SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — The shopping list is simple.
Shohei Ohtani? No comment, both Dodgers top executives said, following the chorus of other MLB executives in Scottsdale at the Omni Resort this week for the annual GM meetings. But no words are required: The Dodgers will pursue the two-way superstar. That much is obvious. Despite going over the luxury tax threshold once again this past winter, the Dodgers expect to have resources at their disposal to be competitive at the top of the market.
From there? It’ll be the Dodgers sorting through the variety of starting pitching options flooding the market. Whether Ohtani signs with them or not, he won’t throw a pitch for the Dodgers in 2024 after undergoing his second major elbow surgery. A quick glance at the team’s returning group reflects that Los Angeles likely needs to add multiple starters. What was once a luxury is now an acute need. That means it’s “reasonable to say” that the Dodgers’ aggressiveness in that market “will be more than what it has (been),” president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said this week.
And the market is willing to comply.
If you had Scott Boras indirectly referencing Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce in his GM Meetings bingo, congratulations.
— Fabian Ardaya (@FabianArdaya) November 8, 2023
This is a free-agent class that will be loaded with arms ranging from likely NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell to Aaron Nola to Jordan Montgomery to Sonny Gray and more, including Japanese right-hander Yoshinobu Yamamoto, who agent Joel Wolfe of Wasserman declined to get into specifics on before the right-hander is officially posted for big league clubs.
“I think everybody’s going to do well (on the pitching front),” Wolfe said in a crowd of reporters Tuesday.
There is star talent in free agency. Same for the trade market, which could factor in some high-end options that the Dodgers could use their farm system depth to access. The Brewers appear suddenly in flux, perhaps making Corbin Burnes an option. Dylan Cease was a trade target at the deadline and could be again now. The Rays could move right-hander Tyler Glasnow this winter, according to a league source with knowledge of the situation.
“There is a frenzy for pitching,” agent Scott Boras told reporters Wednesday.
Depth appears to be a strength in the free-agent market, too. Marcus Stroman, Lucas Giolito, Michael Wacha, Seth Lugo and others provide intriguing possibilities for clubs like the Dodgers, who limped to the finish line with their pitching last fall. The Dodgers pursued Lugo last winter; the two sides seem to make sense this year, as well.
Signing not one, but multiple pitchers likely will require at least a slight shift in the organization’s typical approach to free-agent pitching. After signing Brandon McCarthy to a four-year deal in his first winter running the Dodgers, Friedman has inked only three other free agent pitchers to a deal of at least three years: Scott Kazmir (three years, $48 million), Kenta Maeda (eight years, $25 million) and Trevor Bauer (three years, $102 million ). None of them remained in the organization through the completion of their deal. The Dodgers pursued multi-year pitching deals in recent years, notably for Gerrit Cole in 2019, but haven’t pushed enough to get such a deal done — and their pitching production largely hasn’t suffered.
Since Friedman took over ahead of the 2015 season, the Dodgers have led the sport with a 3.38 ERA (the next closest team is Houston, with a 3.68). They’ve watched talents like Zack Greinke, Max Scherzer, Hyun-Jin Ryu and even reclamation projects like Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney walk out the door for richer deals. It’s largely worked.
This season showed some signs that more urgency is needed. Their staff ERA of 4.06 ranked 13th despite a late-season bullpen resurrection. Injuries hit hard, including to homegrown talents like Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin. The Dodgers’ rotation was occupied by multiple rookies over the course of the summer, with Bobby Miller, Ryan Pepiot, Gavin Stone, Emmet Sheehan and Michael Grove combining to start 52 games with a 4.77 ERA.
Then, there is the case of Clayton Kershaw. The Dodgers franchise icon is going through his now-annual process of deciding whether to continue pitching. His left shoulder, which required the first surgery of his career last week, plays a factor after the three-time Cy Young winner announced he had a procedure done to repair the glenohumeral ligaments and capsule that ailed him for the final months of the season. His quest to pitch a 17th season will require an arduous rehab, though Friedman said Kershaw’s surgery will not cause the Dodgers to deviate from their stated hope of bringing the 10-time All-Star back.
“We are very respectful of Clayton and (his wife) Ellen’s decision and giving them the time and space to make the best decision for their family,” Friedman said. “But selfishly we hope it’s to continue and finish his career in Dodger blue.”
That still leaves a self-constricted market for Kershaw: Either he will pitch in Los Angeles or he will return home to pitch for his hometown Rangers, who are fresh off their first title in franchise history.
Texas general manager Chris Young, Kershaw’s neighbor in Highland Park, Texas, and former offseason throwing partner, declined to get into specifics about his club’s potential pursuit of the 35-year-old left-hander when speaking to reporters on Tuesday. But Young added, “certainly, as a friend, I wish Clayton the best.”
The hope is still that Kershaw can pitch at some point next season. But even if the Dodgers do add Kershaw, it’ll likely have to come with some other moves to address a rotation that, as constructed, will rely heavily on a two-time Tommy John surgery recipient in Walker Buehler and a crop of young arms who experienced growing pains as rookies this year in Miller, Pepiot, Sheehan and Stone.
Some more that I am hearing from Scottsdale:
- Expect Dodgers first-base coach Clayton McCullough to be in the mix for the new managerial opening for the Milwaukee Brewers, according to The Athletic’s Ken Rosenthal. McCullough interviewed for the Guardians opening that went to Stephen Vogt and has now been part of three searches (Guardians, Mets, Royals) in as many seasons. The 43-year-old former minor-league catcher has been a buzzy name in coaching circles and has a strong player development background. He also emerged as one of Dodgers star Mookie Betts’ favorite coaches with the big-league staff.
- Some context now for Kiké Hernández’s season, which represented somewhat of a struggle after the Dodgers traded to bring him back to Los Angeles at the deadline: The utility man underwent double hernia surgery on Oct. 24, as Rosenthal reported for The Athletic. The 32-year-old had previously undergone surgery to address a hematoma in his psoas muscle in his midsection while with the Red Sox in 2022. Hernández was certainly better offensively after the trade, producing a .731 OPS over his final months before hitting free agency again. That marks three surgeries for now-free agents since the Dodgers got swept out in the NLDS, joining Kershaw and David Peralta (who underwent elbow surgery to repair his flexor tendon). Hernández is expected to resume baseball activities in three to four weeks.
- The door remains open for J.D. Martinez to return for the Dodgers — pending what happens with Othani, of course. The Dodgers opted not to give Martinez the one-year, $20.325 million qualifying offer in part because they didn’t want to cut down on some of their paths this winter.
(Photo of Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman: Stephen Brashear / USA Today)