On Monday afternoon, 16 days after the Dodgers season ended, the team completed two procedural maneuvers that underscored the top priority for this off-season, extending $17.2-million qualifying offers to closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner.
Both Jansen and Turner are expected to elect free agency and reject the offer, which guarantees the Dodgers receive draft-pick compensation if either player signs elsewhere. The team intends to negotiate with both, and President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman identified those two positions as the most pivotal for the team’s winter.
“Our most acute needs as we head into the off-season are the roles previously occupied by our two free agents,” Friedman said after arriving at the general managers meetings in Scottsdale. “We have to figure out what we’re doing at third base, and figure out an anchor for the back of the ‘pen.”
The two areas provide separate challenges. Turner is the only star third baseman on the free-agent market. Jansen resides in a crowded field that includes former All-Stars such as Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon.
The focus on Jansen and Turner will not preclude the team from exploring other areas of improvement. The Dodgers will likely float starting pitchers such Scott Kazmir and Brandon McCarthy in trades, monitor a free-agent market stocked with right-handed power hitters and explore a reunion with left-hander Rich Hill.
The Dodgers relied on both last season. Turner tied for the team lead with 27 home runs, had an .832 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and served as one of the team’s few reliable right-handed batters. Jansen saved 47 games with a 1.83 earned-run average and displayed a willingness to handle assignments spanning multiple innings during the playoffs.
The internal options for third base do not inspire confidence. The club could ask Howie Kendrick, a second baseman who converted to left field in 2016, to try his hand at third. Both Enrique Hernandez and Rob Segedin also have played the position. Kendrick is coming off his worst offensive season in a decade, finishing with a career-low .691 OPS, and Hernandez and Segedin profile better as reserves.
If the price for Turner, who turns 32 this month and underwent microfracture surgery on a knee last off-season, expands beyond the Dodgers’ comfort zone, the club could explore trade options. Evan Longoria, who developed under Friedman’s watch in Tampa Bay, could be an option. The Rays owe Longoria $98.5 million through 2022.
A replacement for Jansen would be easier to find. The Dodgers would like to re-sign him, but would consider Chapman and perhaps Melancon. The team came close to acquiring Chapman in a trade last off-season, but the deal fell apart after reports emerged about his involvement in an alleged domestic-violence incident.
The downfall of Holland underscores the volatility of relief pitchers. But Friedman believes his club requires an ace to stabilize its relief corps.
“It’s certainly much more helpful when you’re putting together a bullpen to have an anchor at the back,” Friedman said. “It allows you the opportunity to hit on more guys than you might otherwise hit on, if they’re put in the roles they’re not accustomed to or comfortable in.”
The Dodgers were represented well when the Baseball Writers’ Assn. of America announced the finalists for its 2016 awards. Corey Seager is a finalist for most valuable player and rookie of the year in the National League. He is expected to win the latter, and perhaps finish behind Chicago Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant in the former.
Kenta Maeda is also a finalist for rookie of the year, along with Washington Nationals outfielder Trea Turner. After sitting out 75 days because of a back injury, Clayton Kershaw was not a finalist for the NL Cy Young Award. Since 2011, he has won the award three times, with a second-place finish in 2012 and a third in 2015.
Dave Roberts is a finalist for manager of the year in his rookie campaign. The other contenders are Joe Maddon of the Cubs and Dusty Baker of the Nationals.