los angeles dodgers
Winning Windows: Los Angeles DodgersBy Radar Rob | Updated on November 1st, 2020
After 8 straight NL West division titles, and 32 years without a World Series trophy, the Dodgers have finally brought back the Commissioner's Trophy back to Los Angeles. This team is built a little bit different from last year's WS Champion Washington Nationals, in that the Dodgers are built to last and still have young, talented prospects waiting to make their impact. Pair that with a young and talented pitching staff, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger, and Corey Seager (if the latter two are extended), and the Dodgers look set to be legitimate WS contenders for the next few years at least. The Dodgers also have the luxury of pushing the luxury tax thresholds year in and year out, so where internal talent doesn't cut it, the front office can and will look elsewhere to fill any potential holes in the lineup or pitching staff. Since their winning window is still active, the projections below will reflect what a possible 2021 Dodgers team will could look like, where I predict they will make yet another trip to the World Series.
Winning Window: Foreseeable Future
Last World Series Appearance: 2020
Next World Series Appearance Prediction: 2021
Catcher: As it stands, Will Smith is going to be the Dodgers' primary catcher going forward. A few years ago, the general consensus among fans and talent evaluators was that Keiburt Ruiz would be that guy. Ruiz is still in the system for now, and actually saw a few at bats in 2020 and can be considered close to major league ready. I really want to see Ruiz gets more at bats in Oklahoma City, since he posted an underwhelming .679 OPS and 89 wRC+ in 2019 between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A OKC. Back to Smith, who has first round pedigree from a top-ranked baseball program in Louisville and posted an elite 163 wRC+ in a shortened season.....he IS the guy for 2021 and beyond.
First Base: Max Muncy did struggle in the shortened 2020 season, but in my eyes, he'll be penciled in again as the primary first baseman in 2021. He struggled to an exactly league average wRC+, where specifically, the average suffered, but the power was still there. The system doesn't have a clear heir to the position, but I do think if Muncy's struggles worsen, reps can go to Edwin Rios, or even Connor Joe, a former 1st-rounder and owner of a 132 wRC+ in 2019, or Luke Raley, a former 7th rounder and owner of a 124 wRC+ in 2019. I am not a fan of moving Cody Bellinger here because I think his athleticism in maximized out in center field.
Second Base: In the MLB & MiLB Radar, I currently have Chris Taylor as receiving the lion's share of time as the right-handed platoon partner with Gavin Lux, mostly due to Gavin Lux's struggles in a small sample in 2020. Throughout his minor league career, Lux has struggled to hit lefties at a clip that warrants a mega-high prospect ranking, so I believe that Lux will need a right-handed platoon partner against lefties for the first couple years of his major league career until he makes the adjustments needed. There is no one behind Lux that has more pedigree and prospect hype than Lux, although Omar Estevez and Devin Mann are intriguing pieces that may be used as trade bait if they can continue progressing in 2021.
Third Base: This is probably the most gaping hole on the Dodgers roster in 2021. I think they'll bring back Justin Turner. Of course, Turner is facing a possible suspension for his mistakes made during the WS on-field celebration, but I don't think the Dodgers will be SO turned off by the possible health endangerment that they'll essentially blacklist Turner this winter. Turner is indeed getting older as 2021 will be his age-36 season, but he still wields an near-elite bat, posting a 140 wRC+ in 2020, and still showcases solid fieldwork at third, especially during the playoffs. Turner has had injury issues in the past, and that will most likely continue as he enters his upper 30s, and the Dodgers should prepare for that. Also, a two-year deal with Turner could also serve as a stopgap for Kody Hoese, contingent on Hoese's production in the upper levels of the minors.
Shortstop: The question here is how long and how expensive will the Corey Seager extension be. What else can you say, Seager has the first-round pedigree, an elite bat (especially in 2020), and a great glove at short. Yes, he has struggled to stay healthy consistently in his career thus far, but that's where Taylor, and possibly Zach McKinstry can come in temporarily. If the Dodgers did not win the World Series this year, I would've probably proposed that they should acquire Francisco Lindor and move Seager to third, since the Dodgers have the high-level, near major league-ready players to get a deal done without taking away from the talent that has already become part of the major league picture, but they won and I believe it'll be Turner and Seager on the left field side of the Dodgers infield in 2021.
Left Field: Here, I have A.J. Pollock locked in as the primary left fielder. In terms of sheer offensive production, his wRC+ was similar to his all-star-level Diamondbacks years. The glove and athleticism seems to be falling however, which is why I don't see him playing center field going forward. Even in left field, he may be a liability as he ages and racks on the mileage on those legs. If he is injured, Matt Beaty, Chris Taylor, or a free agent signing like Marwin Gonzalez can fill in. In the minors, I'm intrigued by the bats of DJ Peters and Zach Reks who look to start 2021 in Oklahoma City.
Center Field: Like Seager, I am more concerned with the Cody Bellinger extension length and cost at this point. Is there such thing as a team-friendly extension in Los Angeles coming off a WS victory? Either way, Bellinger did not have the MVP-type season he enjoyed in 2019, but he still a big presence in the lineup, and had some really big moments in the 2020 playoffs which diffused any legitimate causes for concern in my view. In time, he may need to move to a corner position, either left field or first base. I don't see any particularly strong candidates in the system to take over in center field, so when/if that happens, the Dodgers could look outside the organization to fill that role.
Right Field: Now unlike Seager and Bellinger, we are not worried about an extension as Mookie Betts will be a Dodger (I assume) for the next 12 years. The only annoying thing about this is that Los Angeles is hogging all the mega-stars! But seriously, Betts is an absolute beast at the plate and in right field. I don't think the Dodgers would've pulled off the WS win against the Rays without Betts on the squad. Looking down the pipeline for other right fielders is mostly irrelevant at this point because a) I don't see many that stick out besides Andy Pages and b) Betts is blocking players that the Dodgers haven't even drafted or signed yet, so that's that.
Bench: As it is projected, Chris Taylor is the primary bat and utility player off the bench, however, I think most of that playing time is going to come in the form of a platoon with Lux at second base, and if Lux continues to struggle, the platoon will be flipped the other way around. I think Marwin Gonzalez is a good fit for this club as he can hit from both sides, and can play multiple positions, most notably third base, and left field, where I project he will play most if signed. Edwin Rios and Matt Beaty are somewhat redundant in their defensive profiles, however, if/when the DH comes/comes back to the National Leagues, I would like to see Rios and his bigtime power get most of the reps at DH while Beaty remains on the bench and fulfills that left-handed four-corner type of role. Then lastly, I have Austin Barnes listed as the backup catcher, however, it's possible that Keiburt Ruiz overtakes Barnes for this role at some point in 2021. Contrarily, if Ruiz is good enough to pass Barnes on the depth chart, he might make for good trade bait, especially in a catching pool that lacks high offensive ceilings, like Ruiz has.
Starting Rotation: Okay, this is the part that irks me. The Dodgers truly have a six-man rotation, all consisting of pitchers that are upper-mid-rotation caliber and better. Let's start with Clayton Kershaw, who will be a free agent after the 2021 season. It's hard to see Kershaw leaving L.A. at this point, as I predict he will re-up with the Dodgers for another short-term extension for as long as he is healthy and productive. Kershaw is only listed as the number one starter because of his legacy and salary, but stuff-wise, Walker Buehler is probably the real number one on this staff. He will be with under club control for 4 more seasons, and if he keeps this up, I see the Dodgers extending him as well. David Price might actually be the worst of the six, but with his $32M salary (where half is paid by Boston), it's hard to see Price being bumped to the bullpen, BUT if Price's shoulder issues persists, he might have to pitch in the bullpen out of necessity, which will pull Tony Gonsolin into the rotation. As a matter of fact, Gonsolin led the Dodgers pitching staff with an 1.8 fWAR in 2020, and I really like his makeup and pitch mix, so it'd be crime in my mind to relegate him to a long relief role in the bullpen. And of course, Dustin May and Julio Urias both have incredible stuff and they are both amazing competitors that will play significant roles in the rotation for at least the next 3 years.
Oh you thought that all the young pitching talent has already reached the majors? Wrong. Closest to the major leagues is Josiah Gray, who has a career 2.37 ERA in 37 minor league starts. There doesn't seem to be an open spot in the rotation anytime soon barring a severe injury or sudden negative regression in stuff or production. Further down the radar, Jose Martinez, John Rooney, Ryan Pepiot, and Bobby Miller, who could all be making an impact soon.
Bullpen: 2021 will be Kenley Jansen's last year of his contract, and possibly his last as a Dodger. He has struggled before, but he will probably get the nod as the closer heading into 2021, but the Dodgers have Brusdar Graterol, who I see as a future closer, stuff-wise and personality-wise. They will most likely sign someone to replace Blake Treinen and Pedro Baez who are both entering their age-33 seasons, so I see Brad Hand as a great fit to be that 8th inning guy. Addtionally, Adam Kolarek has sneakily posted a 0.88 ERA in a Dodgers uniform and is different look that makes this bullpen versatile, which will hopefully keep the opponent's hitters off balance.
Caleb Ferguson was someone I was looking forward to watch in the bullpen in 2021, but that won't happen since he will be recovering from Tommy John all of next year, so when he comes back in 2022, I see him filling in the void Joe Kelly could be leaving. I also am keeping my eye on Josh Sborz, who put the 2015 Virginia CWS champs on his back during that playoff run. Other than that, relievers are tough to project long-term so I wish to not reach too far down in the system and pick the best performers.