Difficult free-agent decisions loom for LA

October 25th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Over the last few years, the Dodgers’ core accomplished nearly everything together. Division titles? World Series appearances? Breaking the franchise’s 32-year World Series drought?

Done, done and done.

But after a 4-2 loss in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves on Saturday that ended their season, it’s fair to wonder whether that was the last time one of the best groups in Dodgers history shared the same clubhouse.

The Dodgers had a $267 million payroll in 2021, so money won’t necessarily be the issue. But with several prominent free agents, the Dodgers face some potential bidding wars. That could make it nearly impossible to bring everyone back. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman faces his most important winter since taking over in 2014.

Let’s take a look at the Dodgers’ upcoming free agents.

Before a left forearm injury ended his season on Oct. 1, Kershaw went 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA. The 22 starts were his fewest in a 162-game season since making 21 in 2016.

Though still a very productive Major League starter, there’s no secret that Kershaw isn’t the same pitcher he was during his prime. He also just received a PRP injection on his left forearm, which raises some questions. Kershaw said he expects to be ready by Spring Training.

The left-hander, however, is arguably the best pitcher in franchise history and is undoubtedly the face of the franchise. Los Angeles will try to find ways to keep Kershaw. But the final decision ultimately comes down to the future Hall of Famer's desires.

He can elect to come back on a year-to-year contract with the Dodgers, or he can try to find a home elsewhere, preferably somewhere near his Dallas-area home. Kershaw could also retire, but that appears unlikely at this point in time.

Kershaw repeatedly said that he wouldn’t think about his future until the Dodgers’ season came to an end. Well, that time has come.

The Dodgers went all-in on Scherzer and Trea Turner at the Trade Deadline, sending top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray, along with two others, to the Nationals.

Los Angeles did know that giving up a large haul for Scherzer could come with a cost. Scherzer is now a free agent and after a strong showing with the Dodgers, the future Hall of Famer could have plenty of options.

He did, however, want to be with the Dodgers at the Trade Deadline and most believe he would prefer to stay on the West Coast. There’s mutual interest, but Scherzer won’t come cheap.

During his time with the Dodgers, Seager became one of the best shortstops in the Majors. He was named the NLCS and World Series MVP during last year’s World Series run. But with the shortstop market being the best it’s been in years, Seager is expected to get a big payday in free agency.

The Dodgers could certainly choose to bring back Seager at a hefty price, but that would likely mean they would have to sacrifice some of their other free agents. They also have a pending decision to make with Turner, who appears to be the shortstop-in-waiting if Seager doesn’t return.

Seager, however, made it clear that he would love to be back with the Dodgers.

“I grew up here. I’ve spent a lot of time here,” Seager said after the Game 6 loss. “I believe in what these guys do. I believe in how we go about it.”

After a couple of inconsistent seasons, the biggest question surrounding the Dodgers during Spring Training was whether Jansen would be the team’s closer. Jansen responded by posting his best season in years, recording 38 saves.

Jansen made $20 million this season and it’s unlikely that the Dodgers would pay that much for a closer, especially with Blake Treinen and Brusdar Graterol ready to step up in the bullpen. But with the season he just had, Jansen figures to be the top closer in the market.

“I’m thankful to be here for all these years,” Jansen said. “This is the only team I know. They believed in me when I was 17 years old. … I’ve enjoyed this journey and I always say, whatever happens, I’m proud to be a Dodger and I’ll always be a Dodger.”

Taylor won’t steal many headlines this winter, but everyone inside the Dodgers’ clubhouse raves about what the utility man brings to a team.

The 31-year-old made his first All-Star Game appearance this season and was awarded the Dodgers' coveted Roy Campanella Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies spirit and leadership, as voted on by all players and uniformed personnel.

Then, Taylor made history in the postseason with a three-homer game.

He made close to $8 million in '21. He’ll get a significant pay raise this offseason.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Taylor said. “I’ve loved every minute of being a Dodger. I have no idea what’s going to happen this offseason. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to play for the Dodgers.”

After two disappointing seasons with the Dodgers, Kelly re-established himself as one of the top relievers in the L.A. bullpen this season. Kelly, who missed the first month of the season after undergoing offseason shoulder surgery to remove a cyst, posted a 2.86 ERA over 48 appearances in the regular season.

Because of his performance, the Dodgers face a tough decision with the right-hander. Kelly has a $12 million club option for '22. The Dodgers could choose to decline it and try to bring Kelly back at a cheaper price. But if that happens, Kelly will become an unrestricted free agent and would have the power to sign anywhere he wants.

Kelly suffered a right biceps injury in Game 5 of the NLCS. The severity of the injury is unclear.

When the Dodgers signed Pujols to a one-year deal in May, there was no guarantee that the signing would work. Bringing in the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer turned out better than anyone expected.

Pujols wouldn’t say if the ‘21 season would be his last. Much like Kershaw, Pujols wanted to wait until the offseason to decide whether he wanted to play another season or retire as one of the greatest players ever. He’ll have all winter to decide. If he wants to keep playing on a team-friendly deal, the Dodgers would be an option.

Bringing Knebel back would be an under-the-radar move for the Dodgers, but one that could come at a discount. After years of dealing with injuries, the right-hander re-established himself as a high-leverage reliever, when healthy. He recorded three saves and posted a 2.45 ERA in 27 appearances this season.