For the first time since 2015, the Dodgers aren’t playing baseball in mid-October. Their postseason exit in the National League Division Series, a startling outcome that left the franchise without a World Series title for the 31st consecutive season, is their earliest in four years. Rather than vie for a third consecutive NL pennant, they have been forced to turn the page to preparing for the 2020 season. And there is plenty to address.
One thing appears certain: Manager Dave Roberts will return next season, according to two people with knowledge of the situation. His handling of the bullpen in Game 5 against the Washington Nationals provoked heavy criticism, but he has three years remaining on his contract. A dismissal was far-fetched.
His boss’ return remains less assured. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman isn’t under contract beyond 2019. Both he and team president Stan Kasten have insisted they are confident an agreement will be reached. But until a contract is signed, there is a slight chance Friedman, the lead engineer of an operation that has cut payroll while maintaining its dominance of the NL West, will not return.
There is only one organization in the majors actively seeking a front office head — the Boston Red Sox, the reigning World Series champions who failed to make the playoffs this season. They have big pockets, a deep history, and a rabid fan base. It’s one of the premier franchises in baseball and a top-flight job promising a competitive salary.
But the Dodgers have operated as if Friedman will return to attempt to lead the Dodgers to their first championship since 1988. If he does, his to-do list will be long.
The Dodgers have four players entering free agency, and a fifth in Jedd Gyorko who has an option that the team almost certainly won’t exercise. David Freese, Russell Martin, Rich Hill, and Hyun-Jin Ryu combined to count for $60.7 million against the competitive balance tax in 2019, according to Cot’s Baseball Contracts. The CBT threshold for 2019 was $206 million. It is expected to increase to $208 in 2020.
Freese could retire. If Martin, 36, were to return as backup catcher, he’d have to take a bargain-basement contract. Hill, who turns 40 in March, has said he wants to return to the Dodgers. If he does, it would be at a steep discount following an injury-plagued season.
Ryu would be the most sought-after player on the free-agent market of the group. The left-hander, who turns 33 in March, gambled on himself by taking the one-year qualifying offer last winter and delivered his best season as a major leaguer.
He is a contender for the National Cy Young Award after leading the majors with a 2.32 ERA. He went on the injured list twice with groin and neck ailments, but still managed to log 182 2/3 innings during the regular season and five more in the playoffs. It was his biggest workload since 2013, his first major league season. He will attract a hefty multi-year contract. Would he give the Dodgers a discount to stay in Los Angeles?
Several other players are due raises in arbitration. Cody Bellinger is expected to attain the biggest salary jump through arbitration, according to MLB Trade Rumors. Bellinger, the likely National League MVP, made $605,000 in 2019. He is projected to earn $11.6 million next season, his first in arbitration.
Max Muncy, also arbitration-eligible for the first time, is projected to earn $4.6 million after making $575,000 in 2019. Corey Seager, arbitration-eligible for the second time, is projected to have his salary hike from $4 million to $7.1 million.
Joc Pederson, eligible for arbitration for a third and final time, is projected to make $8.5 million next season. The outfielder made $5 million in 2019. He posted career bests in home runs (36), batting average (.249), and on-base-plus-slugging percentage (.876), but was not trusted to face left-handed pitchers. Pederson went 11 for 49 with 15 strikeouts, one walk and no home runs in just 50 plate appearances against lefties.
The Dodgers put Pederson on the trade market last season. With Alex Verdugo’s emergence, A.J. Pollock under contract for at least three more years, and Bellinger solidified as a superstar to round out the outfield, the club could again consider trading Pederson to avoid paying his salary and bolster another area. Last winter, the Dodgers traded Yasiel Puig, another outfielder, as part of a package for prospects before he was due a raise in his third year of arbitration.
It’s one of the many decisions the Dodgers must make this winter before they report to Camelback Ranch for another crack at winning a championship.