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Dodgers Dugout: Catching up on a busy offseason so far

Dodgers Dugout: Catching up on a busy offseason so far
Clayton Kershaw walks off the field. (Harry How / Getty Images)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and it’s time to turn our attention to next season. A lot has happened since the World Series, so let’s get right to it.

Kershaw stays

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Clayton Kershaw didn’t officially opt out of his deal, but in effect he did since the Dodgers added a bonus year to his current contract, giving him a three-year, $93-million deal with no opt-out clauses, meaning he is with the team through the 2021 season.

This seems like a fair deal to me. As much as everyone discussed how his skills have diminished, the fact is that of all NL pitchers with at least 160 innings pitched, he was fourth in ERA, fifth in FIP and fourth in WHIP. The troubling signs were another injury that sidelined him for part of the season, and that he isn’t fooling as many batters as he used to. Most scouts seem to agree that he needs to work on an off-speed pitch because his fastball and slider both move at the same speed now.

But knowing Kershaw, does anyone doubt he is working on things right now to improve next season? He may never be the Kershaw who won three Cy Young Awards and finished in the top three on three other occasions, but if he can stretch those 161 innings last year to 200 innings, then he will be a very valuable pitcher. At least until the postseason comes around.

Dodgers pick up Roberts’ option

The team also picked up the one-year option they had on manager Dave Roberts’ contract, meaning he will be back in 2019. Both sides appear to be near a four-year deal for Roberts, although no one seems to know what the exact sticking point is.

I have been critical of some of Roberts’ decisions, but in my more rational moments, I always wanted him back. He has managed the team to two consecutive World Series appearances. How do you not bring him back? Would you have fired Tommy Lasorda after the Dodgers lost the 1978 World Series?

And for those of you who are like me and think the pendulum has swung too far to the analytics side of making decisions, keep in mind the one decision he was most criticized for, removing Rich Hill in Game 4, was an entirely gut-instinct move and had nothing to do with analytics.

Ryu accepts qualifying offer, Grandal doesn’t

The Dodgers extended qualifying offers to Hyun-Jin Ryu and Yasmani Grandal, which means if they sign with someone else, the Dodgers will receive an extra draft pick. The qualifying offer, as determined by MLB, was one year, $17.9 million. The amount of the qualifying offer is the mean salary of the league's 125 highest-paid players. Ryu accepted the offer and will be back next season. Grandal did not and is free to sign with anyone, including the Dodgers. But it is unlikely the Dodgers re-sign Grandal.

The most likely scenario is that the Dodgers will sign a free-agent catcher to a one-year or two-year deal to bide time while their two top catching prospects, Will Smith and Keibert Ruiz, get ready for the majors. After Austin Barnes’ poor performance last season, it seems unlikely they will just give him the job. Here are the top free-agent catchers, as compiled by mlbtraderumors. com:

Drew Butera

Robinson Chirinos

A.J. Ellis

Chris Gimenez

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Yasmani Grandal

Nick Hundley

Jose Lobaton

Jonathan Lucroy

Martin Maldonado

Jeff Mathis

Brian McCann

Devin Mesoraco

Wilson Ramos

Rene Rivera

Kurt Suzuki

Stephen Vogt

Matt Wieters

Bobby Wilson

There’s also a chance they could trade for Miami catcher J.T. Realmuto, who would be an upgrade from Grandal, but that would require giving up Alex Verdugo and at least one other prospect. The Dodgers have been hesitant to trade Verdugo in the past.

Grandal will be fine. He is the top free-agent catcher on the market and teams are already lining up to sign him.

Dodgers won’t go over luxury tax threshold

This last thing is a big thing. A document prepared for prospective Dodgers investors before the 2017 season says that the Dodgers will not go over the luxury tax threshold through at least the 2022 season. You can read all about it here. Meet me back here when you are done reading.

OK. What does that mean? Keeping in mind that the document is not a binding legal contract and the team is free to spend however much they want (and keeping in mind that the Dodgers are not commenting on it), I see it as one of three things:

1. This document was prepared before they advanced to the World Series the last two years, which meant more money for the Dodgers, meaning they could afford to go over the luxury tax threshold now.

2. The Dodgers are flat-out lying in the document and will do whatever they think is best. It seems unlikely that they would just blatantly lie like that, though.

3. The document is still how they feel, and they have no intention of going over the luxury tax threshold.

If it’s scenario No. 1, then the document means nothing now.

If it’s scenario No. 2, then the document means nothing, except potential investors might be unhappy.

If it’s scenario No. 3, then don’t expect the Dodgers to sign any big-name free agents. That means no Bryce Harper. Harper rejected a 10-year, $300-million deal from Washington, and some believe he may get as much as $40 million a season. That would put the Dodgers way over the luxury tax, unless they dump a similar amount from their current payroll.

Under the projections prepared for potential investors, the Dodgers would spend $185 million on salaries in 2019 and 2020, $191 million in 2021 and $196 million in 2022.

Using salary estimates prepared by baseball-reference.com for arbitration-eligible players, the Dodgers are at about $180 million in payroll. They still need to sign a starting catcher. There’s no way Harper or any other big name fits under the Dodgers’ projected payrolls.

So, what is the truth here? No one knows except Dodgers ownership. We’ll know if the offseason goes by and the Dodgers don’t sign anyone big. My guess is they won’t sign Harper or anyone else who demands a huge salary and we will basically go into next season with the same team as this season. And if they can pick someone up at the trade deadline, they will. But that’s just a guess.

What’s next?

Starting next week, I will be conducting polls for you to vote for the three best players at each position in Dodgers history. Every Tuesday will be a new position. We will finish with 24 position players and 16 pitchers, meaning we will be building the all-time Dodger 40-man roster. I’ll prepare short bios for all the candidates each week and you will then be asked to vote. When spring training rolls around, I will start unveiling the team.

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We’ll start Tuesday with catcher.

And finally

I want to note the passing of former Dodgers reliever Ken Howell, who pitched for the team from 1984 to 1988 before being part of the trade that brought Eddie Murray to the team. But his biggest impact on the team may have been as a coach. He was a Dodgers coach from 2002-15 and was key in helping Kenley Jansen transition from catcher to pitcher. After learning of Howell’s death, Jansen tweeted: “Kenny Howell. What a great mentor, a great man who guided me through my career and helped me be the person I am right now. I think about all the work he did with me pitching in the big leagues. I had to learn quick. He was there. I saw him for breakfast in Detroit last year. He was going through a lot w/his health & still was the same man of joy. This is a big loss for me, for @Dodgers & for baseball. My thoughts are with his family. I share my condolences with them and all those Kenny Howell affected positively. I know there are many of us.”

Have a comment or something you'd like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.

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