With the 2018 season officially behind us, the attention has already turned to the future for the Los Angeles Dodgers with decisions having been made on four players: Clayton Kershaw, David Freese, Yasmani Grandal and Hyun-Jin Ryu.
While Kershaw and Freese both had options to work out, Grandal and Ryu were up-in-the-air as to whether or not the team would extend qualifying offers to them. In the end, Kershaw and Freese both signed new deals, while Grandal and Ryu were each extended a qualifying offer.
Given all that, the Dodgers have some clarity as to what their roster looks like as the MLB hot stove and offseason gets ready to kick into high gear, but there is a lot of work still to be done.
So, with another World Series loss in the rearview mirror, where do the 2019 Dodgers have a need?
Obviously this is completely dependent on whether Grandal accepts his qualifying offer or not (I’m guessing he declines it), but if he’s gone then the Dodgers might have a big problem on their hands.
A year ago, I wondered whether Austin Barnes might take over the catching duties from Grandal, but after an abysmal season from him at the plate (.205/.329/.290) it’s fair to assume that he can’t be counted on as an everyday catcher.
Aside from Barnes, internal options immediately turn to the youngsters: specifically Keibert Ruiz and Will Smith. Ruiz, a 20-year-old, is arguably the team’s best prospect and was rated as the No. 39 prospect in all of baseball this season by MLB.com.
Smith, on the other hand, was a first-round pick out of college in 2016, and as a 23-year-old he was rated the team’s No. 6 prospect.
The problem with both of these players is their lack of experience . Ideally, Ruiz and Smith would have another one to two years to develop before they can be counted on to be a contributor on a team with World Series aspirations.
So, what do the Dodgers do? Ideally, they re-sign Grandal to a 1-2 year contract as a stop-gap until Ruiz is ready. Barnes and Kyle Farmer (who we haven’t mentioned yet) provide temporary depth and things move forward.
This isn’t the situation many fans are dreaming of given Grandal’s dreadful postseason, but the reality is he’s one of the best catching options in baseball (No. 2 in WAR last season) and the only real high-level option out there.
Option two would be to hope Barnes bounces back, that Farmer takes a step forward and that Smith or Ruiz is ready by the end of the season to contribute.
Brian Dozier will likely be leaving Los Angeles this offseason and it’s hard to imagine anyone wanting him to return. With that in mind, it’s clear the Dodgers don’t have an everyday second baseman on the roster.
Yes, the likes of Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernandez and Max Muncy can all play there, but on paper none of those guys look like perfect options. Unless… you look at their splits.
Historically, Taylor thrives against righties while Hernandez thrives against lefties. Throw in the fact that Cody Bellinger was really good defensively in center field and all of a sudden we have the makings of an interesting fit.
What the Dodgers could do is platoon Hernandez and Taylor at second base, put Muncy at first and Bellinger in center. This also frees up some innings in left field for Alex Verdugo and Andrew Toles without requiring the Dodgers to dismantle their roster in order to make everyone happy.
Internally, the other option would be prospect Gavin Lux. He is a 20-year-old coming off a great year in 2018 (.324 average with 15 homers and 12 stolen bases between High-A Rancho Cucamonga and Double-A Tulsa).
As with Ruiz and Smith, 2019 isn’t the ideal year for Lux to be pressed into service.
When you look at the Dodger roster, there’s no shortage of starting pitching. Beyond Kershaw, they have Walker Buehler, Julio Urias, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart and Caleb Ferguson. Not to mention the possibility that Ryu returns.
The question with that list is whether there’s enough high-end talent on it to make another World Series push. Truthfully, I think the answer comes down to Julio Urias. We saw what Walker Buehler became this season, and at one time Urias was believed to be a better prospect.
If Urias can develop into a solid No. 2-3 starter behind Kershaw and Buehler, then the Dodgers are in great shape.
Looking at free agency, there aren’t a ton of names I’d expect the Dodgers to throw big money at from a pitching perspective. There are good players out there (Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin), but not a great enough need within the organization to justify making a big splash.
If the Dodgers were to make a move for a pitcher, my guess is it’d be via the trade market — and it’d be for a high-end talent such as Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber if anything (especially given the glut of talented players the Dodgers have and the scarcity of 40-man roster spots at their disposal).
Of all the areas of the roster, I believe it’s the bullpen that will be the most chaotic over the next few months.
Last season, the Dodgers front office made it a priority to get under the luxury tax threshold in order to reset their penalties. While many believe this is a front office that refuses to spend on the bullpen, I genuinely believe that this winter is going to change that perception.
With so many other areas of the roster set heading into 2019, I think the Dodgers will aggressively pursue a high-end, back-of-the-bullpen arm to compliment Kenley Jansen, as well as some of the low-risk fliers we’ve become accustomed to.
Yes, the Dodgers are returning a lot of guys from a bullpen that was much better than people think last year (No. 8 ERA in baseball), but it’s hard to assume with this group that it’s repeatable.
I’m all for finding diamonds in the rough like Dylan Floro and Tony Cingrani, but unless the Dodgers add another high-end arm to take some pressure off of Jansen, this group might be the weak link next season.