The Dodgers have advanced to the playoffs each of the last nine seasons with a rotating cast of characters. Every year, familiar faces leave. Every year, others become fan favorites. The core has changed, little by little, each summer. It’s inevitable.
But never has that core changed as drastically as it could this offseason when five of the team’s most prominent players will test the free-agent market.
Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen have been synonymous with the organization for the last decade-plus. Corey Seager is a World Series hero. Chris Taylor created unforgettable postseason memories. Max Scherzer arrived in August and dominated.
In an ideal world for the Dodgers, they return and the organization runs it back. But this business doesn’t work that way. Not all of them will return. Turnover is on the horizon.
The Dodgers harnessed Joc Pederson’s October energy on the way to winning the World Series last year, and he’s doing the same for Atlanta vs. Houston.
“We’re at this little crossroads, where we have a lot of guys who are free agents and a lot of guys that have been building blocks for this franchise for a long time,” Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler said after the team’s season-ending Game 6 loss to the Atlanta Braves in the National League Championship series. “I hope everyone’s back. But that’s not the reality of the situation, and we’re going to have to build from within, like we always do, and bring some guys back.”
Here is a look at each of those five players and the seven others hitting free agency.
Kershaw is arguably the greatest pitcher in Dodgers history. He’s a franchise icon. Imagining him in another uniform is almost impossible. But he has had multiple chances to publicly say that he wants to return to Los Angeles in 2022 and he chose not to every time.
That’s not to say Kershaw will not re-sign. Maybe the taste of walking off the mound for the final time in 2021 with a season-ending injury was too sour. Maybe he just wants to run it back with another talented team to chase a second championship. Maybe he was coming back the whole time.
Ultimately, it will come down to the Dodgers or the Texas Rangers. Playing for the Rangers would allow him to live in his Dallas home year-round with his family. His two oldest children are in school nearby. Globe Life Park is 20 minutes from the family’s house.
The door is wide open if Kershaw, 33, wants to return to Los Angeles for a 15th season. He could still help win games — if he’s healthy — after posting a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts this season. But it’s about more than that. This week, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman acknowledged the team views the left-hander differently from its other free agents.
Andrew Friedman says decisions to use Max Scherzer and Julio Urías as relievers were made by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts and his staff.
“What he’s meant to this organization, to this city, I think, again, from his standpoint, it’s all about what makes the most sense for him and Ellen and his family,” Friedman said. “Taking off my president of baseball operations hat, there’s something nostalgic and great about Kersh staying with one team and being able to win another championship, have a parade.
“That being said, he’s put himself in this position to be able to go out and do whatever makes the most sense for his family, and we will support that.”
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Rangers.
Seager heads a deep free-agent class of shortstops this winter. At 27, he’s slightly older than Carlos Correa and younger than the other marquee options at the position (Javier Báez, Trevor Story and Marcus Semien). He has a rookie of the year award, two All-Star game selections, two Silver Sluggers, a National League Championship Series MVP and a World Series MVP on his resume. He’s going to get paid.
Seager’s value comes from his bat. When healthy, he’s one of the most dangerous hitters in the majors. But injuries have plagued him. A fractured hand, followed by a hamstring injury during his rehab, limited him to 95 games this season. A strained left hamstring landed him on the injured list for nearly a month in 2019. He played in only 26 games in 2018 before undergoing Tommy John surgery.
Then there’s his future on defense. The consensus is Seager will not remain a shortstop for long. This season, his range and fielding balls with his backhand suffered. A move to third base appears imminent. That won’t stop his agent Scott Boras from seeking a $300-million deal.
Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president for baseball operations, said the team is waiting to see what the league does with Trevor Bauer before commenting on pitcher.
The Dodgers offered Seager a contract extension earlier this year, according to people with knowledge of the situation. They would welcome a return. If he does re-sign, the Dodgers could move him to third base or keep him at shortstop and trade Trea Turner. The Dodgers acquired Turner along with Scherzer to play second base in 2021 and move to shortstop in 2022 if Seager left. Retaining Seager would open options.
Another possible factor in his market: His older brother Kyle, a third baseman, will be a free agent after 11 seasons with the Seattle Mariners.
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Yankees, Rangers, Cardinals, Nationals, Braves.
The Dodgers signed Jansen out of Curaçao in 2004 as a catcher. Seventeen years later, he’s the franchise’s leader in saves and one of the most accomplished closers in major league history.
Jansen enjoyed a resurgence at the right time in 2021. The right-hander compiled a 2.22 ERA with 38 saves in 69 appearances after three — by his expectations — subpar seasons.
He’s a different pitcher than the one who was the best reliever in the majors in 2016 and 2017. Gone are the days when he relies solely on his signature cutter. He evolved to improve, throwing more sinkers and adding a slider to his arsenal. An uptick in velocity also helped him return to elite status, which should earn a sizable contract from a team seeking bullpen help.
Ill-timed injuries, an inconsistent offense, a diminished rotation and a red-hot Atlanta Braves team all helped end the Dodgers’ season.
The Dodgers are open to bringing back Jansen, but they’re unlikely to pay a premium for a 34-year-old closer with so many other holes to fill on the roster. They could give the job to Blake Treinen or seek a cheaper alternative.
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Nationals, Phillies, Reds, Cardinals, Blue Jays, Rangers, Braves.
Scherzer’s short time in Los Angeles could be divided into two neat chapters.
In the regular season, he arrived and was a buzz saw every fifth day. His first nine starts with the Dodgers were historic. In all, he pitched to a 1.98 ERA in 11 outings. He was the best pitcher in the majors.
The postseason was a different story. He earned his first career save in Game 5 of the NL Division Series against the Giants, but he completed five innings in only one of his three starts. In the end, he said he was too tired to start Game 6 of the NLCS. He would’ve pitched Game 7, but the Dodgers didn’t get there.
Angels two-way star Shohei Ohtani won Players Choice Awards for MLB player of the year and American League Outstanding Player of the Year.
The ending was lackluster, but the Dodgers want Scherzer back. The right-hander turns 38 in July, but he remains one of the world’s best starting pitchers. He could fetch up to a three-year deal. A $100-million contract is feasible.
For the Dodgers, Scherzer would fill a hole at the top of their rotation knowing Trevor Bauer probably will never throw another pitch for the organization.
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Angels, Padres, Giants, Blue Jays, Mets, Astros.
Taylor has come a long way since the Dodgers acquired him for Zach Lee in 2016. He became an integral part of three pennant-winning teams, a playoff hero, and a first-time All-Star in 2021 as a utility player willing to play wherever.
Taylor’s price skyrocketed with a strong first half, fell with a dreadful second half and boomed again with a superb postseason. Taylor wasn’t even a starter for the Dodgers’ first two playoff games before he played his way into the starting lineup for the final 10.
The Dodgers never got the chance to properly celebrate their 2020 World Series championship. And now their 2021 season is over short of another title.
In the end, he went 13 for 37 with a 1.202 OPS in the postseason. His walk-off home run won the Dodgers the wild-card game. His three home runs in Game 5 of the NLCS helped keep them alive for another two days. His price went up with each blast.
But Taylor is 31 and his defense declined this season. His market will be an intriguing one. He’s expected to see three-year offers with the potential for a four-year deal.
Potential suitors: Dodgers, Giants, Rangers, Brewers, Braves.
Seven other Dodgers will hit free agency next week. Three were significant contributors in 2021.
Albert Pujols joined the Dodgers in May after a messy divorce from the Angels. He was signed to hit left-handed pitching and he did his job. The 41-year-old first baseman batted .294 with 13 home runs and a .939 OPS in 146 plate appearances against left-handers. He was also dangerous as a pinch-hitter, batting .359 with a .908 OPS in 43 appearances.
Pujols declined to discuss his future during the season. He’s already in his native Dominican Republic preparing to play in the country’s winter league. And in a news conference with reporters Friday, the future Hall of Famer indicated he doesn’t plan to retire.
Joe Kelly isn’t officially a free agent yet. The reliever has a $12-million team option with a $4-million buyout. The Dodgers will pay him the $4 million. A reunion at a cheaper price might then be possible. Though erratic, Kelly is also electric and posted a 2.86 ERA in 48 appearances this season. His status could be complicated by the biceps strain he suffered in Game 5 of the NLCS.
Dave Roberts has another year left on his contract, but the Dodgers manager is hoping and expecting to work out an extension with the team.
The Dodgers took a flier on Corey Knebel last winter and he was effective when healthy. The right-hander had a 2.45 ERA in 27 games during the regular season. He then gave up three runs in 152/3 innings across seven postseason appearances — two as an opener.
Left-handers Cole Hamels and Danny Duffy were acquired during the season and never appeared in a game for the Dodgers. Jimmy Nelson underwent season-ending elbow surgery in August. Steven Souza Jr. was signed as a minor-league free agent in May for depth and played a bigger role — appearing on the team’s postseason rosters — than anyone could’ve imagined.