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Dodgers aim to avoid ‘volatility’ of roster changes after understated offseason

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout during a game.
Dodgers manager Dave Roberts watches from the dugout against the Reds at Dodger Stadium on April 14, 2022.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)
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Dave Roberts brushed off the suggestion with a laugh.

No, the Dodgers manager won’t be making another World Series guarantee for his team this season, he said when asked at the club’s FanFest event last weekend.

“I’m not going to do that,” Roberts smirked, almost a year removed from making a similar declaration last spring.

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“But again,” Roberts added, “I still expect to win the World Series. I do. And I don’t think that there’s anybody that’s a part of our organization or fan base that doesn’t feel that same way.”

Indeed, the Dodgers’ aim for 2023 is no different from years past. Their window as championship contenders remains firmly swung open.

But after an offseason marked by extensive roster turnover and understated acquisitions, there are new obstacles littering their pathway to October — fraught with as many potential pitfalls as they’ve seemingly faced in years.

“There’s certainly a lot more unknown,” Roberts said of his new team. “I think, even, it’s fair to say volatility.”

The core of the club again looks championship-caliber. MVP candidates Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman still spearhead the offense. Cy Young contenders Julio Urías and Clayton Kershaw continue to anchor the pitching staff.

“I think we’re gonna be a really good team,” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said earlier this month, “that has very, very legitimate championship odds.”

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It doesn’t mean they’re without legitimate concerns, though.

Even before the reduction of Trevor Bauer’s suspension last month, the Dodgers were taking a more restrained approach with their payroll this offseason.

Jan. 7, 2023

Gone from last year’s franchise-record 111-win team are All-Stars Trea Turner and Tyler Anderson, franchise stalwarts Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger, and a host of other important role players such as Chris Martin and Andrew Heaney.

Taking their place will be a collection of veteran free agents signed this winter to short-term deals, plus a crop of farm system talent expected to break into the big leagues.

“It’s kind of bittersweet,” said outfielder Chris Taylor, now the second-longest-tenured position player on the team. “We’re gonna miss them. But, you know, that’s the game. I think we feel good about the group we have.”

Echoed third baseman Max Muncy: “It hurts to see them leave, but I know that we also have more than enough pieces to fill their shoes. I think it will be a fun, exciting year.”

Roberts was more pragmatic about the Dodgers’ new reality.

After bordering on super-team status the past couple seasons, with big names and former MVPs teeming at almost every position, he acknowledged this year’s squad has less obvious answers to its biggest preseason questions.

While Gavin Lux and Miguel Vargas possess plenty of potential at the plate, their ability to handle projected everyday roles at shortstop and second base, respectively, is no guarantee given their inconsistent defensive track records.

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The Dodgers’ plans in left field and center field remain even more fluid entering spring training, with competition likely to ensue between Taylor, Trayce Thompson, David Peralta and James Outman, among other imperfect candidates.

After the starting five in their big league rotation, the Dodgers pitching depth will rely upon the young trio of Gavin Stone, Ryan Pepiot and Bobby Miller — all highly touted but not-yet-established prospects likely to start the year in Class AAA.

Even one of the team’s likely strengths, its bullpen, lacks a clear closer entering the new campaign.

“I still believe that the talent in the room and how we can put it together is going to make us a very good ballclub,” Roberts said. “But compared to last year’s team, where I don’t think we really had questions … I’m not going to sit here and say that we have as much depth.”

The Dodgers star bowls as many as six days a week during the winter. He’s good enough on the lanes to have been a part of the U.S Open last week.

Feb. 10, 2023

Such uncertainty has led some factions of the fan base, and many observers around the sport, to wonder whether the Dodgers should have done more during an offseason in which they reduced payroll — even after Trevor Bauer’s suspension was reduced — but failed to stay under the luxury tax threshold anyway.

In a vacuum, additions such as J.D. Martinez (who effectively replaced Justin Turner at a fraction of the cost) and Noah Syndergaard (who offers intrigue at the bottom of the rotation in his second full season removed from Tommy John surgery) could prove to be shrewd moves that came with little long-term risk.

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On the whole, though, it’s hard to debate that the club looks less stacked on paper than it did last year — when the team still crashed out of the playoffs after just four games despite reclaiming the NL West title.

“You just don’t know until you know,” Roberts said. “I think that any team that has a chance to contend for the World Series, there’s got to be some surprises or people that you don’t expect to make contributions.”

Friedman has downplayed the issues this winter’s changes could create, arguing that while “it’s always safe to assume that you’re going to take a step back from 111 wins … we feel really good about the team we have and the depth we have behind it.”

Freeman pushed back on the notion at last week’s FanFest, too, rattling off a projected lineup last week that still includes five All-Stars in starting positions.

“You can always go, ‘This didn’t happen, that didn’t happen [in the offseason],’” he said. “But I like our team.”

Roberts tried to find other silver linings, as well, noting that the increased competition for playing time this year could provide its own benefits over the course of the year.

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“I don’t think that we’ve really had that in years past,” Roberts said. “A little competition, earning playing opportunities, I think it’s a good thing.”

Whether it will all be enough to balance out the Dodgers’ offseason exodus of talent, however, remains to be seen.

They still have the makeup of one of the majors’ elite teams. They’re still considered near-favorites by oddsmakers and analytic simulations.

But they’re also facing renewed doubts coming out of the winter, hoping a new-look roster can find its own way to push back toward the postseason.

With Trevor Bauer’s salary on their 2023 payroll, the Dodgers will face another luxury tax bill. That could affect their pursuit of free agents for ’24.

Feb. 2, 2023

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