The Los Angeles Dodgers have been to the postseason every year since 2013 and have won the NL West each of those years, aside from 2021 when a 106-win season wasn’t enough to secure the division.
Los Angeles spends money, it has ridiculous player development and scouting, and the product they put on the field each and every year shows that level of organizational competence that most teams strive for.
Yet, the Dodgers only have one World Series title to show for all of that hard work and all of the money that has been spent, and it came in the shortened 2020 season where teams only played 60 regular season games.
We also got a look at the new three wild card system that year. Some view that championship as a Mickey Mouse title because they didn’t win it in a 162-game season. And while it’s true that they haven’t won a World Series in such a season since 1988, they also had to face more rounds of competition, which was a new wrinkle.
As we’ve seen recently, more rounds have the ability to produce more upsets. The Yankees haven’t been to a World Series since the Wild Card Game was introduced back in 2012, meaning their last title was two playoff iterations ago. Mickey Mouse title or not, the Dodgers are lapping the Yankees.
Should the Dodgers and their fans be disappointed that this season ended much the same that previous years have? Of course. Was the 2023 squad necessarily their best chance to win a World Series? Not really.
It’s never fun to think that your team doesn’t have a shot if they make the postseason, but this year’s Dodger team had big flaws heading into October, which we talked about before the playoffs started. Their pitching was going to be a big question mark, and not only did Clayton Kershaw, Bobby Miller, and Lance Lynn underperform, so did Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman, who combined to go 1-for-21 with three walks. The Dodgers starters combined to go just 4.2 innings and allowed a combined 13 earned runs.
In this span of 11 straight playoff appearances for Los Angeles, this postseason was the first one in which they didn’t win a single game, and they looked completely overmatched by Arizona in the process. Even last season when they were eliminated by the San Diego Padres three games to one there wasn’t a loss by a greater deficit than two runs. While two of the losses to Arizona were by two runs, Game 1 was an 11-2 beat down. The Dodgers never led in the series.
In baseball, there is always next year. But what should Dodger fans be looking for from their front office this winter to give them a better chance in October?
Sho-time in Los Angeles
There is only one answer to the question above that will be suitable for most fans, and that answer is landing the biggest free agent in MLB history, Shohei Ohtani. We don’t know a lot about his thought process on where he wants to go or what he’s looking for, but he wanted to play on the west coast when he was picking teams the first time around, and the Dodgers are right up the road from Anaheim, so he’s familiar with the area already.
They also offer him a much better chance to win, which is seemingly important to him. At the very least, they should be in the postseason more often which is uncharted territory for the two-way star.
Before the 2023 season started, the chatter about the Dodgers was that they were taking their foot off the gas this season after they re-signed Kershaw and took a chance on Noah Syndergaard as their two biggest expenditures. The thought process being that they could save a little this past season before taking a big swing on a free agent this coming winter, presumably on Ohtani.
The Dodgers will also have plenty of money coming off the books with a number of pending free agents set to hit the open market, so there will be plenty of room on the ledger to add a big time contract.
Ohtani had an elbow procedure in September and will not be available to pitch in 2024, which doesn’t necessarily help the Dodgers address on issue they had in 2023. But offensively it’s like adding another Mookie Betts to the lineup. Ohtani ranked first in wRC+ with a 180 (100 is league average) while Betts ranked fourth with a 167. Freeman finished sixth with a 163. Adding Ohtani would give the Dodgers three of the top six hitters in baseball, which on paper is borderline unfair. But if you have the resources to secure all three, and the Dodgers do, then it’s fair game.
When asked how strongly the team plans to pursue Ohtani on Tuesday, Andrew Friedman joked, “who?” He couldn’t talk about free agents or pending free agents specifically, but he did say, “We’re extremely angry, disappointed with how these last two off-seasons have gone, and we’re going to do everything that we can to put ourselves in position for it not to happen next year.”
Los Angeles Dodgers rotation returns
Is it a coincidence that the two postseasons Walker Buehler hasn’t pitched in since his debut have seen the Dodgers biggest struggles in October? Could be, but he has also proven to be one of their best big game pitchers, too. In 15 postseason starts, the 29-year-old has a 2.94 ERA across 79.2 innings with a 1.155 WHIP and 101 strikeouts. The righty had Tommy John surgery in August of 2022, which caused him to miss the ’22 postseason and the entirety of the 2023 season. He should be ready for Spring Training and will be a big addition to the roster.
Dustin May has had a rough go with injuries of late and needed surgery on his right elbow to repair a flexor tendon in July and is expected to miss about 12 months. If things go well, Los Angeles could see May back on the mound around the All Star break in 2024. In nine starts this past season, he held a 2.63 ERA and a 3.24 FIP.
They’ll still have rookies Bobby Miller, Emmet Sheehan, and Ryan Pepiot in the rotation mix, and could either swing a deal for another starter or two to help build up the club’s depth or test the free agent market. It will have some pretty decent options like presumed NL Cy Young winner Blake Snell at the top of the market, or someone like Lucas Giolito who could be a little bit of a project but has shown glimpses of greatness, or even further down someone like Luis Severino who posted a 6.65 ERA in 19 games (18 starts) with the Yankees.
The Dodgers seemingly work magic on pitchers all of the time, so no arm is off limits. Where they turn their attention could depend on whether they land Ohtani, since that contract could dictate payroll for the next 10 or more years.
In Tuesday’s end of season press conference, Andrew Friedman said the Los Angeles Dodgers will “absolutely” do what’s needed to bring Clayton Kershaw back, if he decides he wants to continue playing. For now, Kershaw and his wife will be taking some time to decide what is best for them and their family.
The starting rotation should be in better shape heading into 2024, and given the number of injuries they saw in 2023, they may overcompensate just a touch to hedge their bets, especially with Buehler and May recovering from injury. Freidman called the lack of rotational depth “unforeseen” on Tuesday, so hedging a little more heading into 2024 could be in the cards.
Improving the Los Angeles Dodgers defense
The Dodgers overall were a middle of the road team defensively, and Max Muncy was one of the worst defenders in all of baseball with -8 Outs Above Average at third base per Statcast. Getting him off the hot corner should have a positive ripple effect on the entire roster. The team has also deployed Muncy at first, second, and DH in the past, but first is occupied by Freeman and DH is hopefully filled by Ohtani, so that leaves second. That would allow Betts to go back to right field where he has won six Gold Gloves.
If this is the way the Dodgers end up going, there are two third basemen that they could consider. The first is Matt Chapman, who put up +5 Outs Above Average, which ranked tied for eighth among third basemen, and a 108 wRC+. Pretty solid on both sides of the ball. He also grew up in Southern California, so the Dodgers could appeal to him.
The other option in this scenario is Jeimer Candelario, who posted +2 Outs Above Average and a 121 wRC+. Either option would represent an upgrade, but they would also cost a little bit to sign.
Los Angeles Dodgers front office on off-season plans
During Tuesday’s press conference, Andrew Friedman said that their goal each and every year is to win a championship. “When we don’t do that, I think it’s fair to say that it’s an organizational failure. It doesn’t mean that there weren’t successes and a lot of things to grab on to, and a lot of special memories that were created this summer…That being said, out goal was to win 11 games in October, and we didn’t win one.”
If you were on the fence about the Dodgers pursuit of Ohtani, this may have sealed the deal. He’s the best player on the market, and the best player in baseball. Los Angeles is absolutely going to do everything they can to lure him to the bright lights of Hollywood.
Freidman also mentioned that the front office had considered using an opener or a bullpen approach to the postseason, with their relief arms being a strength of the team heading into October. “Obviously out bullpen was a real strength for us…Always the benefit of hindsight. You would always do something differently if it doesn’t play out in your favor.”
Throughout the presser, the Dodgers President of Baseball Operations mentioned how the team would be looking for new ways to be better and how they approach certain facets of the game. If they’re dealing with similar injuries to the starting rotation in 2024, they may be more inclined to lean more heavily on the bullpen from the onset than they chose to this postseason.
General manager Brandon Gomes said of the team’s balance of youth with experience, “I think it’s always a balance of those two, and we’re fortunate enough to have a lot of really good talent in the upper level minor leagues, so it’s always about balancing opportunity, what is available and we can go out and get. Whether that’s via trade or free agency. Ultimately it’s taking all of those factors in to put a team out there that’s going to give us the best chance to win a championship.”
Expect the Los Angeles Dodgers to be very active this winter.