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Dodgers entering intriguing offseason

With key players entering free agency, club striving to get back to World Series

LOS ANGELES -- Southern California knows droughts, but this dry spell is 27 years and running. Unfortunately, not even in baseball can money solve everything.

The Dodgers once again led the Major Leagues in payroll, but $300 million brought them nothing but heartaches when another season ended too prematurely for anyone's satisfaction with their Game 5 loss to the Mets on Thursday night in the National League Division Series.

The Dodgers clearly have some issues as they try once again to figure out the right path to ending a World Series absence spanning back to 1988. For a major-market team, the original America's Team thanks to Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson, that is an eternity.

The status of manager Don Mattingly is up in the air, and the few people who can address it will keep their thoughts to themselves until a decision is made. The outside world seems to have reached the conclusion that his five-year run is over, but management consistently has spoken highly of Mattingly.

A few of the personnel issues can be resolved by throwing more ownership millions at players -- notably impending free agents Zack Greinke and Howie Kendrick.

The assumption is Greinke will opt out of the remaining three years and $71 million on his current deal. The superlative starter and Kendrick, the sturdy, consistent second baseman, are going to get theirs somewhere, if not in Los Angeles.

Jimmy Rollins, the Dodgers' shortstop until Corey Seager arrived in September, and starter Brett Anderson also are potential free agents. Rollins is almost certainly gone, but Anderson could be back, given the uncertainty surrounding the rotation after Clayton Kershaw.

The club holds options on veterans Chase Utley, reliever Joel Peralta and injured starter Bronson Arroyo. Lefty J.P. Howell (6-1, 1.43 ERA) pitched well enough to trigger a $6.25 million club option for 2016.

On the open market, coming off a historic 19-3 season with the Majors' best ERA (1.66) in 20 years, Greinke is likely to attract Kershaw money: a market deal spanning six or seven years in the $30 million a year range.

"We'd love to keep him," Adrian Gonzalez said in the quiet of the clubhouse late Thursday night. "He's a big part of this team. He's been incredible the whole time he's been here. We love him. We hope he opts to stay."

As difficult as it would be for teammates and fans to see him in a different uniform, Greinke turns 32 next week. History shows long-term attachments to pitchers his age come at high risk.

Jordan Zimmermann, David Price and Johnny Cueto also loom in free agency, but those arms also will carry extravagant price tags.

As for Kendrick, his bat and glove were two constants in his first and perhaps only season as a Dodger. His .360 average with runners in scoring position was the club's best in an important area that caused issues right to the final out against the Mets.

Kendrick, the former Angels star, also is 32 -- and second base is one position where the Dodgers have coverage with Kiké Hernandez, a .307 hitter with 202 rookie at-bats, and Jose Peraza, an exciting athlete acquired from the Braves.

The question is: How secure would the Dodgers be with two relatively inexperienced hands in the heart of the infield after the stability provided by Rollins and Kendrick? This could enhance Utley's value as a veteran presence.

Hernandez and Peraza combined have 30 games of big league experience at second, with Seager -- clearly the organizational choice at shortstop -- having played 27 games there as a Dodger.

The outfield remains deeply staffed with the familiar names.

The expectation of the returns of Hyun-Jin Ryu and Brandon McCarthy to the rotation after a season lost to injuries could alleviate the pressure to spend big on another starter. But the expectation is that at least one rotation arm will be added, even if it's not a high-priced one. A few names to consider: John Lackey, Scott Kazmir, Ian Kennedy, Mike Leake, Jeff Samardzija.

Given the unpredictable nature of their bullpen in front of closer Kenley Jansen in recent seasons, this is an area certain to be explored.

No setup man in the game has been better over the past seven years than Darren O'Day, who has put out Orioles fires the past four years. The side-arming right-hander is 31-13 with a 2.39 career ERA and 1.005 WHIP in 459 games.

The Dodgers made several big splashes last winter with the new front-office regime headed by Andrew Friedman. How those moves panned out is open to interpretation.

The club sacrificed power (Matt Kemp, 23 homers, 100 RBIs for the Padres), speed (Dee Gordon, 2015 NL batting champion, 58 steals for the Marlins) and a durable starter (Dan Haren, 11-9, 3.60 ERA, 32 starts for the Marlins and Cubs) for improved defense and organizational depth.

The three prominent building blocks for the future -- Seager, outfielder Joc Pederson and lefty Julio Urias -- remain in place. Another intriguing offseason has arrived for Dodgers fans, much sooner than they'd anticipated.

Lyle Spencer is a national reporter and columnist for Follow him on Twitter @LyleMSpencer.
Read More: Los Angeles Dodgers, Zack Greinke, Jimmy Rollins, Enrique Hernandez, Howie Kendrick