Without Seager, Scherzer, what's next for LA?

November 30th, 2021

LOS ANGELES -- Two of the Dodgers’ biggest free agents came off the board on Monday, with Corey Seager and Max Scherzer reportedly headed to the Rangers and the Mets, respectively.

The Dodgers’ free-agent class, which included a total of 12 players, featured a substantial number of key contributors. Besides Seager and Scherzer, there was left-hander Clayton Kershaw, utility man Chris Taylor and closer Kenley Jansen, plus some prominent relievers in Joe Kelly, Corey Knebel and Jimmy Nelson. But the All-Star shortstop and ace right-hander were far and away the most coveted members of that group, each commanding a record-setting deal.

Here’s a look at some of the bigger questions facing the Dodgers now that Seager and Scherzer are going elsewhere.

What’s the Dodgers’ shortstop situation?
In 2022, that role will belong to Trea Turner, acquired from the Nationals at the Trade Deadline as part of the Scherzer deal. Primarily a shortstop for the last six seasons, Turner shifted to second base when he arrived in Los Angeles. With Seager gone, Turner can now return to his preferred position.

Turner remains under contract for another year and is set to become a free agent at the conclusion of the 2022 postseason. If the Dodgers choose not to focus on making Turner their shortstop of the future, Gavin Lux could fill that role. Lux will most likely become the Dodgers’ starting second baseman next year, though shortstop was his most-played position in ‘21.

There’s also a chance that distinction could go to Jacob Amaya, the Dodgers’ No. 14-ranked prospect, per MLB Pipeline. Amaya, who was added to the 40-man roster as Rule 5 Draft protection, is projected to make his MLB debut in 2022. MLB Pipeline describes him as having “quick, reliable hands and a strong, accurate arm,” calling him “the best infield defender among Dodgers prospects.”

If Taylor re-signs with the Dodgers, he too would have a spot in the depth chart at short.

What does this mean for the starting rotation?
As of now, the only two locks for the Dodgers’ rotation in 2022 are right-hander Walker Buehler and left-hander Julio Urías. Left-hander Andrew Heaney, the Dodgers’ only official free-agent signing of the offseason so far, will be in the mix for a spot, but he ended up in the Yankees’ bullpen last year after a subpar showing as a starter. Right-hander Tony Gonsolin remains a candidate as well, though he has filled something of a swingman role each of the past three seasons.

Right-hander Dustin May, who underwent Tommy John surgery on May 11, could slot back in should his recovery progress sufficiently. The Dodgers also have several pitching prospects who are projected to be MLB-ready by next year, including Ryan Pepiot (No. 2), Bobby Miller (No. 4), Andre Jackson (No. 7) and Landon Knack (No. 8); Jackson debuted in the Majors in ‘21.

Then, of course, there’s Kershaw, a mainstay of the Dodgers’ rotation for the past 14 seasons. With a 2.49 career ERA that leads all active players, the three-time Cy Young Award winner is all but certainly Hall of Fame-bound. That alone is a compelling reason for president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and co. to try and make him a Dodger for life -- and it doesn’t hurt that the southpaw was still really good in his injury-shortened 2021 campaign.

However, health has been a major issue for Kershaw throughout his career. He has missed time due to injury in seven of the last eight seasons, including two injured list stints in 2021. He missed the Dodgers’ most recent postseason run on account of a left elbow injury, and while surgery was not required, recurrent arm issues -- as well as recurrent back issues -- could complicate matters when it comes to re-signing him. Part of why the team didn’t extend Kershaw a qualifying offer was to avoid forcing a clock on his decision about his future.

The Dodgers could also look elsewhere on the free-agent market, though a number of top starters have already at least reportedly agreed with other teams, including Robbie Ray (Mariners), Kevin Gausman (Blue Jays), Noah Syndergaard (Angels), Justin Verlander (Astros), Jon Gray (Rangers) and Eduardo Rodriguez (Tigers). Top starters who are still available include Marcus Stroman and Carlos Rodón, with a large number of midline and back-end starters remaining unsigned as well.

What does the Dodgers’ payroll look like next year?
Even with Seager and Scherzer gone, the Dodgers still have plenty of money committed in 2022. As of now, Cot’s Baseball Contracts projects a $214.6 million payroll for the Opening Day 40-man roster, a number that will increase and most probably go past the Competitive Balance Tax threshold (a number that will be determined by the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement). Additionally, some uncertainty remains with the Dodgers’ four arbitration eligible players: Urías, Turner, Cody Bellinger and Caleb Ferguson.

So far, the Dodgers have yet to really get in on the offseason spending frenzy. Besides Heaney, Daniel Hudson is the only other player they’ve gotten close on, with a source telling MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand on Monday that the Dodgers were nearing a one-year deal worth about $7 million with the reliever.

The money not spent on Seager and Scherzer could go towards retaining some of the club’s other free agents -- or toward signing other free agents. For instance, the loss of Seager and a worse-than-realized injury to Max Muncy could make Freddie Freeman a more appealing target for L.A. than previously thought.