The Dodgers embark on a crucial free agency this winter, with decision, decisions, and decisions to make. The front office made an effort to get under the $197 million luxury threshold last winter to reset their luxury penalties, and many figured it was so they could take advantage of this year’s strong free agent class.
A class that includes not just Clayton Kershaw (if he opts out), Hyun-Jin Ryu, and Manny Machado, but Bryce Harper, Patrick Corbin, Josh Donaldson, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, A.J. Pollock, Dallas Keuchel, Andrew McCutchen, Jed Lowrie, Marwin Gonzalez, Adam Ottavino, and Nate Eovaldi among many others.
It’s a strong class that the Dodgers need to take advantage of because they didn’t spend any money last winter, which you can argue caught up with them in the World Series. And as pragmatic with money Andrew Friedman & Co. are, the Dodgers have as deep as pockets around, and the front office can no doubt find a smart way to spend it. With that being said, here would be the ideal offseason for the Los Angeles Dodgers to help them end what will be a 31-year title drought and set them up for success beyond that.
Take Care of the Free Agents
Internal Free Agents
The biggest name the Dodgers have to worry about is their ace, Clayton Kershaw. He has the chance to opt-out of the remaining two years of his deal and hit free agency for the first time in his career. The 30-year-old has dealt with diminished velocity and injury problems since 2016 but is still a top-level starter.
Ideally, Los Angeles should see if they can tack on two years onto his remaining two years, $70 million and make it a four-year deal in total. It would be better than him hitting the open market and having to deal with teams offering him five-plus years (although it would be foolish of any team to do so).
With him locked up, the Dodgers should bring back Hyun-Jin Ryu for a couple of years with club options (for insurance against continued health issues) and exercise David Freese’s $6 million club option for 2019.
On the other side, management should let shortstop/third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Yasmani Grandal walk. Grandal was horrific down the stretch and a liability in the postseason while seeing a regression on defense throughout the entire season. It’s time to move on from him and start fresh with someone else.
And Machado is going to be looking for something in the neighborhood of $300 million, but the Dodgers have Corey Seager coming back at shortstop, and Justin Turner entrenched at third.
Plus, he had some behavioral issues with the Dodgers, as he had with Baltimore, and it’s something LA does not need to deal with. Plus, he disappointed with the Dodgers and his career splits show that Machado is not the same hitter away from hitter-friendly Camden Yards in Baltimore.
External Free Agents
Los Angeles has around $95 million in guaranteed money without Kershaw’s and Freese’s options and arbitration, according to Baseball-Reference. And Baseball-Reference estimates that Los Angeles will have roughly $53.9 million in arbitration costs.
So, they will have a payroll between $155 million and $195 million. If it’s the lower end, there is no doubt they will go for some of the bigger names out there. But, even if Freese and Kershaw return, the front office needs to go after some of the best players available because they set themselves up for it. Frugality is not going to help the Dodgers win a title, but neither is mindless spending.
However, you can smartly spend big, and that would be in the form of Bryce Harper (with or without Kershaw) and one of the top relief arms on the market.
Scott Boras turned some heads by making some comments on Harper’s decision that can come off as trolling. Whether or not Harper has decided on a team remains to be seen, but the Dodgers should be aggressive in their pursuit for him. They failed to do so with Giancarlo Stanton and Christian Yelich last season and cannot make the same mistake. He is a superstar-level talent that is just entering his prime.
Wilson Ramos could be a great target to address the black hole on offense that is the catcher spot. He is coming off a season where he hit 15 home runs with a .845 OPS (130 OPS+) in 416 plate appearances. The 31-year-old would be an excellent stopgap as the Dodgers’ elite catching prospects continue to develop in the minors.
And the bullpen needs to be bolstered, and who better than a guy like Andrew Miller, Adam Ottavino, or Craig Kimbrel. Ottavino might be the best “bang for your buck” because his lack of cache won’t price him up, but he was more effective than them and has quietly become one of the elite relievers in the game.
Or, they can go after and bring back flame-throwing Nate Eovaldi to help. He may want to be a starter, but the Dodgers should try and pay him big money to help convince him to become a high-leverage reliever for them. He was excellent in that role during the playoffs for the Red Sox, and the Dodgers can use someone like that. It’s unlikely, but money talks.
Los Angeles has had superior depth over the past few seasons that has helped them overcome injuries while also making tough decisions to keep some quality players in the minor leagues, and cut down on playing time for guys already with the club.
Because of it, an elite prospect like Alex Verdugo was up-and-down between triple-A and the majors in 2017, and power bats like Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy started just a few times each week. There is a logjam in the outfield, first and foremost, and adding Harper would add to it, but also create some clarity.
Harper is a guy that needs to, and will, play every day like Justin Turner, Manny Machado, and Corey Seager. And with that, right field should be locked up, leaving Joc Pederson, Cody Bellinger, Matt Kemp, Yasiel Puig, Andrew Toles, and Alex Verdugo for the other two spots, not to mention super utility men in Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez.
There just isn’t a need for all of them, and they are better than the part-time roles they would be deployed in with Los Angeles. The Dodgers went nearly overkill with matchups in 2018, fielding an entirely different nine pretty much every day, along with finding yourself in a new spot throughout the lineup each time.
That takes a toll on a hitter, as he is just trying to get in a rhythm and get in the proper mindset. Lack of playing time means they will press more than usual, which is never a great thing, while never getting accustomed to the types of pitching you are benched for.
The Dodgers need to shed the fat so they can continuously put their best eight hitters out there every day and have defined bench roles for the others. That’s what the Red Sox did.
Cody Bellinger, in particular, needs an everyday spot. He is only 23 and a vital piece of the Dodgers’ future. You don’t continue to platoon an uber-talent like Bellinger; it will ruin his development. If Max Muncy proves to be legit, Bellinger will start in center field where he is an excellent defender with a high potential bat.
With him anchored in center, that is at least five full-time outfielders for left field, and not including Taylor and Hernandez. The continued platoons haven’t worked over the past several years, and insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again but expecting a different result.” The clutter needs to be cleaned.
The Dodgers should look to convert the surplus into a boost for other areas in need. Use a strength to address a weakness. Their bullpen or catching position for example. They can go after a catcher like J.T. Realmuto if Wilson Ramos is not a target of interest. Or a reliever like Jose Leclerc from the rebuilding Texas Rangers.
There are options out there, it’s just up to the front office to be aggressive and open-minded enough to make the moves.