Dodgers’ Dave Roberts ‘not looking forward’ to offseason; here are five free agent questions facing L.A.

The Los Angeles Dodgers were eliminated from postseason contention on Saturday night, dropping Game 6 of the National League Championship Series to the Atlanta Braves. The Braves knocked off the reigning champs and advanced to their first World Series since 1999, where they’ll face the Houston Astros. The Dodgers, conversely, will begin their offseason — and sheesh, what a transformational offseason it might be for them.

The Dodgers have several key contributors slated to hit the open market this winter, including starters Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer; shortstop Corey Seager; closer Kenley Jansen; and utility starter Chris Taylor. To say nothing of legacies or past performances, those players combined for 16 Wins Above Replacement in 2021. In other words, the Dodgers have a lot of big decisions to make over the coming weeks.

“The six years I’ve been here, it’s been a core group of guys that could be turned over this winter,” manager Dave Roberts told reporters after L.A.’s season-ending loss. “I’m not looking forward to it. I wish we could have won another one with this group.”

With that in mind, let’s break down five of the Dodgers’ free agent cases.

1. End of the Kershaw era?

Kershaw has been a fixture for the Dodgers since debuting in 2008. His 376 regular-season starts are the third-most in franchise history (behind Don Sutton and Don Drysdale), and his list of accomplishments are absurd: three Cy Young Awards, eight All-Star Games, and all the other fixings that should land him in Cooperstown.

Kershaw will be wearing a Dodgers hat when he’s enshrined, that much is for sure. Will he be wearing one next Opening Day? That’s hard to figure. Kershaw didn’t seem certain that he would re-up with the Dodgers entering the year. “I don’t know,” he told the Los Angeles Times in February. “Honestly, I wish I had an answer.”

It’s long been theorized that Kershaw may want to play closer to his Dallas, Texas hometown. Given that he’ll turn 34 years old next March, it’s time to start thinking about such considerations. That Kershaw recently suffered an elbow injury that wiped out his postseason may make it easier for the Dodgers to let their ace walk.

Still, there are some players who are hard to picture in another uniform until they actually change wardrobes. Kershaw is one of those players. Even if he does leave through free agency, he’s always going to be a Dodger. 

2. Is Scherzer more than a rental?

If the Dodgers do intend to let Kershaw leave, they might be more inclined to do whatever it takes to keep Scherzer at the head of their rotation. Despite dealing with arm fatigue in the postseason, Scherzer was nails after coming over at the trade deadline, posting a 1.98 ERA (208 ERA+) and an 11.13 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 11 regular season starts with Los Angeles.

The Dodgers won’t be alone in their pursuit of Scherzer’s services. The San Diego Padres and San Francisco Giants were each believed to have pursued him at the deadline, and any number of other teams could join them this winter, ranging from the New York Yankees to the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s worth remembering Scherzer had a stated preference for the west coast over the summer. Should that remain the case this offseason, the Dodgers would seem to be in a good position to retain him.

It’s unclear if Scherzer’s recent bout with a dead arm will impact his free agency.

3. Does Turner make Seager fungible?

Scherzer wasn’t the only marquee player the Dodgers landed in their deadline trade with the Washington Nationals. They also acquired Trea Turner. Turner, for his part, could make it easier for Los Angeles to bid adieu to Corey Seager.

Seager is expected to be one of the most sought-after free agents on the market this winter, and for good reason. He’s a 27-year-old shortstop who has averaged more than three Wins Above Replacement and who has a 147 OPS+ since the start of 2020. He’s going to get paid, even with concerns about his back.

It stands to reason that the Dodgers will keep only one of Seager and Turner long term. If they were planning on the one being Seager, they probably would’ve worked out an extension by now. Perhaps that’s baseless, and perhaps the Dodgers will get something hashed out with Seager before he hits the open market. For now, though, Turner seems like the odds-on favorite to be Los Angeles’ opening day shortstop in 2022.

4. Time for a new closer?

As with Kershaw, it’s hard to envision Kenley Jansen in another uniform. He’s amassed 701 appearances and 350 saves since 2010, both are far and away franchise records. Indeed, Jansen has appeared in 151 more games than any other pitcher in Dodgers history, and he has notched more than twice as many saves as Eric Gagne, who finished his own career in blue and white with a firm grip on that record.

Considering that Jansen closed this year with a 2.22 ERA (185 ERA+), it may seem absurd to propose the Dodgers would let him walk. But Jansen’s command was worse overall than it had been since the early stages of his career, and that’s something the Dodgers will have to ponder over the coming weeks. 

5. Will Taylor follow Hernández’s path?

Major League Baseball is as much of a copycat league as any other. That’s why it’s possible that some team looks at Enrique Hernández’s breakout season (and postseason) with the Boston Red Sox and wonders if Chris Taylor isn’t due for a similar ascent.

Taylor, 31 years old, has already been a productive player with the Dodgers. He’s hit .264/.341/.458 (113 OPS+) with 79 home runs, 50 stolen bases, and 15 Wins Above Replacement in five-plus seasons in town. That WAR total likely understates his actual value to the Dodgers, too, as he has the rare kind of positional flexibility that has enabled him to receive serious burn both at shortstop and in center field.

With all the other moving parts the Dodgers have to mind this offseason, they could decide their best interests lie in finding the next Taylor rather than marrying themselves to Taylor himself over the duration of a multi-year deal. 

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