The early returns on the Los Angeles Dodgers' starting pitching have been phenomenal, but the picture stands to be very different in 2024. All of Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw and Noah Syndergaard will be free agents. Walker Buehler will be back in the picture, but that'll be following his second Tommy John surgery.
Losing Kershaw might not be anything the Dodgers can prevent. He might retire or play closer to home with the Texas Rangers, depending on how he's feeling.
Assuming Syndergaard has a solid year, he's going to seek a longer-term contract in free agency, something LA probably won't pay for. Buehler will be entering a contract year in his first action since undergoing a reconstructive elbow procedure.
The only known commodity and certainty here is Urías. At the onset of the 2023 season, he's proving the Dodgers need to do all they can to ensure he's atop the rotation for years to come, regardless of their other free agent pursuits.
If Shohei Ohtani costs $600 million, that shouldn't stop the Dodgers from paying Urías $200+ million. An Urías-Ohtani 1-2 punch would be worth every penny of that investment, especially since Ohtani will also be providing one of the best lefty bats in all of baseball. The Dodgers already passed on aging options in Max Scherzer, Jacob deGrom and Justin Verlander. Can't do it again here with a younger option.
More importantly, though, Urías' age really makes this a plunge worth taking. He'll be entering his age-27 season heading into 2024, so the Dodgers will still be paying for the best years of his entire career on a long-term contract, minimizing the risk of a prolonged regression.
Dodgers need to pay Julio Urías regardless of Shohei Ohtani pursuit
The left-hander is already 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, 1.48 FIP, 0.75 WHIP and 12 strikeouts in his first two starts. His presence atop the Dodgers' rotation is obvious. He's held in high regard by the fanbase. He's arguably the most trusted postseason arm depending on the circumstance/who you ask. He's ingrained in the Dodgers' latino community, as hundreds of fans at the ballpark on Tuesday night were sporting Team Mexico gear during his outing against the Rockies.
His comfortability and familiarity in Los Angeles make this a perfect scenario. His connection to the scout that discovered him (as well as Fernando Valenzuela) helps the Dodgers ties and legacy run even deeper.
But most importantly is how he's established himself as the years have progressed. Urías became a full-time starter in the shortened 2020. Then he quickly became one of the best in MLB in his first full campaign in that role in 2021, when he led the league with 20 wins. Though he broke down when the playoffs arrived due to his overuse, he followed it up by leading the NL in ERA in 2022.
His ascension to becoming the Dodgers' most important starter isn't quite over yet. But when it likely comes to fruition, the team can't pass up on another marquee player -- especially one that boasts all these positions from a performance and community influence standpoint.