LOS ANGELES -- The Dodgers admittedly are still basking in the glow (and relief) of their World Series win, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t business to conduct this offseason.
Justin Turner heads their list of free agents, and there are other issues looming. Here are five questions that need to be answered by Spring Training:
1) What happens to Turner and third base?
Considering his clutch play on the field, impact in the clubhouse, adoration by Dodger Nation and charitable involvement in Southern California, where he resides year-round, Turner has been just about the perfect Dodger. But even “the heart and soul of the club” can’t cheat Father Time. He’s 36 years old, his knees are arthritic and his power and defensive metrics are trending in the wrong direction.
Turner is an ideal candidate for a league that has a designated hitter, and the National League eventually will, but it's still unclear if that will be the case in 2020. This will likely be his last shot at a multiyear contract, but will a front office so wedded to analytics overpay an aging star? Will he take a discount to stay home? And if he leaves, is Edwin Ríos enough to replace him? And what about those DJ LeMahieu rumors if Turner leaves?
2) Is Kenley Jansen still the closer?
Yes, no, maybe. The latest rumor is that the Dodgers are courting free agent Liam Hendricks. While age has diminished Jansen’s consistency, it’s also brought the maturity to work on what he can change and accept what he cannot. He will earn $20 million in 2021, the final year of his contract. He remains the leader of the bullpen and a workhorse whose arm has been remarkably sound considering the mileage.
Management prefers to run a bullpen by matchups and not titles, and Jansen gave every indication during the postseason that he can deal with that in the name of winning. Hendriks or Kirby Yates would provide an attractive alternative in high-leverage situations, assuming Blake Treinen lands a multiyear deal somewhere else. Joe Kelly has proved to be too erratic for the ninth inning, but there’s optimism that Corey Knebel or Brandon Morrow can be the latest reclamation success. Brusdar Graterol throws 102 mph, which is fun to watch, but he’s not trusted against left-handed hitters.
3) What’s the deal with Gavin Lux and second base?
Start with this: Management hasn’t given up on him. Second base is still probably his to lose, at least in a platoon. In back-to-back Septembers, the Dodgers have given their top position prospect every opportunity to show what Corey Seager did with the same opportunity five years ago -- that he’s ready to be a starting infielder on a talented team. But unlike Seager, who seized the moment and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Lux has looked overmatched both times and wasn’t even on the World Series roster. The ability is there, but something is missing. With Enrique Hernández a free agent, Chris Taylor is the obvious fallback option -- unless it’s LeMahieu.
4) Where do things stand with David Price and the rotation?
This encompasses world events well beyond even the vast capabilities of the Dodgers’ front office. Unlike 2020, which Price chose to miss entirely, management is cautiously optimistic that he’ll pitch at some point in '21. Price even tweeted that his “plan” is to play next year, but as '20 proved, plans change.
Even if Price commits to only half of a season, there seems to be enough starters to begin the year, with Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías, Dustin May, Tony Gonsolin and Victor González. Having a healthy and rested Price for the second half would provide the flexibility of turning Urias or May into the late-inning weapon that Urias became in October.
5) Moving on?
Platoon players rarely get the chance to score life-changing multiyear contracts, but being free agents coming off a World Series win could be good timing for Hernández and Joc Pederson. Hernández plays Gold Glove-caliber second base, has a power arm in the outfield and repeatedly shows a clutch factor in October. That’s an attractive package for a club looking to upgrade without breaking the bank, so he should have offers from which to choose.
Zack McKinstry is a feel-good longshot story to replace Hernández on the bench at a fraction of the cost if Hernández leaves. Pederson had a disappointing season, but like Hernández, he's been a postseason producer with even more power, though only against right-handed pitching. Matt Beaty could compete to be his replacement.