June 21, 2024

The Dodgers had hoped to still be playing right now.

Instead, as the Texas Rangers and Arizona Diamondbacks conclude the World Series this week, the Dodgers already have their sights turned toward the winter after their early playoff elimination.

And as they prepare to reshape their roster in hopes of a longer October run next year, more of their offseason plans are becoming clear.

The Dodgers will have plenty of financial flexibility this winter.

According to projections by Cot’s Baseball Contracts, they currently have only about $135 million in expected payroll commitments for next year (nearly $90 million less than their payroll this past year) and they still have about $75 million to go before they reach the luxury tax threshold (which they’ve surpassed in each of the last three seasons).

Though much of their 2024 roster is penciled in already, they have some key free agents (Clayton Kershaw and J.D. Martinez chief among them) and obvious needs (the starting rotation most of all).

It leaves Andrew Friedman, the president of baseball operations, and the rest of his front office staff with a relatively blank canvas on which to operate this winter.

They know that Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman will spearhead the lineup; that Evan Phillips and Brusdar Graterol will anchor the bullpen; and that Walker Buehler, Bobby Miller and a couple of other young pitchers will occupy starting rotation spots.

But they also know there will be plenty of pathways to improvement, with the pursuit of Shohei Ohtani, front-line starting pitching and continued lineup depth all serving as key offseason objectives for a team with an 11-year postseason streak but only one World Series title from it.

With the start of the offseason about a week away, here is a primer on what could lie ahead for the Dodgers this winter.

Ohtani sweepstakes

Here is what’s known about the Dodgers and Ohtani for now: The two-way star will be a top priority for the Dodgers this winter. The team is cautiously optimistic about its chances of signing him, hopeful it checks as many boxes as any other suitor. And the process is expected to unfold quick enough that — sign Ohtani or not — it shouldn’t significantly affect the rest of the Dodgers’ offseason tasks.

Outside of that, it’s anyone’s guess — including those within the Dodgers front office — about which factors Ohtani will value most, how much his potential contract might cost and exactly when he will choose his destination for 2024 and beyond.

The Dodgers’ pitch to Ohtani will probably be robust. First and foremost, they are an established winner that should allow him to compete for the World Series. They have a renowned infrastructure for player performance and improvement. They also have experience shepherding free-agent pitching acquisitions through injury rehabilitations (Ohtani had an elbow surgery last month that will keep him from pitching until 2025).

The Angels' Shohei Ohtani bats against the Athletics on Sept. 2 in Oakland.

Shohei Ohtani, batting for the Angels against the Oakland Athletics on Sept. 2, will be limited to hitting in 2024.

(Jeff Chiu / Associated Press)

If the 29-year-old is looking for a West Coast contender with virtually endless resources, the Dodgers are it.

Of course, other factors could complicate the Dodgers’ pursuit of the probable soon-to-be two-time MVP.

If Ohtani simply chooses the biggest offer, it’s possible other clubs could outbid the Dodgers — especially if a rival ownership/front office group is willing to make an uber-lengthy, record-breaking deal that the risk-averse Dodgers would be forced to match.

Ohtani could also have unknown preferences that lead to a surprise decision — similar to when he signed with the Angels when he first came to the majors in 2018, an unexpected outcome at the time.

Whatever the case, the Dodgers will be in the middle of the sweepstakes for Ohtani, making him the single biggest name on their winter wishlist.

Starting pitching options

If signing Ohtani is 1A for the Dodgers this offseason, then bolstering the starting rotation will be 1B, with the team expected to pursue several big-name pitchers on both the free-agent and trade market.

Among pending MLB free agents, the biggest pitching prizes will be likely National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell and former Philadelphia Phillies All-Star Aaron Nola.

Given the Dodgers’ conservative track record with free-agent arms (Trevor Bauer is the only free-agent pitcher in Friedman’s tenure that L.A. has given more than $50 million guaranteed), it seems likely that Snell and Nola would fetch bigger offers elsewhere.

That might make this year’s other top free-agent target, Japanese star Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a better fit.

At just 25 years old, the right-hander could be a safer bet for a long-term contract, though his 5-foot-10 size raises some durability questions.

Some evaluators have pegged Yamamoto as a potential ace-caliber MLB talent, too, after he posted a 1.82 ERA over seven seasons in Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball league and helped the country win the World Baseball Classic in the spring.

Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Corbin Burnes works against the Yankees on Sept. 10 in New York.

Milwaukee right-hander Corbin Burnes is entering his final season under team control. The Dodgers are expected to pursue a trade for Burnes if the Brewers make him available.

(Noah K. Murray / Associated Press)

The trade market could offer other attractive options.

The Dodgers are expected to pursue former Cy Young Award winner Corbin Burnes, if the Milwaukee Brewers consider trading their ace right-hander ahead of his final year of team control. Tyler Glasnow of the Tampa Bay Rays could be another alternative, with the 30-year-old right-hander also slated to hit free agency after next year.

Beyond that, the Dodgers could look elsewhere in free agency for a starter (Lucas Giolito, Jordan Montgomery, Sonny Gray and Jack Flaherty headline the rest of the pitching class).

They could try to identify another low-risk/potential-upside signing, similar to their acquisitions of Tyler Anderson and Noah Syndergaard the last two winters.

They’ll also await a decision from Kershaw, who will be a free agent if he doesn’t choose to retire this offseason.

What is clear: The Dodgers are in need of starting pitching, and would benefit most from a front-line starter (or two) to pair with Buehler and Miller at the top of their rotation.

Rounding out the lineup

If the Dodgers don’t get Ohtani, their biggest offensive question mark will be the designated hitter spot.

Martinez shined with a 33-homer, 103-RBI campaign in the role this year. If the Dodgers miss on Ohtani, they’ll probably explore a reunion with Martinez, assuming he doesn’t sign elsewhere before then.

After taking a discounted one-year, $10-million deal from L.A. last winter, the 36-year-old slugger should fetch more lucrative multi-year offers on the open market this time. That could put him in the same boat Justin Turner was in last winter. And whether the Dodgers would be willing to bid enough to keep Martinez from going elsewhere — as Turner did, prompting the team to effectively replace him with Martinez in 2023 — remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in the lineup, Max Muncy is expected to have his $14-million club option picked up, probably locking him into third base again despite his defensive troubles there this season.

There is believed to be mutual interest between the Dodgers and Jason Heyward in the free-agent outfielder returning for 2024, especially with Betts expected to spend significant time at second base again next season.

The St. Louis Cardinals' Nolan Arenado plays against the Red Sox on May 13 in Boston.

The St. Louis Cardinals had a terrible 2023 season, but it’s still considered a long shot they would trade third baseman Nolan Arenado.

(Michael Dwyer / Associated Press)

The team will also need to round out its lineup depth, making utility player Kiké Hernández another candidate to be re-signed.

If the Dodgers do add free-agent position players, less-heralded names might line up better.

It seems doubtful that the team will be heavily involved for other top stars like Cody Bellinger and Matt Chapman, especially if they land Ohtani or Martinez.

While some veteran free agents such as Tommy Pham (one of the team’s trade deadline targets), Gio Urshela (a versatile infielder) or even former fan favorite Joc Pederson (another left-handed hitting outfielder) could be fits, the Dodgers don’t seem likely to overspend on an offense that ranked second in the majors in scoring and on-base-plus-slugging percentage this year.

The trade market could offer some other intriguing possibilities. The St. Louis Cardinals might look to offload their surplus of outfielders (they also have third baseman Nolan Arenado, though any trade for him still looks like a long shot). The Brewers could move shortstop Willy Adames, another player entering his contract year. It’s possible the Boston Red Sox put former Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo on the trade block as well.

At the same time, the Dodgers could also deal from their own pool of position player prospects (including infielders Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch) if it helps them acquire pitching help or an offensive upgrade.

After all, the Dodgers are confident in what they have at the plate. They remained stocked with a talented bullpen (and still hold club options on veteran relievers Joe Kelly, Blake Treinen, Daniel Hudson and Alex Reyes). They have a strong pipeline of young pitching to provide depth in 2024.

Going into the winter, the team’s focus is most firmly fixed on Ohtani and the starting pitching market.

Coming off their latest October disappointment, accomplishing at least one (if not both) of those wishlist items will be at the center of the Dodgers’ offseason plans.

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