Despite the Padres’ busy offseason, the Dodgers remain the favorites to win the National League West in 2021 and are built to repeat as World Series champions. The roster, however, will look a bit different.
Over the past two weeks, the Dodgers lost some key role players in free agency. Fan favorite and super-utility man Kiké Hernández agreed to a deal with the Red Sox; reliable reliever Pedro Báez signed with the Astros; and lefty slugger Joc Pederson is reportedly heading to the Cubs on a one-year deal.
The Dodgers had interest in bringing all three players back, but the most realistic scenario always had the trio playing elsewhere in 2021, as opponents usually look to sign players away from reigning World Series champs.
Los Angeles will have most of its core of star players back next season but will need to find a way to replace the production of Hernández, Báez and Pederson, as they all had specific roles on last year’s team. Fortunately for the Dodgers, they have plenty of internal options. Let’s take a look.
The utility role
It’ll be nearly impossible to replace the energy and enthusiasm that Hernández brought on a nightly basis to the dugout and clubhouse, but the Dodgers are well-equipped to replace the super-utility man on the field.
Chris Taylor had a stellar campaign in 2020, hitting eight homers and finishing with an .842 OPS, the second-highest clip of his career. Taylor will continue to see plenty of time at second base, especially against left-handed pitching, but he’s also capable of playing at shortstop, third base and all over the outfield.
Replacing Hernández’s elite defense at second will be difficult for the Dodgers, but Los Angeles will count on Gavin Lux taking another step in his development after losing Minor League time to the pandemic. Zach McKinstry will also get plenty of looks and is a valuable depth piece at multiple positions.
Replacing Pederson's power
During his time with the Dodgers, Pederson did most of his damage against right-handed pitching, posting an .849 career OPS. Against lefties, however, Pederson struggled mightily with a .576 OPS, which reduced his role to more of a platoon.
Pederson is expected to get the chance to prove he’s an everyday player with the Cubs, but for the Dodgers, they have to figure out how they’ll replace that production against right-handed pitching.
Having Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager in the lineup is certainly a good start for the Dodgers, but players like Edwin Ríos and Matt Beaty will get a chance to step into that role, despite not being outfielders. Ríos projects to be the starting third baseman if the club doesn’t come to terms with free agent Justin Turner, while Beaty looks to take another step this season.
As good as the Dodgers’ offense was last season, there’s a very good argument to be made that the pitching staff was even better. Báez played a big role in the bullpen’s success last season -- as he’s done over the past few years.
While the back of Báez’s baseball card won’t "wow" many people, the right-hander was a steady piece in the Los Angeles bullpen. To replace his production in 2021, the Dodgers will likely have Corey Knebel step into that middle reliever role.
Knebel was acquired in December from the Brewers in a low-risk, high-reward deal. The right-hander was one of the most dominant relievers in the NL in 2017, posting a 1.78 ERA in an All-Star campaign. Knebel continued his success in 2018, but Tommy John surgery forced him to miss the entire ‘19 season.
Last year, Knebel struggled, posting a 6.08 ERA with Milwaukee, but the Dodgers liked what they saw toward the end of the season, including an increase in fastball velocity. Dennis Santana will also be in the mix for the Dodgers, and prospect Gerardo Carrillo could make an impact later in the season as a reliever.