baseball insiders see Ryan Pepiot and Bobby Miller (their #2 and #4 prospects respectively) as big league starters, but I think that their true homes will likely be in the Dodger ‘pen even if just for a season. Pepiot’s Fastball-Changeup combination is fantastic and in Kahnle-esque fashion those pitches play well in at-bats against both righty and lefty hitters. Miller is the more likely starter because of his wider array of pitches that he executes successfully, but at least for next year the Dodger rotation appears so stocked with high-profile talent that it’ll take a slew of injuries to see him start any games.

CATCHER

Of baseball’s two Will Smiths, LA’s is definitely the more exciting. Don’t get me wrong, the Atlanta one has had quite the career and is still operating at a high-level. But the LA Smith is just getting started. Think of this as Gemini Man, that movie where there’s an older more grizzled Will Smith who people have come to know for years and suddenly there’s a second one who looks kind of similar I guess but with no facial hair…

Going to be totally honest, I started that off with a point in mind but really lost my train of thought while trying to remember the complete cinematic resume of the Fresh Prince…LOL remember Wild Wild West?

Anyways, the Will Smith who catches games for the LA Dodgers is very good at what he does. Catchers are frequently the unsung heroes of a successful baseball team, but at 26 years old, Smith has carved out a pretty sizable role for himself in the Dodgers’ lineup. As a rookie, he was asked to step in and replace the production of one of baseball’s best backstops, Yasmani Grandal, and has done so almost exactly when you begin to examine their numbers. He’s definitely the guy in LA with Austin Barnes as a worthwhile backup for at least a few more years.

On the other side of 2023 though, the Dodgers have a pretty interesting decision on the future of the position in their organization. At that point, Smith will be entering his final season of team control, with a payday looming; and the Dodgers will have seen their #1 prospect, Diego Cartaya move up their ranks to the bigs. They already parted ways with their last top prospect, Keibert Ruiz, in favor of keeping Smith comfortable in the position, so it’ll be interesting to see if they do the same then.

FIRST BASE

Somehow on a team with Cody Bellinger, Mookie Betts, Justin Turner and Corey Seager…the Dodgers’ best hitter in 2020 & 2021 was Max Muncy. A bargain-basement add from Oakland a few seasons back, Muncy has transformed into arguably baseball’s toughest out, and there’s an argument to be made that if he does not get injured on the last day of the season he helps LA to the World Series for a date with the Astros this year.

Theoretically, you could look to shift Muncy to the corner Outfield or even Second Base, but ultimately I think his home needs to be at First Base due to his size. He has smooth hands here, and while not a great First Baseman, he’s certainly more than serviceable.

There is something of a what-if scenario with Muncy if the NL decides to incorporate the Designated Hitter following this winter’s CBA renegotiation. In that case it has to be Muncy for the Dodgers, preserving his health while maintaining his bat in the order daily. Then you can look to either relocate Cody Bellinger from the Outfield or sign a guy like CJ Cron or Jonathan Schoop to man the position instead.

SECOND BASE

This is where some things are likely to change for LA as they part ways with a marquee talent on the infield. No, Trea Turner won’t be leaving them this offseason, but he will be moving to a different spot than where we saw him play most while with the Dodgers in the second half of the season. That opens up the door for us to see what happens when Gavin Lux is finally given the chance to man his natural position at the big league level, as opposed to constantly platooning at different spots around the diamond.

Lux hasn’t been the dynamic contact-driven player that many saw him becoming when the Dodgers promoted the former top prospect to the show. As mentioned though, he hasn’t really been given any semblance of consistent playing time, which tends to be a pretty sizable contributing factor to a young players’ development. Throw in that he won’t be asked to do very much considering how stacked the Dodgers’ lineup already is, and he can make a real mark on the game by providing an above average on-base percentage from the bottom of the order to set up the big dogs hitting at the top like Turner and Betts.

Some might point to Chris Taylor as an alternative option to finally get a more routine starting role, but because he’s also now a free agent, I think there should be some skepticism about whether or not he’ll be returning to the Dodgers for 2022. I think it’s far more likely that he goes the way of Kike Hernandez, choosing to accept a larger payday elsewhere than return to the championship favorites at cost.

THIRD BASE

Seemingly every year for the last four or five, I ask whether or not we’ve seen the last days of Justin Turner manning the hot corner for the Dodgers. There were long standing rumors that he might move to either first or second base to allow the Dodgers to pursue a larger name to take over third. Then came a slew of one year pacts and mutual termination options that seemed to point at him potentially parting ways with the franchise as he moved into the latter stages of his career. After last winter though, we now know he’ll be a Dodger at least through the close of 2022, when another team option will reopen the debate.

Turner is undoubtedly standing on the last legs of his career. Entering his age 37 season, he’s still very much a productive bat in the order, but nowhere near the prime of his early thirties any longer. He’s never been considered a great defensive player, at his peak maybe a little over league average, but now as he nears 40 it’s undeniable that he’s becoming a liability and so he’s another easy candidate for the Dodgers to use as a DH should the rule-change happen.

Behind Turner, we could see Edwin Rios get a lot more playing time which could help him to improve from simply a defensive specialist to a more well-rounded force in the organization.

SHORTSTOP

Heading into 2021, many people thought that at season’s end the Dodgers would be forced to make a fairly difficult choice between locking-up either Corey Seager or Cody Bellinger on a long term contract, but with the deadline acquisition of Trea Turner, that decision has already been made. Seager will not be returning to LA for the 2022 season.

Instead it will now be Turner’s job to man shortstop once more, at least for the 2022 campaign. He’s the run away best option as the Dodgers don’t seem to be major players in this winter’s larger than life free agent market. Justifiably so I might add, as Turner has been one of the best players in baseball for the better part of the last 5 seasons. He’ll feature somewhere at the top of the Dodger lineup, while playing gold glove caliber defense and stealing a ton bases too.

He also re-ignites the conversation over who the Dodgers view in their long term plans alongside Mookie Betts, Turner or Bellinger…

OUTFIELD

Going in reverse order from some of my prior outfield write-ups, we’ll start in right field and make it very brief:

Mookie Betts.

That is all…

In centerfield, Cody Bellinger will undoubtedly continue to play superb defense. Outside of that though, he’ll be the Dodger under the most pressure to exceed expectations in 2022. After a very down year it went from a fore-gone conclusion that he was their franchise centerpiece, to a nail-biting decision that appears to have only been made because of Trea Turner’s availability via trade. Now Belli has to outplay a far more talented teammate that he did with Seager, as either he or Turner will be re-upped next winter in Hollywood…but definitely not both.

In left field, the Dodgers were made to look like geniuses for picking up AJ Pollock a couple seasons back. The longtime center fielder had some injury issues in the early days of his Dodger tenure, and lost his regular role when the Dodgers acquired Betts from Boston. In 2022 though he re-emerged as a potent offensive talent and solid defender in left. The job is his to lose next season.

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