Falling short in the World Series in consecutive years, perhaps a more bitter ending than not playing for the championship at all, offers the Dodgers front office one perk this early in the offseason.
“On one hand,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said, “it’s good that we have so much going on that it’s not really giving us an opportunity to reflect back.”
There is plenty on the Dodgers’ checklist as they begin reshaping the club over the next week. For starters, determining whether their face-of-the-franchise ace’s future is in Los Angeles.
Clayton Kershaw originally had until Wednesday at 9 p.m. PT to opt out of the two years remaining on his contract. But Kershaw and the Dodgers agreed to extend the deadline to Friday at 1 p.m. PT, which offers more time to possibly come to terms on a deal that would keep Kershaw in Los Angeles for longer than the next two seasons.
At the annual end-of-season news conference at Dodger Stadium on Thursday, Friedman said negotiations had been “pleasant.” General manager Farhan Zaidi said they were “ongoing.”
“Ongoingly pleasant,” Friedman followed.
Neither offered specifics on the negotiations.
“I think, obviously, he’s made as much of an impact as you can on an organization in terms of the success we’ve had,” Friedman said. “Not just on the field, but from a culture standpoint in terms of bringing up young pitchers and kind of emulating the work ethic, the drive. But beyond that, as we look out, we’ve got a couple days here to continue to have those conversations. And when we get to a point where we’ll be able to announce something, obviously it’ll be easier to go into more detail.”
The club did remove one thing from its checklist Thursday, signing David Freese and saving $1 million doing it. The Dodgers held a $6 million team option to on Freese, but paid him a $500,000 bonus and then signed him to a one-year, $4.5-million deal.
The Dodgers have until 2 p.m. Friday to extend the one-year, $17.9 million qualifying offer to their free agents. Yasmani Grandal and Hyun-Jin Ryu are candidates to receive the offer. Manny Machado, another free agent, isn’t eligible to receive the qualifying offer because he was traded during the season. If the offer is extended and declined, and the player signs elsewhere, the Dodgers would receive a compensatory pick in next June’s draft.
The Dodgers have until 10 days after the season — Nov. 7 at 9 p.m. — to exercise the $1.1 million team option on manager Dave Roberts’ contract. The Dodgers engaged Roberts in contract discussions during the season without reaching an agreement. Roberts has said he would like to return and the Dodgers have said they would like to retain him.
On Thursday, Friedman and Zaidi defended Roberts’s decision-making during the World Series, particularly in Game 4 when he pulled pitcher Rich Hill in the seventh inning with a four-run lead after Hill had held the Red Sox scoreless over 6 1/3 innings.
“We both feel very strongly that those decisions, those strategic decisions, are the result of a process,” Zaidi said. “And Dave’s process is having conversations with us, having conversations with coaches, trusting his own gut, trusting what he sees as these games unfold. And we believe and we continue to have full confidence in his process. Sometimes things turn out your way, sometimes they don’t. That’s baseball. That’s the beauty of this game. And sometimes it’s less than beautiful for you.”
Friedman and Zaidi attributed the team’s troubles in the World Series to the offense’s struggles. Machado was acquired during the regular season to help the Dodgers avoid those spells, but the shortstop went 4 for 22 with a walk and zero extra-base hits in the five games while adding to his reputation as someone allergic to hustling. Machado is expected to sign a mega contract this winter as either a shortstop or third baseman.
The Dodgers have third baseman Justin Turner under contract for $39 million the next two seasons and are “optimistic” that Corey Seager, whose injuries created the hole at shortstop that Machado filled, will be ready for Opening Day next spring. Seager has undergone elbow ligament replacement and hip surgeries. A return to Los Angeles for Machado is unlikely.
“It’d be nice to get the gang back together and make another run at it, but that’s not how things play out,” Zaidi said. “Guys go into free agency and things happen that you don’t anticipate.”
To retain Machado — or sign slugger Bryce Harper or any other marquee free agent — would almost certainly require the Dodgers to surpass the luxury tax threshold. That’s a line they mindfully dropped under in 2018. Asked whether the front office had been approved to venture into that territory, Friedman was coy.
“It’s not something that we’ve really gotten into at this point,” Friedman said. “More than that, there’s no question that we have plenty of resources to win a World Series next year. There’s no question about that. The talent on hand and the flexibility to do that, is definitely there.”
Now the onus is on Friedman and Zaidi to reconfigure the club over the next few months and place it in the best position to return to the World Series — and hurdle the final obstacle.
“There’s a lot to be proud of and I don’t want that to be lost in this,” Friedman said. “But there is disappointment. We did fall short of what our ultimate goal was.”