Five Dodgers spring subplots: Will Trea Turner get an extension? Who is the closer?
While the Dodgers’ pursuit of Freddie Freeman continues to stir speculation, the team also opened its spring training camp over the weekend and held its first official workout Monday.
Already, a series of subplots and story lines are beginning to develop. As spring gets underway, here are five things to follow during the run-up to the 2022 season:
Trea Turner extension
Trea Turner is back at his natural shortstop position. The question now: Will he be the team’s shortstop of the future too?
Turner, who was acquired at the trade deadline last year, is in the final year of his contract. And while he’d be open to staying with the Dodgers long term, he said there has been “nothing of substance” yet in talks on a potential extension.
“I feel like I compartmentalize,” said Turner, an All-Star last season who would be one of the top free agents available next winter. “I can have a talk if somebody wants to have a talk. If not, I’m ready to play and ready to go out there.”
Turner added: “I think this organization, like I said from Day One, this is unbelievable. The time I’ve spent here has been a lot of fun. And I think it’s definitely a place that I can be long term. Whether that happens or doesn’t happen is another question, but I’ve had a lot of fun.”
Opening at closer
Manager Dave Roberts didn’t shut the door completely on the Dodgers re-signing free-agent closer Kenley Jansen, but it is looking likelier by the day that the team won’t have the veteran right-hander at the back of its bullpen.
That means the team will have to pick a replacement — or, as Roberts hinted at Monday, go with a closer-by-committee approach.
Roberts acknowledged that right-hander Blake Treinen would be the front-runner, but also said the team likes his versatile set-up/fireman role where he faces the heart of the opposing order whenever it comes up.
“Blake’s open to doing whatever he can to help us win and that’s most important,” Roberts said. “But I love our pen. I think it’s a strength right now.”
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Stretching out starters
One of the biggest impacts of the lockout will likely fall on starting pitchers, who are trying to get ready in a significantly shortened spring camp.
“I just don’t expect a six-inning, 90-pitch build up for five guys or six guys to be there [by opening day],” Roberts said.
That means the Dodgers will have to get creative early in the year. Roberts downplayed the possibility of a six-man rotation, but emphasized the possibility of piggybacking with long relievers. He is also hopeful that the league will allow expanded rosters early in the season, which would enable the team to carry more pitchers to spread out the workload.
“I think our biggest concern is early [in the year],” said Andrew Friedman, president of baseball operations. “So it’s just how to navigate that and where our own guys are and I think as we assess that, over the next few days, we’ll have an even better sense.”
The Dodgers are monitoring several players attempting to come back from injury this camp.
Clayton Kershaw is the biggest name. After battling an elbow injury last year, he remains hopeful of being ready for opening day and was encouraged after facing hitters live for the first time Monday.
Relievers Caleb Ferguson and Tommy Kahnle, who are both returning from late 2020 Tommy John surgeries, are more of a question mark, with Roberts saying he believes they are currently “unlikely” for opening day. Starter Dustin May is also rehabbing after having Tommy John surgery last year and said he is targeting a return for the final third of the season.
Among position players, Mookie Betts (who battled a hip issue last year) and Edwin Ríos (who had a shoulder injury) are full-go, but Roberts said the team would be careful with how they ramp up.
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While the first line of the Dodgers depth chart seems just about set — barring the addition of another big free-agent signing, such as Freeman — the team will still have several roster spots up for grabs.
On the bench, players such as Gavin Lux, Matt Beaty, new signee Hanser Alberto and Ríos will jockey for playing time, while nonroster invitees including Eddy Alvarez, Andy Burns, Jason Martin, Stefen Romero and Jake Lamb will also attempt to make the team.
The bullpen could have a few more roster battles. Left-hander Victor Gonzalez showed up to camp in impressive shape after finishing last year in the minors. Ferguson and Kahnle, whenever they’re healthy, will try to cement themselves on the big league roster. Seven of the Dodgers’ eight pitcher nonroster invites also have previous big league experience, with the lone exception being highly touted prospect Ryan Pepiot.
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