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5 biggest questions facing Dodgers in 2018

LA looks to take one more step coming off World Series run
MLB.com @kengurnick

LOS ANGELES -- With MLB's best regular-season record and a thrilling postseason run, the Dodgers proved to have a Fall Classic roster in 2017 and aim to take the final step into the promised land this year.

They aren't overhauling the clubhouse this offseason, instead focusing on minor improvements around the fringes after spending generously last winter to re-sign Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill.

LOS ANGELES -- With MLB's best regular-season record and a thrilling postseason run, the Dodgers proved to have a Fall Classic roster in 2017 and aim to take the final step into the promised land this year.

They aren't overhauling the clubhouse this offseason, instead focusing on minor improvements around the fringes after spending generously last winter to re-sign Kenley Jansen, Justin Turner and Rich Hill.

But the window could be closing on the current nucleus, as the first of their five biggest questions entering 2018 indicates:

1. Will 2018 be Kershaw's last as a Dodger?
An extension probably won't happen this offseason with Clayton Kershaw coming off a second year of back issues. His health in the upcoming year will determine if his value has increased or decreased since signing a contract back in 2014 that includes an opt-out clause after the '18 season. If he stays healthy, and if he continues to pitch Kershaw-like, he could be the next Zack Greinke to be lured away, perhaps by his hometown Texas Rangers.

Video: Kershaw finishes second for 2017 NL Cy Young Award

2. Dynasty or decline?
With a 29-year drought, the Dodgers know how difficult it is to be a World Series team. With five consecutive division titles, they would like to think their Game 7 loss to the Astros was the first of multiple chances at a ring. The roster is built for that, the farm system appears stocked and management aspires to display such dominance.

Video: Roberts talks about getting over World Series loss

3. Is Cain or McCutchen in the club's immediate future?
Matt Kemp returned on paper only. Once the Dodgers flip him to another club or release him, as expected, will management stand pat, stay below the luxury-tax threshold and prepare for a robust free-agent class next offseason? Or will it spend some of the saved 2018 payroll on a free agent like Lorenzo Cain or trade for Pittsburgh's Andrew McCutchen?

Video: Gurnick on Dodgers' trade with Braves for Matt Kemp

4. How will they protect Buehler?
After left-hander Julio Urias' shoulder injury last season, the Dodgers can't afford a repeat with their latest top pitching prospect, Walker Buehler, who showed glimpses of his promise in a September callup. Urias went from 80 1/3 innings in 2015 to 122 innings in 2016 to blowing out after 54 2/3 innings last year. Buehler threw five innings in 2016 coming off Tommy John surgery and 88 2/3 innings in 2017. No target has been announced, but 125 innings seems reasonable, and that would take tricky maneuvering to make some of those innings in the big leagues while trying to avoid injury.

Video: Roberts discusses Buehler's role on Dodgers staff

5. Who will set up?
It's an annual search to get the ball to Jansen, mostly because the club's preferred option, Pedro Baez, keeps giving the job away. In 2016, the Dodgers took Joe Blanton off the scrap heap, and he was lights-out until the postseason. This year's reclamation project was Brandon Morrow, who proved to be a postseason workhorse and will get paid for it by the Cubs. Tony Watson also is likely to leave. The Dodgers believe Yimi Garcia (back from Tommy John surgery) and Tony Cingrani (Trade Deadline acquisition) could pick up some of those innings, but management will be on the hunt for another reclamation project or two.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.

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