Standing in front of his locker, Carl Crawford looked around and wondered what the Dodgers clubhouse might look like next season.
“I don’t know,” Crawford said, shaking his head.
The Dodgers failed to reach the World Series for a 27th consecutive season, their fate sealed by a 3-2 defeat to the New York Mets in Game 5 of their National League division series.
There could be sweeping changes to the roster, as there were last winter, when the Dodgers traded one-time franchise cornerstone Matt Kemp and soon-to-be batting champion Dee Gordon.
With Zack Greinke and Howie Kendrick potentially departing in free agency, Andrew Friedman and the team’s other top decision makers could be searching for replacements at multiple key positions. And the continued prioritizing of the franchise’s long-term well-being over the immediate future could result in the unloading of more bloated contracts.
“It will be interesting to see,” left-hander J.P. Howell said. “Whatever they decide, I’m sure they’re going to put a lot of homework into it.”
Don Mattingly’s future with the team will be among the issues that have to be addressed. Team executives have said nothing about whether the manager will be retained for the final year of his contract.
Mattingly was said to be open to input from the analytically inclined front office, which guided everything from lineup and bullpen decisions to the implementation of defensive shifts. Mattingly was often complimented by club officials, but he has not been identified as the team’s leader for the foreseeable future.
If Friedman has demonstrated anything in his first year as the team’s president of baseball operations, it’s that he’s unafraid of making drastic changes. The club recently parted ways with a significant part of its minor league coaching staff, as well as its scouting department.
Friedman will have no choice but to make changes to the pitching rotation, regardless of whether Greinke returns.
Greinke has the option to void the remaining three years of his contract and become a free agent, where he could land a deal worth considerably more than the $71 million he would be forfeiting.
The team’s No. 3 starter, Brett Anderson, will be a free agent. The Dodgers are expected to make him a qualifying offer — essentially, a one-year deal worth close to $16 million — but Anderson probably will be able to find a multiple-year contract on the open market.
If Greinke and Anderson decide to pitch elsewhere next season, Clayton Kershaw and Alex Wood would be the team’s only two reliable starting pitchers. Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy are recovering from major surgical procedures. Mike Bolsinger remains under team control, but is viewed more as depth than a viable rotation option. Top prospect Julio Urias, still a teenager, doesn’t appear to be major-league ready.
The free-agent market will be loaded with high-end pitchers, including Greinke, David Price, Johnny Cueto and Jordan Zimmermann. What’s unknown is if the value-conscious Friedman would commit to paying one or more of them $20 million or more per year until they are close to 40 years old.
The bullpen can also expect a makeover. While Chris Hatcher emerged in the last couple of months as a legitimate setup man for closer Kenley Jansen, the Dodgers might want to add other late-inning options. The Dodgers will return two viable left-handers in Howell and Luis Avilan. The bullpen could be strengthened if the team can develop the erratic but hard-throwing Pedro Baez, Yimi Garcia and Carlos Frias.
All-Star catcher Yasmani Grandal is eligible for salary arbitration and is certain to return. His backup, A.J. Ellis, is also eligible for arbitration. Ellis could earn close to $5 million in the arbitration process, but he is a likely candidate to be retained because of his second-half resurgence and longstanding partnership with Kershaw.
First baseman Adrian Gonzalez remains a top-level run producer and Justin Turner has solidified his spot as the team’s primary third baseman. Corey Seager replaced 36-year-old Jimmy Rollins as the team’s everyday shortstop and is the projected starter.
The only significant opening could be at second base, where Kendrick was the starter. Greinke and Anderson, Kendrick is expected to receive and turn down a qualifying offer from the Dodgers and test free agency. If the Dodgers can’t re-sign him, one possible replacement would be Jose Peraza, a fleet-footed prospect they acquired from the Atlanta Braves in July. Another would be the versatile Enrique Hernandez, who gave the team an offensive jolt late in the season. The Dodgers could move Turner to second, but that would create a vacancy at third base.
Friedman’s greatest headache could be in the outfield, where Hernandez, Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Joc Pederson are all under contract or club control. With the possible exception of Peterson, who struggled mightily in the seasons’ second half, they are all solid players. But none of them look like the type of middle-of-the-lineup compliment to Gonzalez the team desperately needs.
The Dodgers would like to rid themselves of Crawford’s and Ethier’s contracts, as they did Kemp’s last winter. Crawford is owed $41.75 million over the next two seasons. Ethier is guaranteed $38 million over the same period.
“It’s going to be a long off-season, figuring out personal stuff, team stuff,” Ethier said.
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