It has become an October ritual, and not necessarily a welcome one. The Dodgers fall short of expectations, and This Space provides helpful advice toward remedying that the following year.
Shall we say the results have been mixed? I compiled this checklist for Andrew Friedman after the 2018 World Series (with no expectation that he’d read it, of course) and the Dodgers won 106 games in 2019 but lost to the Washington Nationals in the Division Series. I did it in 2019 and … well, we all know what happened in 2020.
I offered more helpful hints after the 106-win season in 2021 and the NLCS loss to the Atlanta Braves, and the Dodgers won 111 games in 2022. No need to belabor what happened in these playoffs, aside from noting that some Padres supporters seem miffed that their team isn’t getting enough credit for toppling the Dodgers last week.
Whatever. When you’ve won more regular-season games than all but three teams in MLB history, and when you finished 22 games ahead of the team you’re playing, you’re supposed to win, period. If you don’t you’ve failed, no excuses (and to their credit, Dodger players declined to offer or accept any).
Will the following thoughts and suggestions be acknowledged, and might they make a difference in 2023 if they are? The crystal ball here is no clearer than anyone else’s, and my actual influence is about what you might expect. But let’s carry on, nevertheless.
One more year for Kershaw: In the immediate aftermath of Saturday night’s come-from-ahead 5-3 loss that ended the season in San Diego, Clayton Kershaw was asked if he was still leaning toward coming back for one more season, as the three-time Cy Young Award winner had said he was a couple of weeks earlier.
“Yeah, I think so, but …” he began, and then added: “No buts. I think so. We’ll see what happens. I mean, going home and being around and being a dad, a full-time dad, changes your perspective on things. But, you know, as of right now, I would say I’ll play again.”
He demonstrated between injury list stints that he could pitch at his traditional high level, and he was available and efficient down the stretch and into October. Again, it likely would be a choice between pitching for the Dodgers or his hometown Texas Rangers, but one team contends annually and the other seems far away from winning.
Anyway, Kershaw should finish his career with the only organization he’s ever known, on his way to Cooperstown.
Give Roberts more autonomy: Next year will begin Dave Roberts’ three-year contract extension, signed this past spring, and published reports following the series indicate that he indeed will return. Understandably, it’s not a popular call among a fan base that blames him for every pitching decision that goes awry, but fans forget (or ignore) that much of the manager’s decision-making originates with the information and suggestions that come from above.
While I don’t ever see this happening, given how baseball has evolved, I made this suggestion in ’18 and will make it again: Give him “the data to make informed decisions, but then get out of his way and let him actually manage.”
Non-tender Bellinger? Putting Cody Bellinger on the bench in Game 4 in San Diego against a right-hander, specifically Joe Musgrove, probably says everything you need to know about the Dodgers’ trust in him offensively. There’s not much left.
The 2017 Rookie of the Year and 2019 NL Most Valuable Player has regressed to the point where he’s in there primarily for his defense. Tendering him a 2023 contract is no longer a sure thing, nor should it be. If changes are coming in the wake of the playoff flop, and with an opportunity to save $17 million – or more, since he’s amazingly projected for a raise in arbitration – this seems a good place to start.
(As an aside, wouldn’t impending free agent Aaron Judge look good patrolling center field in The Ravine? Just a thought, and better that he do so in L.A. than, say, San Francisco.)
Pitching, pitching, pitching: As noted in Monday’s paper, Friedman and staff miscalculated when the opportunity came at the trade deadline to add starting pitching. You can’t predict injuries, but you can protect yourself. And while the Dodgers do tend to succeed with bringing in journeyman pitchers and transforming them – such as Tyler Anderson – sometimes you’ve got to take the plunge, as Friedman did last year when Max Scherzer was available at the trade deadline.
Oh, and speaking of what seemed like a knee-jerk decision to take Anderson out after five innings on Saturday night, sometimes it’s better to just not be so dogmatic when it comes to how deep to let a starter go. (Incidentally, free agent Anderson will be very popular on the open market. Andrew Heaney is also a free agent, as is Kershaw.)
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The bullpen: Assuming you can bring back most of the impact arms – and Chris Martin, who was one of the best down the stretch, is a free agent – the non-closer concept deserves a longer tryout. (But when you say you’re willing to use your best pitcher in the most high-leverage situations, do it.)
Sign Trea? In a perfect world, you go as high as it takes to keep shortstop Trea Turner. In a sport with a de facto salary cap – the Dodgers do tend to blow past the luxury tax barrier but also need to be cognizant of the penalties at higher payroll levels – and with Scott Boras handling Turner’s negotiations, it will be trickier. And there will be plenty of competition for his services.
But you’ve got the best top of the batting order in the game. Do everything you can to keep it together. I mean, what’s the best alternative, signing Carlos (ugh!) Correa?
The Other Turner: If the Dodgers had a captain it would be Justin Turner, who has embodied as much as anyone what it means to wear the blue. But he will turn 38 on Nov. 23. His OPS+ of 116 was his lowest in eight seasons in L.A., largely because of a second-half surge. And in this postseason he was 2 for 16 and 0 for 5 with runners in scoring position.
The club has an option at $16 million for 2023. Is it time to use the $2 million buyout and offer Turner a spot on the coaching staff?