Dodgers spring training takeaways: Freddie Freeman pursuit continues
By Friday afternoon, barely half a day removed from the end of Major League Baseball’s three-month lockout, Dave Roberts’ mind was already racing with the long list of tasks lying ahead of his team at the start of a condensed 2022 season.
“It’s certainly been crazy,” Roberts said.
Turns out, the activity was only getting started.
By Friday night, the team had signed one former Cy Young Award winner, had another placed on administrative leave and was in the midst of making even more major moves ahead with the start of spring training just days away.
Here are five takeaways from the first full day of the Dodgers’ post-lockout preseason.
Kershaw returning for 2022
All winter, Clayton Kershaw’s future was shrouded in uncertainty. The three-time Cy Young Award winner and all-time Dodgers legend was a free agent for the first time. And entering Friday, it remained unclear exactly where his future lay.
The Texas Rangers were one option. Not only were they his hometown team, but their general manager, Chris Young, is one of Kershaw’s best friends in the game. Retirement was another alternative for the soon-to-be 34-year-old, who missed the playoffs last year with a significant elbow injury that nearly required Tommy John surgery. But in the end, Kershaw ended up back with the franchise that he has defined — and that has come to define him — over his 14-year big league career.
The left-hander agreed to a one-year contract that will be finalized after he passes a physical, according to multiple people with knowledge of the situation, ensuring he’ll spend at least one more season pitching at Chavez Ravine.
“We back!” Kershaw wrote on Instagram after news of the deal, which is reportedly worth $17 million plus incentives, began to break.
Beyond his symbolic significance as the face of one of the most successful periods of Dodgers history, Kershaw will be asked to serve an important role on the 2022 club, as well.
After Walker Buehler and Julio Urías, the team’s current rotation lacks star-power — or postseason experience.
And though Kershaw’s production dipped during his injury-shortened 2021 campaign, he can still be a stabilizing presence for a pitching staff that lost Max Scherzer in free agency — a legendary figure hoping for at least one more run at a title in L.A.
Clayton Kershaw’s best days as a player are behind him, but there is no one on the Dodgers’ roster who outshines him among the fans.
Bauer goes back on administrative leave
On Friday afternoon, Roberts wasn’t entirely sure whether pitcher Trevor Bauer — who didn’t pitch for the team during the second half of last season while on administrative leave following accusations of sexual assault against him — would report to camp this weekend.
By Friday evening, the Dodgers had their answer.
Bauer will be put back on administrative leave through March 19, with Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreeing to extend the arraignment as the league continues to investigate the allegations.
Though Bauer was cleared of criminal charges last month and has denied the claims against him, he could still face punishment from MLB under its joint domestic violence and sexual assualt policy.
With the lockout over, the league is expected to pursue an interview with Bauer as part of its investigation.
Once that investigation is complete, it could suspend the pitcher, who could then appeal the decision to an independent arbitrator, or allow the Dodgers to decide any discipline.
In the short-term, at least, the Dodgers now know he won’t be around for the start of spring training, clearing up for now one of the biggest unknowns to accompany the team coming out of the lockout.
Major League Baseball has put Dodgers pitcher Trevor Bauer on administrative through March 19.
Roberts’ says his extension is near
One Dodgers situation that remains unresolved: The contract negotiations between Roberts and the team on a new extension for the seventh-year manager.
Ahead of what is the final year on his current deal, Roberts has maintained confidence throughout the offseason that he and the club would hammer out an extension. And on Friday, he reiterated that stance.
“We’re moving forward. Hopefully, we can get it done sooner than later,” Roberts said. “I think that we’re really close. So I don’t think that it’s going to be an issue here in the coming days.”
In his first six seasons in charge, Roberts has led the Dodgers to five division titles, three National League pennants and what was their first World Series title in 32 years in 2020.
Freeman pursuit continues
The Freddie Freeman sweepstakes seemed to heat up on Friday night, with the Dodgers reportedly ratcheting up their push to sign the All-Star first baseman away from the Atlanta Braves.
Freeman was part of the World Series-winning Braves team that knocked the Dodgers off in the postseason last year but failed to come to an agreement on a new contract with the Braves before the lockout — with the team reportedly failing to meet his demand for a sixth season on a potential contract.
That has seemingly opened the door for the Dodgers, who could benefit from another left-handed power bat following the pre-lockout departure of Corey Seager.
When asked about the team’s pursuit of Freeman on Friday, Roberts confirmed that the former MVP is “certainly in the conversation for us.”
“I would love to see Freddie Freeman in a Dodger uniform,” Roberts added. “Who wouldn’t? He’s a heck of a ballplayer.”
Roberts also said he is “definitely expecting additions” to other parts of the roster, pointing to depth in the starting rotation and on the bench as potential areas of need.
Roberts reconnects with his players
Since the end of the lockout, Roberts has spent much of his time on the phone reconnecting with his players, whom he was barred from contacting while a new collective bargaining agreement was being negotiated.
As he and the rest of Dodgers’ staff gathers information, Roberts said the team will begin planning how it will approach the shortened 31/2-week camp leading up to the club’s April 8 opener against the Colorado Rockies.
“It’s kind of threading the needle on ramping them up,” Roberts said, “but not trying to put them in harm’s way.”
MLB also released its revised spring training schedule on Friday.
The Dodgers first game will be on March 18 against the Milwaukee Brewers at Camelback Ranch.
Their annual Freeway Series against the Angels will take place April 3-5, with the first game at Angel Stadium and the final two at Dodger Stadium.
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