Dodgers officials recently met with pitcher Stephen Strasburg and third baseman Anthony Rendon, two of the top free agents on the market, according to two people with knowledge of the situation.
Both players are clients of Scott Boras and have spent their entire careers with the Washington Nationals, the team that knocked the Dodgers out of the National League Division Series in October en route to winning the World Series.
The Dodgers have not landed a marquee free agent beyond re-signing Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen since Andrew Friedman was hired to head the front office five years ago. The Dodgers have made offers to prominent players, only to be outbid by other teams. Just last winter they met with Bryce Harper and presented the outfielder a rich, short-term deal. He elected to sign a 13-year, $330-million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies.
To lure Rendon or Strasburg, they’ll likely need a more aggressive approach. The Nationals offered Rendon a seven-year deal worth $210 million to $215 million before the end of the season, according to the Washington Post, seemingly setting a base for his services. The Texas Rangers, expected to spend lavishly this winter, reportedly have met with Rendon. Other clubs will make their pitches.
A bidding war could elevate Rendon’s price closer to the eight-year, $260-million contract extension fellow third baseman Nolan Arenado received from the Colorado Rockies in February.
While Arenado has set the standard for the position for the last half-decade, the 29-year-old Rendon has emerged one of the best third basemen in the majors the last three seasons and is coming off his best year in helping lead the Nationals to a championship.
The Houston native batted .319 with 34 home runs and a 1.010 on-base-plus-slugging percentage while playing third base at an elite level during the regular season. He led the majors with 126 runs batted in, was named an All-Star for the first time and finished third in National League MVP voting. He hit .328 with five home runs, eight doubles and 21 RBIs in the playoffs.
Signing Rendon would move Turner, the Dodgers’ incumbent third baseman, to first or second base. Turner is open to a change.
Strasburg, a San Diego native, opted out of his contract with Washington with four years and $100 million remaining on it days after being named World Series MVP. The 31-year-old right-hander went 18-6 with a 3.32 earned-run average and 251 strikeouts across 209 innings during the regular season. He was even better in the playoffs, becoming the first pitcher to go 5-0 in a postseason while compiling a 1.98 ERA with 47 strikeouts and four walks in 36⅓ innings.
Strasburg and Gerrit Cole comprise the top tier of starting pitchers on the free-agent market. The Dodgers figure to also at least check in on Cole, another Boras client, fresh off a dominant season in which he tallied a 2.50 ERA and league-leading 326 strikeouts. Cole is two years younger than Strasburg and will cost more. The Dodgers currently have two holes in their starting rotation with Hyun-Jin Ryu and Rich Hill hitting free agency, though Friedman has said Julio Urías is projected to join the rotation next season.
Besides Ryu, other starting pitching options on the free-agent market include Zack Wheeler, Dallas Keuchel, Madison Bumgarner, Cole Hamels and Kevin Gausman, who was not tendered a contract by the Cincinnati Reds before Monday’s deadline. Wheeler already was offered a $100-million contract, according to the Athletic. Ryu is seeking a three- or four-year deal after finishing second in the NL Cy Young race. Gausman could be deployed as a reliever and the 35-year-old Hamels could be added with a short-term deal.
The trade market offers another pool of possibilities. The Dodgers are exploring them all as they have in the past. Whether the results are different this winter remains to be seen.