This is setting up to be quite an important offseason for the Dodgers.
It’s not just that 12 players off their 2021 roster are now free agents — only the A’s, with 13, have more — but it’s the star power of the players who are now free to seek employment with teams other than the Dodgers.
Not one, but two three-time Cy Young winners (Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer) are on the list. So is the 2020 NLCS and World Series MVP, Corey Seager. So is the franchise’s all-time saves leader, Kenley Jansen (he has more than twice the second-place pitcher).
It’s quite the list. So which players will don other uniforms? Which ones stick around? Let’s take a look at all 12.
SP Clayton Kershaw
Need to know: Kershaw, who turns 34 next March, might not be a perennial Cy Young favorite at this point in his career, but he’s still a damn good pitcher when healthy. He had a 2.16 ERA in 10 starts during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season and a 2.93 ERA in five postseason starts (2.31 in two World Series outings). Kershaw’s 3.00 FIP in his 22 starts in 2021 was his lowest since 2016 and his 10.7 K/9 ratio was the third-best mark of his career — better than two of his three Cy Young seasons.
Possible landing spot, and why: Dodgers. Truth is, Kershaw’s probably going to spend time on the IL every year from here on out. He hasn’t made more than 28 starts since the 2015 season, with a wide variety of issues causing him to miss time. For the Dodgers, Kershaw brings value as a franchise ambassador even when he’s hurt, and they have the resources to build back-up rotation options into the roster. It makes sense that they’d keep the fan favorite around and just do everything in their power to make sure he’s healthy for the stretch run and into October.
SP Max Scherzer
Need to know: Scherzer is 37 going on 29, still an effective and often dominant starting pitcher in the big leagues. The right-hander with three Cy Young wins — will it be four when the 2021 votes are revealed? — had a 1.98 ERA in 11 starts with the Dodgers after arriving in a trade with the Nationals. He’ll have lots of teams bidding for his services, offering two or three-year deals with crazy-high annual salaries.
Possible landing spot, and why: Padres. Even though, on paper, San Diego has the five rotation spots filled — Yu Darvish, Blake Snell, Joe Musgrove, Chris Paddack and Mike Clevinger returning from Tommy John surgery — it’s hard to imagine GM A.J. Preller sitting still this offseason after the pitching disaster that 2021 was for his club. It would be rather stunning if the Padres didn’t wind up with at least one elite starter, and the shorter length deals that Scherzer or Justin Verlander will be seeking makes sense. And remember, at one point last year it was reported that a deal between the Padres and Nationals was close.
SS Corey Seager
Need to know: In his past 147 games in the regular season, Seager — who turns 28 next April — has a .306/.381/.545 slash line, with 31 homers, 98 RBIs, a 147 OPS+ and 5.8 bWAR. That’s really impressive, but those aren’t just his 2021 numbers; they’re 2020 and 2021 combined. Seager played only 95 games in 2021 because of injuries, and that’s not a new issue. He’s been on the LA roster for five full seasons (not counting the pandemic-shortened one) and he’s missed at least 28 games in three of those five years.
Possible landing spot, and why: Yankees. The team in the Bronx needs a shortstop, which is no secret, and they’re likely to make a big splash. Will they be able to get away from the dream of watching Seager and his left-handed swing taking aim at the short porch in right field for the next decade? Seager could return to L.A., obviously, but the Rangers and Mariners are viewed as possible landing spots, too.
UTIL Chris Taylor
Need to know: Taylor has been the club’s unsung hero for a long time. He’s started for extended stretches at shortstop, second base, left field and center field, and he can fill in at third base and right field, too. He was a rock star in the 2021 postseason for the club, hitting the game-winning walk-off homer against the Cardinals in the wild-card contest, then batting .476 with three homers, nine RBIs and three stolen bases against Atlanta in the NLCS.
Possible landing spot, and why: Dodgers. It’s really hard to see the Dodgers letting their safety net leave without doing everything they can to retain his services.
RP Kenley Jansen
Need to know: The veteran closer had his best season since 2017 in 2021, racking up 38 saves (in 43 opportunities) with a 2.22 ERA in 69 innings. His time with the Dodgers stretches all the way back to 2004, when he signed as an amateur free agent at 17 years old. He was a catcher for his first five years in the organization, but only played eight games above high-A before making the switch to the mound. If he signs elsewhere, it will truly be the end of an era.
Possible landing spot, and why: Red Sox. By the time October rolled around, the Boston bullpen was pretty much a mess (how many times did starter Nick Pivetta relieve?). Jansen might not be as dominant as he once was, but that cutter’s still effective and he’s made at least 51 appearances — with an ERA above 3.01 only twice — each of MLB’s past 10 full seasons.
DH/1B Albert Pujols
Need to know: Don’t think about what Pujols once was. Think about what he is now, and in that light it’s not impossible to see him landing a role somewhere, especially if the DH expands into the NL, as expected for the 2022 season and beyond. In 146 plate appearances against left-handed pitching this season, Pujols batted .294 with a .336 on-base percentage, 13 home runs, 34 RBIs and a .939 OPS. That’s not bad. And he batted .294 with a .333 on-base percentage in 18 postseason PAs, which is useful for a spot starter and/or pinch-hitter.
Possible landing spot, and why: Red Sox. Hey, they tried Kyle Schwarber at first base down the stretch and he’d never played there in his life. Pujols doesn’t have any range at first, but he’s still a decent defender there. Spot starts in the field and DH assignments against lefties at Fenway Park, taking aim at the Monster? It’s not Plan A for the Sox, but could be a fall-back option.
RP Joe Kelly
Need to know: It really feels like Kelly was with the Dodgers for more than three years, doesn’t it? In 60 games and 54 innings the past two season, Kelly has a 2.67 ERA and 59 strikeouts for the Dodgers, and he’s gotten plenty of huge outs in the postseason. The $12 million option the club declined was too much for a non-closer, but he’s still a valuable bullpen option from the sixth inning on.
Possible landing spot, and why: Dodgers. He just fits there. No reason not to work out a two-year deal for a smaller overall salary.
RP Corey Knebel
Need to know: Knebel saved 39 games and was an All-Star for the Brewers in 2017, but struggled in 2018 and Tommy John surgery knocked him out for all of 2019. He was ineffective for Milwaukee in 2020, then spent much of 2021 on the IL with a strained back. When he finally returned, he was one of L.A.’s best one-inning relievers, either at the back end of games or as an opener. Knebel had a 2.45 ERA in 25 2/3 innings during the regular season, then a 3.18 ERA in 5 2/3 postseason innings.
Possible landing spot, and why: Phillies. Philadelphia’s eternal search for reliable relievers could be pretty lucrative for Knebel.
SP Danny Duffy
Need to know: The Dodgers traded for Duffy while he was on the IL, hoping he’d return and provide a pitching boost down the stretch. That didn’t happen.
Possible landing spot, and why: Royals. Duffy and Kansas City just fit. They should be reunited.
Quickly, the other three: Reliever Jimmy Nelson was a great comeback story at one point, racking up a 1.98 ERA with 44 strikeouts in 29 innings, but he injured his elbow and had Tommy John surgery in August. Veteran starer Cole Hamels impressed teams with a private workout and signed with the Dodgers, but felt shoulder pain in a simulated game a few weeks after joining the organization. He was done for the season and his career is very much in doubt. Pinch-hitter Steve Souza Jr. hit 30 homers for the Rays in 2017, but batted just .152 for the Dodgers in 36 regular-season PAs and .125 in nine postseason PAs. He’ll probably be looking for a minor league deal with an invite to spring training this offseason.
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