With the curtains drawn on the 2021 season, the uncertainty of the offseason sets in. This offseason, however, carries more uncertainty than the MLB community has experienced in a long time.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA) between MLB and the MLB players association has expired and is being renegotiated. In the CBA, MLB and the MLB Player Association renegotiate the rules and laws according to what each side thinks will work best for the league, the players, and the game of baseball.
These negotiations typically involve trade-offs between the two sides. For example, if the team owners want an expanded playoff structure, then the players might respond with their desire for less league-controlled salary years.
As the CBA wasn’t renegotiated by the time it expired on 1 December, MLB now enters a period of lockout; a period when the team owners have stated their refusal to work. Players will be paid and expected to train, but no more transactions will happen until there are more assurances of new contract law.
A lockout before the 2022 MLB season is the first labour stoppage since the players organised a strike in 1994.
The threat of a lockout gave the owners a soft deadline – if you want to improve your team, and you know how and why you want to do it, you’ve got until December to get it done. This threat of a lockout probably explains why we’ve seen so much free agency movement so quickly after the end of the season.
So how has LA’s GM Andrew Friedman navigated the great ship Dodger through these perilous waters? In what will almost certainly be the biggest offseason of his career, he’s attempting to improve a 106-win team, the planning of which must revolve around the decisions on outgoing free agents, all while working in the knowledge of the oncoming lockout.
Clayton Kershaw, Corey Seager, Kenley Jansen, and Chris Taylor were the four big Dodger stalwarts who were entering free agency this offseason. Alongside them was three-time Cy Young winner, Max Scherzer, who might be the best midseason trade the Dodgers ever made. Clubhouse icons Joe Kelly and Albert Pujols have also entered free agency alongside the reliable arm of Corey Knebel.
Seager and Taylor were tendered qualifying offers by Friedman, while Kershaw and Jansen were not. Scherzer was ineligible due to his midseason acquisition from the Nationals, and Pujols, Knebel, and Kelly are valued below the $18.4 million value of the qualifying offer. So what’s happened with these players so far?
Scherzer is leaving the Pacific coast and heading back East to play for the Mets. He has secured a contract for $130 million over three years. This guarantees Scherzer will be paid at least $43 million as a 40-year-old. Staggering!
Scherzer is a few-in-a-generation pitcher, perhaps the only pitcher who has shared the prime of the last decade alongside Kershaw. While maybe his highs haven’t been as high as Kershaw’s, he has been far less injury prone and has performed at a higher level deeper into his 30s than Kershaw has. While Kershaw’s last four seasons have been some that most pitchers could only dream about, they have been in steady decline from his peak. Scherzer, by contrast, just had one of his personal bests, coming third in the Cy Young voting at age 37.
While many people are suggesting that Scherzer was hoping the Mets interest would spark a bidding war amongst Pacific coast teams like the Dodgers, Angels, Padres or Giants, in the end, the suitors at that level started and ended with Steve Cohen’s Mets.
As a union rep who has been very clear on his message that players should always take the highest offer as its best for the other players in the league, this was an offer Scherzer was always going to take.
While it would be incorrect to state the Dodgers couldn’t pay a contract that size, as they consistently have a top three payroll in MLB, ultimately, Friedman didn’t believe Scherzer was worth that much.
So what were the downsides of signing Scherzer for Friedman? This contract has obliterated the Average Annual Value for a player, overtaking Gerrit Cole’s $36M record from the Yankees in 2019. No one knows quite how Scherzer’s season ended more than the Dodgers. Maybe those “dead arm” issues after the save in Game 5 against the Giants were much more worrying than we were led to believe. The decision for Scherzer not to pitch in Game 6 of the NLCS was maybe player-led after Scherzer thought it could affect him going into free agency if he was injured at 37 for all the world to see.
Another downside to signing Scherzer forces a look at the other members of the Dodgers’ pitching staff. The biggest, ugliest elephant in this room however is still Trevor Bauer’s administrative leave over the allegations of sexual assault and violence. This leave has been extended nine times into his second year of a contract that will see him paid $32 million in the following year. If found guilty, the Dodgers could file a grievance that Bauer has “violated personal conduct standards” and void his contract. Until then, however, this is an enormous amount of money that is weighing down the Dodgers. If Friedman matched the Mets’ offer and Scherzer got injured (not unheard of for a 38-year-old), then Friedman would be paying ~$75 Million for two players to not take the mound.
In the same 24 hours as British baseball fans learned of Scherzer’s departure, Dodger fans were handed a far more bitter pill to swallow.
Shortstop Corey Seager is heading back to the stadium where he won the World Series and was named World Series MVP to the tune of $325 million over 10 years by the Texas Rangers. The depth of shortstops in a free-agent class like this one doesn’t happen often. Six All-Stars all capable of playing shortstop are available in the same year; Seager, Carlos Correa, Trevor Story, Javier Baez, and Marcus Semien were all available alongside Chris Taylor, who could probably play catcher at this point, and no one would bat an eyelid. Correa and Seager being the youngest players, were almost guaranteed to get the biggest contracts.
The rumours were that the Dodgers, despite having Trea Turner for at least another year, were very serious about bringing back Seager. He was homegrown, and despite frequent injuries, he has been the most consistent bat over the past five years. After his World Series MVP year, he missed half of 2021 with injuries but still came back to have a .915 OPS and 145 OPS+. His seven-year average with the club from 2015-21 from ages 20-27 were phenomenal, .297 BA, .367 OBP, .504 SLG, .871 OPS. With Justin Turner entering his Year-37 season, and a DH expected to be coming to the National League from the CBA, Seager could have had days away from the glove or moved to third base. If he ever lost shortstop privileges, positional flexibility would have been no worry for the Dodgers in deciding to keep one of their homegrown players.
So what stopped LA from keeping Seager? For this year, Seager would have been a luxury rather than a necessity. Looking around MLB, the Dodgers probably needed to sign a shortstop, the least of any team. The Dodgers picked up Trea Turner as a small side note to the Scherzer trade.
Turner, a world champion in his own right, held down the shortstop spot in DC for six years and had to play second base in the Dodgers infield while playing alongside Seager. So Turner moves to shortstop, and the next homegrown infielder in Gavin Lux gets his spot at second base. It seems simple, and it is for now until you realise that 2022 is Turner’s free agency year, and these discussions are about six months away from reigniting with Turner. Maybe Friedman thinks the total package for Turner will be less than one he’d need to sign Seager? We will have to wait and see.
While Corey Knebel will be going to give much-needed help to baseball’s worst bullpen in Philadelphia, it seems Friedman is wanting to get some infield help and what better place to turn than to re-sign Chris Taylor. The contract is one that is very positive for the Dodgers. Taylor and his agent apparently made it clear that finding the most money wasn’t his priority, but instead keeping his family comfortable with a club he knows well was very valuable to him. He signed for $60 million over four years with a club option for a fifth. After the multiple game-winning performances in the 2021 postseason, including his Wild Card walk-off home run and his three home run game in the NLCS, tying Taylor down for the next five years is a brilliant move by Friedman. Taylor’s positional versatility and the power in his bat, especially in the clutch, make him a valuable addition to any team, and his return will be celebrated by Roberts, his teammates, and among all Dodger fans.
None of Kershaw, Jansen, Pujols, or Kelly have signed yet and, and with the lockout period, fans will have to endure months of rumours before we get any conclusive answers.
It appears that Friedman is saving the big moves until after the lockout has finished he must be gambling on something coming out of the next CBA that will help the Dodgers. The extraordinary contracts that have been given to Seager and Scherzer might indicate pre-lockout inflation, the teams that needed to make the moves have done, and Friedman might be on the hunt for a bargain pick up that would be available later in the offseason. This strategy aligns with the incoming business we’ve seen from the Dodgers so far. The only Major League incomings, alongside Taylor’s return, so far have been a journeyman relief arm in Daniel Hudson and starter Andrew Heaney who is coming off a bad season with the Yankees. With Seager and Scherzer gone, full focus must turn to the arrivals and re-signing the players that Friedman wants in the organisation.
While Friedman has lost out on the two biggest free agents on his shortlist this winter, there is still a lot more to play for and with a lockout in play now, there is lots of time to plan the next moves for this Dodger team. There’s still lots of money to spend but just as many bargains to find. The first part of this offseason may be over, but Dodgers fans are now in for a nail-biting few months while they await news of any further changes.
Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images
Freddie is one of the Bat Flips and Nerds’ Los Angeles Dodgers correspondents for the 2022 season. You can follow him on Twitter @FLK_Sports.