Dodgers: Looking Ahead to the Monster 2018 Free Agent Class

PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run in the third inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 13, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images)
PHOENIX, AZ - MAY 13: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals hits a solo home run in the third inning of the MLB game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at Chase Field on May 13, 2018 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jennifer Stewart/Getty Images) /
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CHICAGO, IL – MAY 04: Brian Dozier #2 of the Minnesota Twins bats against the Chicago White Soxat Guaranteed Rate Field on May 4, 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. The Twins defeated the White Sox 6-4. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

More Pressing Needs

While Harper and Machado will likely command the most attention and the biggest contracts, the Dodgers have better places to spend their free agent dollars.  I think the primary focus for the Dodgers will be upgrading at second base, bolstering the bullpen and getting another front of the rotation starter.

Second Base

The Dodgers have had a revolving door at second base for several years now.  Dee Gordon gave way to Howie Kendrick.  Howie Kendrick gave way to Logan Forsythe.  Silver Fox, Chase Utley, logging in far more innings than anyone ever anticipated.  And all the while you still get the sense they don’t have the second baseman they truly desire.

The Dodgers aggressively pursued Brian Dozier during the off-season but couldn’t come to terms with the Twins.  Barring a contract extension, Dozier will be a free agent next year.  Joining him in free agency will be a two-time gold glove and former NL batting champion, D.J. LeMahieu.  I find it hard to believe the Dodgers won’t end up signing one of them to plug this hole in the infield finally.

As a long shot, I suppose if Logan Forsythe gets healthy and plays like the player who averaged 4.3 WAR for the Rays in 2015 and 2016, the Dodgers could look to re-sign Forsythe.  But I still think the most likely candidate is Dozier.  The Dodgers wanted to steal him away from Minnesota so badly, but they just wouldn’t bite at Jose De Leon.  I think they’ll pay up to get him now.

The Bullpen

As has been quite evident from the last few seasons, as the bullpen goes, so go the Dodgers.  The biggest struggle they’ve had in recent years is building the bridge to bullpen heavyweight, Kenley Jansen.  When the arms between the starting pitcher and the ace closer were effective, the Dodgers were a juggernaut.  When they were ineffective, the Dodgers were a train wreck.

Pitching coach Rick Honeycutt worked wonders with low-cost reclamation projects, Joe Blanton and Brandon Morrow.  They both did great work in set-up roles and high leverage situations.  The Dodgers were hoping to strike gold again with Tom Koehler and Scott Alexander.  Koehler is on the   60-day DL and is nowhere near ready to pitch.  Alexander was recently called back up after being largely ineffective in his first stint with the parent club.

The free agent market is going to be flush with relievers next year.  If the Dodgers wanted to spend some of their luxury tax savings bolstering the bullpen, they’d have a lot of names to choose from.  Andrew Miller, Zach Britton, Craig Kimbrel, and Cody Allen will all be available.  It wasn’t that long ago that the Dodgers tried to corner the closer market by trading for the flamethrower, Aroldis Chapman, before being scared off by allegations of domestic abuse.  Pair any one of these arms with Jansen, and you’ve got to like your bullpen.

Starting Rotation

For the Dodgers, any conversation about the 2018 off-season has to start and end with Clayton Kershaw.  He has another two years on his current contract which would pay him $65 million.  Of course, as EVERYONE knows, Kershaw has the option to opt out of his contract at the end of this year.  It would mark the first time in his career that he would be a free agent.  This has been written about ad nauseam since he first signed the contract after the 2013 season.

Assuming Kershaw’s latest trip to the Disabled List is truly nothing more than minor tendinitis and not the precursor to some to major season-ending arm issue, I think he opts out at the end of the year.  His recent string of seasons with a trip to the DL has probably lowered the ceiling on what he may have been able to re-sign for at one point.  But he should still be able to sign a better contract and for more than he’d probably get in 2021 when he’s two more years on the wrong side of 30.

Even with his time on the DL, Kershaw hasn’t finished less than 5th in Cy Young voting for the last seven years.  Coming in second to Max Scherzer as recently as last year.  Even if you want to argue that he’s not “the best pitcher on the planet” at this moment, he’s still clearly one of the elite.  And certainly within striking distance of reclaiming that title.  On a side note, a little run support wouldn’t hurt!