Dodgers Truths Going Into 2023 – Clayton Kershaw, Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Julio Urias and More

This is the fifth time where I write some truths about the Dodgers going into the next season. For a reference to where we were after last season check out the one I wrote last year for Dodgers Nation. After I wrote that the off-season turned out to be one of huge turnover as the Dodgers lost franchise icons, Corey Seager and Kenley Jansen, along with future Hall of Famers Max Scherzer and Albert Pujols. They also traded AJ Pollock. Incoming was Freddie Freeman, Craig Kimbrel, Tyler Anderson, and Andrew Heaney. Looking back, wow! First, we’ll look back a little and then look at where the team is at right now and some big-time truths before the off-season starts.

2022 Looking Back

The Offense

The Dodgers had an amazing regular season as they won 111 games, a franchise record. Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, and Will Smith anchored the offense. Max Muncy had a rough time for the first four months or so as he dealt with the impact of his elbow injury at the end of the 2021 season. Gavin Lux was good until he got hurt in September but he looked very good at 2B and should be a fixture on the team for the next few years. Justin Turner also started slow but ended up having a strong last four months. Cody Bellinger never got on track. Chris Taylor was injured a lot and struggled. Trayce Thompson was picked up off of the scrap heap and was a pleasant surprise.

Starting Pitching

Julio Urias was healthy all season and was excellent. He should finish in the top three for the National League Cy Young award. Clayton Kershaw had some stops on the disabled list but was also excellent as he was the starting pitcher for the National League in the All-Star game at Dodger Stadium. Tyler Anderson was brought in right before the season and had an amazing season, exceeding his career bests by a lot. Tony Gonsolin had a great first four months before getting injured as he also made an appearance in the All-Star game. Injuries impacted Andrew Heaney quite a bit but he had some good stretches.

Relief Pitching

The huge story was Walker Buehler going down with an elbow injury that turned into Tommy John surgery. Craig Kimbrel never captured his previous greatness and was even left off of the playoff roster. Evan Phillips was the best reliever, basically replacing the injured Blake Treinen as the main stopper. Injuries caused Daniel Hudson and Tommy Kahnle to miss a lot of time. Alex Vesia was mostly excellent and Yency Almonte was a great surprise before he also got hurt. Injuries to the pitching were key and the Dodgers need to find a way to get the pitching healthier.

Huge Playoff Disappointment

We can complain all we want about the time off between games but the Dodgers stopped hitting in mid-September. They would have lost in the Wild Card series if they would have been playing there or would have lost in a best-of-seven against the Padres. The infield defense on the left side of the infield was weak and the standard let’s-pull-starters-out-too-early-and-tax-the-bullpen happened again. The bottom line is, that was an embarrassing loss for the Dodgers and something needs to change.

2023 Truths

Dave Roberts Is The Manager

Like it or not, Dave Roberts is the manager of the team. I do not see that changing until Roberts decides he no longer wants to manage the Dodgers.

Walker Buehler Will Be Back In 2024

With the Tommy John surgery, Walker Buehler is most likely out for all of 2023. His greatness and the fire inside of him were missed quite a bit by the Dodgers. He was the ace of the staff before his injury and we can only hope he can reclaim his previous form.

Julio Urias Is The Ace And Has One More Year Until Free Agency

Julio Urias has turned into the new ace of the Dodgers with Walker Buehler out and Clayton Kershaw missing chunks of the season. Unfortunately, he is a free agent after 2023 and his agent is Scott Boras. That usually does not turn out well with the Dodgers. However, Julio is beloved by a lot of the fan base so it will be interesting. My hope is that the Dodgers will figure out a way to give him a contract to stay but they are not huge fans of large and long contracts to pitchers. Still, it has been great to see Julio’s growth as a pitcher since he was signed way back in 2012.

Clayton Kershaw Is Still Excellent

How great was it to see Clayton Kershaw still dominate on the mound? In 126.1 innings he struck out 137 while only walking 23 and giving up 96 hits. It was a nice comeback from his worst season since 2008. Again, he is a free agent and we can only hope he comes back to the Dodgers. He is 193 strikeouts from 3000 for his career. Wouldn’t it be great for him to get another ring (with the parade) and to get to that strikeout milestone with the Dodgers?

The Team Relies On Too Many Injured Players

The post-season roster was filled with players that were not either close to 100% healthy or were not ramped up enough. There is no way that Justin Turner or Chris Taylor was healthy. They didn’t hit the ball hard at all. Pitchers like Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May were not stretched out enough or not healthy enough. Relievers like Blake Treinen, Yency Almonte, and Tommy Kahnle were coming off injuries and may not have been ready for back-to-back games. This is not sustainable.

Time For Some Youth? – They Are Gathering Older Players

Just as I spoke above about health, it is time to allow some of the prospects to compete for roster spots and playing time. Many other teams are bringing up top prospects faster with success. Miguel Vargas should get a shot at either left field or third base. James Outman is an excellent outfielder who had some success for the Dodgers. Could he replace Cody Bellinger? He should be able to exceed Cody’s offense, provide defense, and make about $17M less. What about Michael Busch? He is a hitting machine?

On the mound, the Dodgers need to let Ryan Pepiot compete for a rotation spot. There is no reason Michael Grove should also not compete. They also have fireballer Bobby Miller who should be ready by the end of 2023. What about Andre Jackson? He needs an opportunity. Gavin Stone is on the fast track. Get some young and healthy players on the roster and see what they can do.

The roster is collectively getting a bit older. Older players have a tendency to get injured earlier (see above). Of the players on the current 40-man roster here are some notable ages of some players.

  • Tyler Anderson – 32
  • Tommy Kahnle – 32
  • Clayton Kershaw – 34
  • Andrew Heaney – 31
  • Blake Treinen – 34
  • Chris Martin – 36
  • Max Muncy – 32
  • Mookie Betts – 30
  • Justin Turner – 37
  • Chris Tayler – 31
  • Austin Barnes – 32
  • Trayce Thompson – 31
  • Freddie Freeman – 32

These are some key players getting on the wrong side of 30 years old. Bring up some youth and be careful of long contracts to more older players.

The Batting Order Has Holes

As was exposed in the playoffs, the Dodgers have some holes in their lineup, especially when some players are not healthy. They need to build more offensive depth to make sure that when someone is slumping or not close to healthy, they can be replaced. The bench was a little better this year than last season but more work is to be done. How about getting some more strong role players like Joc Pederson (a free agent) to build that depth?

Our Free Agents

We’ll first take a look at the free agents as we move toward 2023. True Blue LA has a great breakdown of all the contract statuses for the whole roster so please take a look at their site for some detailed information.

  • Tyler Anderson: an excellent starter in 2022 who should be in great demand. The Dodgers need to offer him a Qualifying Offer (QO).
  • Joey Gallo: a trade deadline acquisition who had some nice moments but I am not sure if a return is in the cards.
  • Andrew Heaney: I am not sure he’ll return but he could be some starting pitching depth or could become a reliever.
  • Tommy Kahnle: he only made a few appearances but he looked really good at the end of the season.
  • Clayton Kershaw: a true Dodger icon and first-ballot Hall-of-Famer.
  • Craig Kimbrel: he will not be back.
  • Chris Martin: he was very good after coming over from the Cubs near the trade deadline.
  • Kevin Pillar: he got injured right after being brought up from Triple-A.
  • David Price: it is rumored that he is retiring. He was great for quite a long time.
  • Trea Turner: the big question mark.

Outside Free Agents

There are some big names that could be available based on player or team options. Here are some of the bigger names.

Key Club Options

Justin Turner has a club option for $16M (with a $2M buyout) and Cody Bellinger will cost about $18M next year if they offer him a contract. These are both fan favorites with huge resumes. The Dodgers need to evaluate their options for these players and make the hard decision to either keep them or let them go.

Position Evaluation

Catching

Will Smith and Austin Barnes have this position locked down for both 2023 and 2024. With the designated hitter the Dodgers were able to rest Smith yet keep his bat in the lineup. Barnes continues to be an excellent catcher with some offensive surprises every once in a while. It’s a very nice combination. The future is also bright as they have stud catchers Diego Cartaya, Yeiner Fernandez, and Dalton Rushing. There are others in the system also that could surprise including Hunter Fedducia and Carson Taylor.

First Base

Freddie Freeman is the guy for the next five years. If he is injured then Max Muncy could slide over or Miguel Vargas could take over. In summary, no worries.

Second Base

Gavin Lux had a nice season and was hitting .300 for most of the season before he had a neck injury. Max Muncy also spent some time there and has improved defensively. However, I believe he suffers from the position shifting as he battled a four-month slump. Coming up is Michael Busch who is a hitting machine. If the Dodgers can keep Lux at second base I believe that is the best defensively and possibly long-term. They will need to find a spot for Busch at some post. It is a good problem to have. Look for a possible trade from this depth.

Shortstop

The Dodgers had Trea Turner as the shortstop for almost every inning of 2022. Offensively, he was excellent. Defensively, I expected more but he was still above average according to FanGraphs. The 29-year-old Turner will turn 30 in June and is hitting free agency at the perfect time. The Dodgers need to determine what they feel he is worth and then he also needs to determine if he wants to return as he has roots on the east coast. I expect Turner to get 8 years for about $280M at a minimum.

The alternatives internally are to shift Gavin Lux from 2B to SS or to go with Jacob Amaya, an excellent defensive player. Externally, there are some big free agents like Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogarts, and 2017 Astro Carlos Correa.

Quick editorial: I do not want Correa due to his role on the 2017 cheating Astr*s.

A trade option I have seen mentioned is Willie Adames, who is strong defensively. My external choices, in order, are, Dansby Swanson, Trea Turner, Willie Adames, and Xander Bogarts. I’ll have further writings about these options once free agency starts. I value defense at shortstop so check out the FanGraphs ratings for 2022.

Third Base

Max Muncy might be the guy in 2023. According to FanGraphs, Muncy and Justin Turner were barely average on the defensive side. Even if Turner returns, Max Muncy should be the full-time third baseman. JT can spell him at the position sometimes and also be a DH. However, he is entering his age 38 season, and he needs to be rested a lot as he slows down by the end of the season most years. A future alternative is Miguel Vargas but his defense has been questioned by some. He has the tools and there is room and time for improvement.

Left Field

Many guys played left field for the Dodgers in 2022; Chris Taylor, Joey Gallo, Trayce Thompson, Gavin Lux, Miguel Vargas, Jake Lamb, Kevin Pillar, James Outman, Zach McKinstry, and Eddy Alvarez.

Taylor, Thompson, Vargas, and Outman should all be in play with Lux a fixture at 2B. It should also be noted that Michael Busch played 13 games in left field in the minor leagues in 2022. As I see the roster, I believe Miguel Vargas needs to either start in left field or at third base.,.

Center Field

It will be surprising if the Dodgers bring back Cody Bellinger unless he is willing to take a smaller contract. If the Dodgers stay in-house it would not be surprising to see a platoon of James Outman and Trayce Thompson in center field. I’ll just leave this here:

Right Field

Mookie Betts.

Forecasted Lineup

This is a lineup forecast of players that are not free agents to be or players that might not get renewed.

  • C – Will Smith
  • 1B – Freddie Freeman
  • 2B – Gavin Lux
  • SS – Jacob Amaya
  • 3B – Max Muncy
  • LF – Miguel Vargas
  • CF – James Outman/Trayce Thompson
  • RF – Mookie Betts
  • DH – Michael Busch
  • Uitlity – Chris Taylor

Obviously, there will be some changes as there are too many unproven players in this lineup. However, we need some youth.

Pitching Evaluation

Starting Pitchers

The pitchers on the roster who are candidates for the starting rotation that are also not free agents:

  • Julio Urias
  • Tony Gonsolin
  • Michael Grove
  • Andre Jackson
  • Dustin May
  • Ryan Pepiot

The above list is actually not a bad list to build around. If they keep Clayton Kershaw and Tyler Anderson the staff should be strong. Dustin May will be further away from his Tommy John surgery and he should be ready to get back to being a nasty pitcher. Bobby Miller is probably also a candidate at some point in the 2023 season as a starter or bullpen piece.

Note: Jacob deGrom will probably be a free agent.

Relief Pitchers

The pitchers on the roster who are candidates for the bullpen that are also not free agents:

Daniel Hudson will be back from his knee injury. It is still questionable in my mind what will happen with Blake Treinen’s shoulder. If he comes back, that makes the bullpen excellent but I am not betting on that. However, looking at this list, going into the off-season, this is a strength.

Summary

The Dodgers had one of the most disappointing post-seasons of all-time. There is no denying it. A team full of stars still had players in the lineup that did not have much of a chance of success. That cannot happen if the Dodgers do not want history to continue to repeat itself. They need to be healthier and a bit younger. Running out the same guys based on sentiment is not a good plan. Notice, that the Dodgers barely gave Miguel Vargas a chance to prove himself in September. He started once every 4-5 games. What a waste. It is time to close the door on some players and move forward.

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Dodgers Prospects: Miguel Vargas Triple-A Player of the Year, Ryan Pepiot an All-Star