The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t end the season the way they wanted to, so now the focus becomes on making sure they can win the final game next year. And now that the World Series has concluded with the Atlanta Braves defeating the Houston Astros, MLB free agency began Wednesday.
The Dodgers’ 11 free agents this winter are pitchers Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Kenley Jansen, Corey Knebel, Jimmy Nelson, Danny Duffy and Cole Hamels; and they are joined by position players Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Albert Pujols and Steven Souza Jr.
Players are not permitted to sign a contract with a new team until five days after the World Series concludes — which is Sunday, Nov. 7. However, teams can speak with agents during that time.
Among all the group of Dodgers free agents, Kershaw has to be considered the most likely to return. He means too much to the organization to let him go and it would be a mistake if he does not end his career in Dodger Blue.
Although Kershaw struggled through some injuries over the course of the season, he was still effective when he was on the field, pitching to a 3.55 ERA and 3.00 FIP in 121.2 innings of work with a 3.4 WAR.
There also may be a strong chance Max Scherzer returns as he reportedly wanted to be sent to L.A. before the trade deadline and said he hopes to be with the Dodgers when Kershaw reaches 3,000 career strikeouts.
A lot of what might happen with Scherzer could depend on what the league decides to do with Trevor Bauer, who has been on administrative leave for alleged sexual assault.
If MLB suspends Bauer for at least a year as many predict, he would not count against the Dodgers’ luxury tax number, giving them roughly $35 million extra to spend.
The L.A. Angels will reportedly be among the teams to pursue Scherzer as they desperately need to bolster their pitching staff this offseason.
The Dodgers also need to figure out what to do at the back of their bullpen. Jansen — and Knebel when he was healthy — both played important roles this year.
Jansen seems open to re-signing, but the Dodgers might not want to spend big money over multiple years on a 34-year-old relief pitcher. Furthermore, Jansen could end up drawing a lot of interest around the league as many teams need a closer.
In all likelihood, the Dodgers may want to keep Jansen after the re-emergence he had this season. Though they could end up outbidding other teams to keep him, a more likely scenario might be Jansen taking a team-friendly deal.
Knebel only pitched 25.2 innings this season, but he was highly effective when healthy. He could look to sign a short-term contract to further prove himself as being durable, but it also would not be shocking to see another team commit to him as their closer.
Duffy was expected to pitch out of the bullpen while also providing rotation depth when needed after being acquired from the Kansas City Royals. But he was never able to recover from a forearm injury and ended up not pitching for the Dodgers at all due to a setback.
Duffy wanted to either stay with the Royals or come to L.A. before at trade deadline, so it would not be shocking to see him sign with one of those teams.
The Dodgers could have some interest in keeping Duffy as rotation depth who can pitch out of the bullpen, however, other teams would likely be willing to offer the left-hander a starting job.
Nelson played a valuable role out of the bullpen and he was looking like the Dodgers’ next breakout star before his injury. The right-hander underwent Tommy John late in the season that makes it unlikely he will pitch in 2022.
The Dodgers could sign Nelson to a two-year deal and let him rehab, similar to what they did with Tommy Kahnle. But given his lengthy injury history and age, they might decide it’s better to let someone else take the risk.
Hamels signed midseason to provide depth for the Dodgers but he suffered a setback before appearing in a game and sat out the rest of the season. It would be surprising to see him return.
Dodgers face bevy of important decisions with position players
The biggest name is Seager, who was selected in the first round by the Dodgers in the 2012 MLB Draft and has since become one of the best shortstops in baseball.
Seager is going to demand a big contract, but like Jansen, he has also expressed interest in staying with the club. If Seager does re-sign, there is a good chance the team could ask him to move to third base as many consider that to be his long-term home.
The likely addition of the designated hitter to the National League and Justin Turner’s age with only one year and a team option left on his deal would make Seager’s position change easy to accommodate.
If Seager does leave, the Dodgers already have his replacement in Trea Turner, who is signed for one more year.
L.A. also needs to decide if they will be willing to spend the money on Taylor, who should also receive a sizable contract on the open market.
The Dodgers reportedly considered signing Taylor to an extension and they understand the value of him, especially after losing Kiké Hernandez to the Boston Red Sox last offseason.
But at the end of the day, the Dodgers will likely lose one or two of their big free agents, so they will need to decide who they want to invest in long term.
Their final two free agents are Pujols and Souza Jr., who both provided depth on the bench after being acquired during the season.
Pujols is the more likely one to return as brings a veteran presence not many players can match and he was loved in the clubhouse. The Dodgers seem to value having a player like that as it is a role that was previously filled by Chase Utley and David Freese.
Pujols also gave key at-bats off the bench and filled half a platoon role to face left-handers when they needed it.
There is a lot of speculation Pujols could return home to the St. Louis Cardinals for what might be his final season, but whatever he decides to do, the future Hall of Famer is not ready to retire.
Souza Jr. could return on a Minor League contract, however, the Dodgers’ lack of quality depth hurt them this season. That could lead them to search out for a more productive candidate to add to the bench.
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