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Could Dodgers make splash at Winter Meetings?

@kengurnick
December 5, 2019

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have shown their approach to roster construction and game management can run away with a division, but it still hasn’t won a World Series. The front office heads into the Winter Meetings with a talented nucleus and financial flexibility, but it’s unclear if it will

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers have shown their approach to roster construction and game management can run away with a division, but it still hasn’t won a World Series.

The front office heads into the Winter Meetings with a talented nucleus and financial flexibility, but it’s unclear if it will dive into the deep end of the free-agent pool or stay the course in the shallow end with modest acquisitions.

MLB Hot Stove tracker

Last year’s Joe Kelly and A.J. Pollock signings, and the quixotic pursuit of Bryce Harper, proved suboptimal. The club’s recent trade and free-agent records have been spotty, with under-the-radar lefty reliever Adam Kolarek the highlight of the past 12 months.

They’ve already met with game-changing free agents Gerrit Cole, Stephen Strasburg and Anthony Rendon. Whether that’s a sincere pursuit, or clever public relations, remains to be seen.

These are Winter Meetings FAQs to know

Club needs: If you saw the National League Division Series, you know the Dodgers need bullpen help. If you judge by Hot Stove rumors, the Dodgers seem to be targeting Cole, Strasburg and Rendon. Adding a starting pitcher makes sense, with free agents Hyun-Jin Ryu likely to cash in elsewhere and Rich Hill sidelined.

Offseason checklist: Dodgers' needs and moves

Whom might they trade? Joc Pederson would have been traded to the White Sox last year if the Dodgers had somehow landed Harper and Pederson rumors to the South Side have already resumed, although it might take Alex Verdugo for the Dodgers to pull off a significant deal for the likes of Corey Kluber or Francisco Lindor. On the prospect side, the Dodgers seem more willing to trade Keibert Ruiz than Will Smith if it takes a young catcher to match up with a trade partner.

The NL West's most attractive trade chips

Prospects to know: Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin are the young pitchers expected to vie for a staff role in Spring Training, while outfielder DJ Peters possesses the kind of right-handed power the club needs to balance the lefty-leaning batting order. Defense is the question mark for rookie corner infielder Edwin Ríos, whose left-handed bat nearly forced its way onto the postseason roster.

Rule 5 Draft: The Dodgers are very unlikely to make a selection in the Rule 5 Draft, but two of the farm system’s Top 30 prospects as ranked by MLB Pipeline -- No. 23 Cristian Santana and No. 26 Jordan Sheffield -- were left unprotected and both should be intriguing to other clubs.

Payroll summary: The Dodgers have shed roughly $60 million in 2019 salary (most of it through free agents Ryu, Hill and the released Homer Bailey). Even with big raises via arbitration for Cody Bellinger, Max Muncy and Pederson, they could afford to add Cole, Strasburg or Rendon and stay under the competitive balance tax threshold for 2020. This management, however, has never committed huge dollars for an incoming free agent, especially for more than four years. In the Andrew Friedman era, the Dodgers have never signed one of the three biggest free-agent contracts in any offseason.

One question: Can the front office make the bullpen October worthy?

This year’s postseason meltdown was a direct result of management’s lack of confidence in current relievers, from Kenley Jansen’s erratic season to Kelly’s mysterious September to Pedro Báez’s Game 4 blast by Ryan Zimmerman. Kenta Maeda was the most effective right-hander in the NLDS, and he had to come out of the starting rotation. The Dodgers have tried outside free agency (Kelly), retained in-house free agents (Jansen) and rushed kids (May), but still haven’t cracked the code.

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