LOS ANGELES -- Before he looks ahead to what should be a busy offseason, Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman sat inside the interview room at Dodger Stadium and reflected on his team’s 2021 season.
“There’s a lot to be proud of,” Friedman said. “Obviously, we fell short of our ultimate goal. I think as we sit here now, it’s about looking back on the year and the positive things that happened.”
The Dodgers accomplished plenty of positive things. They won 106 games in the regular season, the most by a defending champion in the Divisional era. They were also able to take down the Giants in the first postseason series between the two longtime rivals. But in the end, the season ended in the National League Championship Series with some questions.
Why did the Dodgers abandon what worked so well for them during the regular season? Why did they lean on their three dominant starters to chip in out of the bullpen instead of keeping them on their normal routine? Why did Max Scherzer’s season end with an “overcooked” arm? How about Julio Urías?
“I think you have to kind of break that up into different chunks,” Friedman said. “I think the winner-take-all, just the way things got sped up and I think had Kenley [Jansen’s spot] not come up in the top of the ninth, my guess is he pitches the ninth [in Game 5 of the NLDS]. But I think part of it also is Max’s level of conviction. … So now in retrospect, the way it ended up playing out, I think it's easy to say, 'Oh, yeah, we would've done something differently.' But I think at that time, I think it made a lot of sense personally.
“And in Game 2 [of the NLCS, using Urías in relief], I totally get both sides of the argument. Again, it’s back to the things that are kind of in that middle, but that one I totally get the question. I think it’s obviously a better question for [manager Dave Roberts] or [pitching coach Mark Prior]. But I certainly get both sides.”
While those decisions are something the collective group will have to live with over the winter, Friedman and the rest of the front office will now flip the switch to what should be one of the most fascinating offseasons since he took over in 2014.
Here are five takeaways from Friedman’s end-of-season press conference at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday:
1. Clayton Kershaw enters free agency
Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher in franchise history, but he enters the offseason as a free agent. The Dodgers will be open to bringing Kershaw back, but that decision will ultimately come down to the left-hander. Kershaw, who received a PRP injection in early October, said he expects to be ready for Spring Training. That remains to be seen. One decision the future Hall of Famer will have to make this offseason is whether he wants to sign with a team closer to his Dallas-area home, return to Los Angeles or retire, which would be a shocker.
“Obviously what he’s meant to this organization, to this city, I think it’s all about what makes more sense for him and Ellen and their family,” Friedman said. “I think taking off my president of baseball operations hat, there’s something nostalgic and great about Kersh playing with one team and being able to win another championship and having a parade. That being said, he’s put himself in this position to go out and do whatever makes the most sense for his family, and we will support that.”
2. The starting rotation is an area of need
Coming into Spring Training, the Dodgers’ strength was a deep and talented starting rotation. This winter, improving that rotation will be at the top of the list for Friedman.
Kershaw and Scherzer are both free agents, though both could ultimately decide to return to the Dodgers, giving them an instant boost. Los Angeles also hopes to get a bounce back season from right-hander Tony Gonsolin, who had a recurring shoulder injury in 2021. Dustin May is expected to miss most or all of next season after undergoing Tommy John surgery in May.
Young pitchers such as Andre Jackson, Mitch White, Landon Knack, Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot were all mentioned by Friedman as potential options heading into next season. But the Dodgers will be looking to add some established arms to pair with Walker Buehler and Urías.
“We have some really good guys in place,” Friedman said. “So now rounding it up, the rotation will definitely be something that we focus on as we get into the winter.”
3. The latest on Trevor Bauer
Part of the reason why the Dodgers have some question marks in the rotation is because of the uncertainty surrounding Bauer. The right-hander was placed on administrative leave in July and didn’t pitch again in ‘21. His case is still being handled by Major League Baseball.
With Bauer projected to make $35 million next season, how do the Dodgers operate this winter without knowing if he will open the season with the club?
“It will have some [effect]," Friedman said. “The extent of it, I don’t know yet. But it’s something real and we have to figure out what that means, but it will more fall out of whatever MLB finds through their investigation and what they decide.”
4. Coaches and front office staff could go elsewhere
With the amount of success the Dodgers have had over the last decade, it’s not unusual for other teams to try to hire away some members of Los Angeles' coaching staff and front office. Friedman doesn’t expect this year to be any different.
“It’s a compliment,” Friedman said. “We want the people that have been a big part of the success we’ve had and we’ll do what we can to keep as many of this group together, but not standing in the way of a great opportunity.”
Assistant general manager Brandon Gomes has been linked to some general manager openings, but the expectation is that he could get promoted inside the Dodgers’ front office.
5. The bullpen will be a strength
Kenley Jansen (free agent) and Joe Kelly (club option) could have decisions to make this offseason. Regardless of what happens with those two players, the Dodgers go into the offseason feeling good about their bullpen.
Blake Treinen established himself as one of the most dominant relievers in baseball with a superb 2021. Brusdar Graterol’s use of a cutter appeared to elevate him during the second half. Alex Vesia thrived, too. The Dodgers will also get Caleb Ferguson and Tommy Kahnle back after both players missed the season due to Tommy John surgery.
“I don’t think we’ve ever been in this good of a position regarding the bullpen when the offseason starts,” Friedman said. “It allows us to be a little more selective in terms of who we’re targeting.”