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Seeking next step, LA faces roster decisions

Dodgers will enter 2017 riding 4th straight NL West title
October 24, 2016

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers will seek an unprecedented fifth consecutive National League West title in 2017, although after their elimination by the Cubs last week, fans will settle for nothing less than the franchise's first World Series since 1988.The offseason to get them there will focus first on re-signing

LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers will seek an unprecedented fifth consecutive National League West title in 2017, although after their elimination by the Cubs last week, fans will settle for nothing less than the franchise's first World Series since 1988.
The offseason to get them there will focus first on re-signing free agents Kenley Jansen and Justin Turner, or the thorny task of replacing them as closer and starting third baseman, respectively. They need to fill holes in the starting rotation and add right-handed bats that can handle left-handed pitching, which was a glaring weakness this year.
"Obviously, the results from this year were disappointing, and I think as we assess things going forward, we're going to have to look into what we think will continue and what we think is more noise," president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said of the difficulty against lefties. "There's a number of guys that we will bet on next year, and not to overreact also. It gets back to creating the most well-balanced roster we can."
And another big question mark is outfielder Yasiel Puig, who was nearly traded in the summer and figures to be the subject of rumors again.
Dodgers' coaching staff expected back in '17
Arbitration-eligible: RP Luis Avilán, RP Louis Coleman, RP Josh Fields, C Yasmani Grandal, RP Chris Hatcher, RP Chin-hui Tsao, OF Scott Van Slyke, SP Alex Wood. OF Puig can opt out of his $6.5 million salary for arbitration, but that is unlikely.
Free agents: RHP Jansen, 3B Turner, LHP Brett Anderson, RHP Joe Blanton, RHP Jesse Chavez, LHP Rich Hill, LHP J.P. Howell, INF Chase Utley, OF Josh Reddick, C Carlos Ruiz (club option $4.5 million or $500,000 buyout), LHP Scott Kazmir (player opt out).

Rotation: Health is the big unknown for the starting rotation going into the offseason, and for the first time that means Clayton Kershaw, too, after missing 2 1/2 months with a herniated disk. It's the type of injury that never fully goes away, but club officials said he finished the postseason feeling fine.In his first season, Kenta Maeda turned into an ironman, despite concerns over his pitching arm and elbow. Julio Urías has arrived, even if he continues to be treated with kid gloves. The Dodgers have four veteran starters coming off injuries -- Kazmir, Wood, Brandon McCarthy and Hyun-Jin Ryu -- with no clear idea if they can be counted on. Wood ended the season the healthiest of the bunch. Then there are the other kids -- Ross Stripling, Brock Stewart and José De León -- each showing glimpses of big league quality.

Bullpen: Free agency could potentially devastate one of the best bullpens in the Majors. Obviously, the departure of Jansen would leave the Dodgers with no clear option to save games. In addition, Blanton was a reliable setup man until the National League Championship Series. So the Dodgers could be losing their pitchers for the eighth and ninth innings. Pedro Báez remains an enigma and, despite the velocity, has not shown dependability in high-leverage situations. Hard-throwing Josh Ravin came on strong in September, so he could become a late-innings factor. From the left side, Avilan and Grant Dayton performed well, while Adam Liberatore needed elbow surgery.

Catcher: Grandal was an All-Star last year and slugged 27 home runs with 71 RBIs this year, career highs, after hitting only .212 in the first half. Management loves his pitch framing, and when healthy, he's an offensive force, although it's not easy for catchers to stay healthy with the abuse they take. Austin Barnes was versatile enough to find his way onto the roster for the NL Division Series as a third catcher who can play the infield and outfield. But the late acquisition of Ruiz, whose return is uncertain because of a club option, showed that management isn't convinced yet in Barnes' right-handed bat.

First base: Whether it was nagging back and neck issues, or tinkering with the swing to counter defensive shifts, the power numbers for Adrián González were down in 2016. But the rest of his game played as usual, from average to RBIs to defense and clutch production. He's shown the ability to bounce back from similar down years in the past, but he's never been 34 before. With young sluggers like Corey Seager, Joc Pederson and Grandal in the lineup, there is less reliance on Gonzalez to deliver the long ball. When healthy, Van Slyke provides a solid right-handed platoon option at first, and Howie Kendrick might be used there more often next year as well.

Second base: Utley was one of the first signings a year ago coming off a bad year, so it will be interesting to see if management goes that route again as he comes off a fine rebound campaign, this time with Kendrick under contract for another year. Utley's clubhouse presence can't be overstated. The two could form a veteran platoon, with Kiké Hernandez in the mix.

Shortstop: This position should be filled for another decade or so with expected NL Rookie of the Year Seager in place. The Dodgers have had dozens of top prospects handed roles they were unable to fill in recent years, but Seager exceeded the vast expectations, at least until the final few games of the NLCS, when he conceded that the grind of his first full MLB season left him fatigued. Perhaps management will search for a backup to give Seager a few breathers during the season that he didn't get this year.
Seager named Sporting News NL Rookie of Year
Third base: The organization hasn't produced one that's made an impact since Adrián Beltré. Letting Turner leave as a free agent would create a big hole that's tough to fill without going outside of the organization.
Outfield: The fate of Puig will dominate the headlines again. The club tried to trade him during the summer, and many expect a rumored deal for Ryan Braun to be revisited. Although Puig behaved after his return from a Triple-A demotion, he performed and was handled like a platoon player, in part because Reddick was acquired to replace Puig. Pederson showed some improvement in his offensive approach and remained the most dependable center fielder on the roster. Andre Ethier's season was a waste after a broken leg. Although he'll be 35 in April, Ethier was coming off a very solid 2015 season. Andrew Toles earned his way into the 2017 conversation by making an impact as a rookie. Management was pleasantly surprised by Kendrick's conversion to the outfield, and he still provides a professional at-bat. The club is very hopeful that Trayce Thompson can overcome his back issues and provide needed right-handed power in the outfield. The same goes for Van Slyke, who also finished the season on the disabled list.

Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers since 1989, and for since 2001.