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Six questions facing LA as offseason begins

October 29, 2018

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers need to turn the page quickly on their second consecutive World Series defeat and attend to business, with a large group of pending (and possible) free agents.Here are the most pressing issues facing the club as the offseason begins:1. To opt or not to opt?

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers need to turn the page quickly on their second consecutive World Series defeat and attend to business, with a large group of pending (and possible) free agents.
Here are the most pressing issues facing the club as the offseason begins:
1. To opt or not to opt?
A contract opt-out clause almost always favors the player. If he outperforms to expectations of the original guarantee, he holds the leverage for another payday. If he underperforms, he gets overpaid as the deal runs its course. Clayton Kershaw lands in a gray area. He's still one of the better pitchers in the National League, but considering injuries and decreased fastball velocity, the 30-year-old lefty is past his multiple Cy Young prime.
Does he walk away from $65 million guaranteed for the next two years or play it safe and stay? Would current Dodgers management, which has never written a nine-figure contract, add on to this one? Is there any club out there that still thinks Kershaw is a $35-million-a-year pitcher? Will he take that chance, or even be willing to accept a hometown discount, to sign with the Texas Rangers?
The first question will be answered by Friday, the extended deadline for his opt-out. If he goes that route, the Dodgers by Friday would make a qualifying offer of $17.9 million for 2019 so they would receive a compensatory pick if he were to sign elsewhere.

2. Fire Dave Roberts?
Seriously? Tommy Lasorda lost his first two World Series appearances. He didn't get fired and he's in the Hall of Fame. Lasorda didn't have to worry about Twitter, as fun as that might be to imagine. He also didn't worry about analytics or "collaborative management."
Considering the circumstances, it's easy to say Roberts shouldn't have accepted the ball from Rich Hill in Game 4. And Hill shouldn't have given it up like that. At worst, that catastrophic breakdown was a push. Alex Cora let Yasiel Puig drive in a run with first base open and Austin Barnes on deck in Game 3. Managers don't bat 1.000. But when does an offense that bats .180 in a World Series get blamed? Or a bullpen with a 5.48 World Series ERA? Did Roberts independently insist Hyun-Jin Ryu start Game 2 on the road because he was perceived better than Hill? Who knows, but it was a huge miscalculation, as was leaving a long reliever like Thomas Stripling off the roster for the unlikely -- but devastating -- consequences of a marathon game.
The Dodgers have a .589 winning percentage under Roberts, higher than Lasorda or Walt Alston, another Hall of Famer. Roberts is off to a pretty good start. The club has an option on him for 2019. Reportedly, contract-extension talks early in the season went nowhere. But if fans or management think the key to winning a World Series is as simple as firing the manager, they should be careful what they wish for.

3. Will the guru return?
It's time for the annual Rick Honeycutt watch. The pitching coach is 64, just completed his 13th season in charge of a pitching staff that compiled the lowest ERA in the game during his watch. He's the only MLB pitching coach that Kershaw, a three-time Cy Young Award winner, has had, and he seems reinvigorated working with the next Kershaw, Walker Buehler.
Honeycutt possesses a rare blend of fundamental mechanical knowledge with an appreciation for statistical analysis and game planning. He works round the clock. But he's also now a grandfather of five with a home in Tennessee and a ranch over the state line in Georgia. The Dodgers hired Mark Prior to be the bullpen coach and pitching-coach-in-waiting for whenever Honeycutt goes back to the ranch and stays there.
4. Not Manny 2.0?
The Dodgers were probably open to a megadeal for Manny Machado when they made the 5-for-1 blockbuster trade for him in July -- if he had proved to be the kind of difference-maker Manny Ramirez was in 2008. Machado showed better-than-advertised defense at shortstop and tools off the charts, but even fans in the upper deck could see the negative intangibles -- a lack of hustle, jerkish behavior toward opponents, swinging for a homer when a single was needed.
Oh, and he hit .182 in the World Series without an extra-base hit. But with Corey Seager recovering steadily from elbow and hip operations, getting deeply involved in a bidding war for a player expecting hundreds of millions of dollars seems to be a real stretch. Machado is not subject to a qualifying offer because he was traded during the season, so the Dodgers would not receive a compensatory pick if another club signs him.

5. Who can catch?
The club maintained it had "elite" catching coming out of Spring Training. In the World Series, Barnes and Yasmani Grandal went 1-for-16. Grandal is a free agent who possesses a power switch-hitting bat, an above-average arm and pitch-framing skills. But sometimes he can't catch, and he struggled so badly in the National League Championship Series that Barnes inherited the playing time. Barnes is solid behind the plate, doesn't have Grandal's throwing arm or power bat and admittedly had a dreadful year at the plate.
Catching, though, might be the greatest strength of the Dodgers' Minor League system. Will Smith is closest to the big leagues, while Keibert Ruiz (ranked No. 2 in the farm system by MLB Pipeline) will be in Saturday's Arizona Fall League Fall Stars Game, so he's not far behind and might have a higher ceiling.
If there's a job next year for a Dodgers rookie to win, it's catcher. That pair should be worth watching.

6. Who else could leave?
In addition to Machado, Grandal and possibly Kershaw, the club's free agents are Ryu, James Dozier, John Axford, Ryan Madson and Daniel Hudson.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for since 2001.