While Progressive Field in Cleveland buzzed with activity on Monday as the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians prepared for Tuesday night’s World Series opener, Dodger Stadium was eerily quiet, a 28th consecutive World Series-less October passing through Chavez Ravine.
Two wins shy of their ultimate goal, the Dodgers collapsed in the final three games of the National League Championship Series, getting outscored 23-6, out-hit 33-17 and committing six errors.
The gap between the teams seemed wide, and with a highly talented core of players who are 26 or younger, a group that includes Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo, Javier Baez and Kyle Hendricks, the Cubs could be a strong impediment to the Dodgers’ title hopes for years.
But as Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts surveys the two clubs in the wake of his team’s disappointing finish, one that came on the heels of its fourth straight NL West title and an exhilarating five-game division series win over Washington, he doesn’t see a great divide.
“You look at youth, veteran leadership, starting pitching and guys out of the bullpen, I think that as far as overall balance, the clubs are pretty similar,” said Roberts, who was named NL manager of the year by The Sporting News on Monday. “As we went into the series, I thought we matched up really well with them.”
They exited the series with major question marks surrounding the veteran leadership, starting pitching and relievers who helped the Dodgers get as far as they did.
Kenley Jansen, their dominant closer, primary setup man Joe Blanton, No. 3 hitter Justin Turner, No. 2 starter Rich Hill, glue-of-the-team second baseman Chase Utley and starting right fielder Josh Reddick will be free agents.
Jansen, who had a 1.83 earned-run average and 47 saves and was untouchable for most of the postseason, is expected to obliterate Jonathan Papelbon’s record four-year, $50-million contract for a closer.
With the big-market Dodgers, Cubs and San Francisco Giants among those in pursuit, there will be plenty of competition for Jansen, 29, as well as for free-agent closers Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon.
Turner, who hit .275 with 27 homers and 90 runs batted in, turns 32 in November and is expected to garner at least $15 million a year over four or five years. Hill, a left-hander, is expected to command a premium price even at 36; he is the best option in an unusually thin starting pitching market.
“We have a lot of talented players who are free agents, and I expect we’ll have ongoing dialogue with every one of them,” said Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations. “There are so many ways the off-season could play out. It’s so hard to try to corral it at this point.”
There was some good rotation news on Monday. Asked if Clayton Kershaw, the ace who missed 10 weeks this summer because of a herniated disk in his lower back, would need surgery this winter, Friedman said, “I don’t anticipate that being necessary.”
More reasons for optimism: The Dodgers have two of the game’s best young players in shortstop Corey Seager and pitcher Julio Urias, a slew of talented pitching and position-playing prospects, and center fielder Joc Pederson made strides at the plate in the second half.
They may have even turned much-maligned right fielder Yasiel Puig into a salvageable asset after his August demotion to triple A.
“He got better as a player, as a man,” Roberts said. “He came back energized, on board for the team.”
The Dodgers were aggressive in their attempts to trade Puig in July, but Friedman said that he can envision Puig returning for 2017.
“His ability to impact the game in a number of different ways is something we all value very highly,” Friedman said. “As far as how the winter unfolds on a number of different fronts, that remains to be seen.”
Follow Mike DiGiovanna on Twitter @MikeDiGiovanna