Column: Freddie Freeman signing could power Dodgers into baseball’s legendary realm
They have more power than the 1927 New York Yankees. They have the depth of the Big Red Machine, but with a designated hitter in their lineup instead of a pitcher.
The 2022 Dodgers have a chance to be a new benchmark in this country’s longest-running professional sports league.
They don’t have the pitching to be the greatest team of all-time, but they have the weapons to be the greatest offense in the history of the game.
The franchise of Sandy Koufax, Fernando Valenzuela and Clayton Kershaw is now the team of Freddie Freeman, Mookie Betts and Max Muncy.
“It’s going to be cool to look back and say this is a lineup that I was a part of,” outfielder AJ Pollock said Thursday, a day after the Dodgers agreed to a six-year, $162-million contract with Freeman.
With Freddie Freeman in the fold, Dodgers believe they have the pieces needed to compete for a World Series championship.
The Blue Bombers have eight hitters who clubbed 20 or more home runs last season and another who smacked 19.
They have Betts and Trea Turner.
That’s where Freeman comes in, the former National League MVP missing a combined seven games over the last four seasons.
“If you go across the position players, we’ve got basically nine All-Stars,” Kershaw said.
Will Smith, the only non-All-Star in the projected regular starting lineup, is positioned to earn the honor this year. The 26-year-old Smith is the best-hitting catcher in the National League.
Kershaw shook his head when asked about his team’s acquisition of Freeman.
“I still didn’t believe it,” he said.
Seated in front of his locker, Kershaw continued, “Freddie might be the best hitter in the game. It’s close. He’s up there. Freddie, Juan Soto, Mookie.”
“We have two of them,” Kershaw said.
They also have three former MVPs in the order in Freeman, Betts and Cody Bellinger. Kershaw is also a former MVP.
There are stars everywhere.
“Honestly, you come here and you kind of get used to it,” Pollock said. “You get used to playing with superstars and guys that are incredible hitters, incredible players. Now, we’ve got another guy.”
Manager Dave Roberts said that in the days before the Dodgers struck their deal with Freeman, he drew up potential lineups. He wouldn’t divulge specifics, but said, “The lineup’s as good a lineup as I have ever seen.”
Here’s what it could look like:
- Mookie Betts
- Freddie Freeman
- Trea Turner
- Max Muncy
- Will Smith
- Justin Turner
- Cody Bellinger
- AJ Pollock
- Chris Taylor
The addition of Freeman decreases the burdens on Muncy and Bellinger to be the team’s left-handed-hitting catalysts. Muncy is recovering from an elbow injury that sidelined him for the playoffs while Bellinger is coming off a season in which he batted .165.
Freeman’s presence could help counter the top right-handers in the division, including Yu Darvish and Joe Musgrove of the San Diego Padres and Logan Webb of the San Francisco Giants. In the postseason, the Dodgers could face the likes of Jacob deGrom and Max Scherzer of the New York Mets or Corbin Burnes and Brandon Woodruff of the Milwaukee Brewers.
With Freeman now the team’s first baseman, Muncy is expected to play primarily at second base while occasionally starting at third base or as the designated hitter. Freeman will likely move into the No. 2 spot in the order previously occupied by the departed Corey Seager. Several established hitters will be bumped down a spot or more in the lineup, but Muncy said that wouldn’t be a problem.
Freddie Freeman will bring more firepower to an already loaded Dodgers lineup. Here are five takeaways from the acquisition of the free-agent slugger.
Muncy said of Freeman, “He makes our lineup so dangerous. He’s going to be fun to watch on a nightly basis, but on top of that, he gives us a better chance to win another World Series. And that’s what we’re all about here, is winning. There’s not one person in here that didn’t want him.”
The ability of Muncy, Taylor and Gavin Lux to play multiple positions will maintain the team’s trademark flexibility.
The Dodgers scored a NL-leading 830 runs and were the only NL team that ranked in the top five in the majors in scoring. They will now be playing with a designated hitter. They will also have a version of Bellinger who will be another year removed from a shoulder operation that limited him last year. And they are substituting the often-injured Seager for the more durable Freeman.
They have questions about their rotation depth and bullpen, but the Dodgers could score enough to not make any of that matter.
“We should grind teams, we should go deep into ‘pens, we should score runs,” Roberts said. “It just allows for not potentially redlining starters or relievers and gives you more latitude or flexibility by scoring runs.”
Trevor Bauer’s administrative leave has been extended through April 16, meaning he will not be available to pitch for the Dodgers once the season starts.
Of course, at this stage, everything is theoretical.
“We’ve got to work together and come together as a team because there are some things about culture and chemistry and things like that that you have to work on,” Kershaw said. “We can’t just assume that because we’ve got nine of the best players in the game running out there every day that we’re going to win. We’ve got to work on that. And we will.”
Because the most prominent places in history are reserved for teams that win.
The Dodgers’ offense will be very good, perhaps even great. A championship could make it legendary.
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