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MLB Team Roundup: Los Angeles Dodgers

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman

Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

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Los Angeles Dodgers

2022 Record: 111-51 (1st place, NL West)

Team ERA: 2.80 (1st)

Team OPS: .775 (1st)

What Went Right

Here’s an oversimplification: The Dodgers were the best team in baseball last year. It’s really that simple. Los Angeles constructed a 111-win behemoth that took home the organization’s ninth NL West division title in the last 10 years. They excelled at both scoring runs, with a terrifying veteran-laded lineup, and also preventing runs from crossing the plate, thanks to seemingly unfathomable quality pitching depth. The Dodgers’ lineup, anchored by franchise cornerstone Mookie Betts, who still managed to produce at an elite level despite playing most of the season through a debilitating rib injury, led the majors in runs scored, averaging nearly five and a half runs per-game. Blockbuster free agent acquisition Freddie Freeman was narrowly edged out for the senior circuit’s batting title, finishing his Dodgers debut with a sublime .325/.407/.511 triple-slash line with 21 home runs and 13 stolen bases. Meanwhile, the Dodgers’ pitching staff, which was anchored by Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Clayton Kershaw, allowed the fewest runs of any team in baseball last year. Journeyman left-hander Tyler Anderson emerged out of nowhere to blossom into an All-Star caliber starting pitcher and unheralded righty Evan Phillips evolved into one of the premier relief pitchers in baseball. Los Angeles’s unparalleled organizational depth and financial resources enabled them to absorb and overcome significant injuries to critical contributors during the regular season. Virtually everything went right, until the postseason.

What Went Wrong

The Dodgers’ imposing 111-win juggernaut ran headlong into an unexpected San Diego buzzsaw and they were eliminated by the division-rival Padres in a stunning National League Division Series upset. Los Angeles was able to survive the remainder of the regular season without front-of-the-rotation stalwart Walker Buehler, who is expected to be sidelined until the late stages of the 2023 season after undergoing Tommy John elbow reconstructive surgery in late August, but his absence loomed large in the postseason. Los Angeles took a calculated risk on the doorstep of the regular season, shipping outfielder AJ Pollock to the White Sox in exchange for veteran closer Craig Kimbrel. The 34-year-old right-hander wound up relinquishing the closer role in the late stages of the season and was ultimately left off the Dodgers’ postseason roster. The secret to the Dodgers’ success is the lack of a true weakness. However, their lack of a true lights-out closer and front-of-the-rotation stalwart loomed large in a condensed postseason series against a Padres’ pitching staff that featured a handful of aces and elite stopper Josh Hader.

Fantasy Slants

** The Dodgers face a critical decision on free agent shortstop Trea Turner, who has been one of their main offensive catalysts since being acquired from the Nationals at the trade deadline back in 2021. The 29-year-old speedster has hit .307/.353/.490 with 142 runs scored, 31 home runs, 128 RBI and 38 stolen bases across 212 games over the last two years in Los Angeles. He’s among consideration for the top overall selection in fantasy drafts until further notice, but could experience a dip in the counting stat departments if he doesn’t return to the Dodgers’ loaded lineup. His potential departure would also force Los Angeles to dive into the free agent shortstop pool in search of a replacement.

** It flew a bit under the radar, but southpaw Julio Urías has morphed into a full-fledged fantasy ace. The 26-year-old left-hander has gone 37-10 with a pristine 2.57 ERA, 0.99 WHIP and 361/79 K/BB ratio across 360 2/3 innings (63 starts) over the last two seasons. His emergence as the Dodgers’ front-of-the-rotation centerpiece has buoyed their entire pitching staff, and also enabled them to take chances on intriguing reclamation projects like Anderson and Andrew Heaney.

** Journeyman right-hander Evan Phillips has quietly evolved into one of the premier relief pitchers in baseball. The unheralded 28-year-old right-hander tweaked the grip on his slider shortly after arriving in Los Angeles in August of the 2021 season, which unlocked the key to one of the most deadly breaking balls in the game. He delivered an other-worldly 1.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and 77/15 K/BB ratio across 63 innings (64 appearances) last year. It’s unclear whether the Dodgers would view him as a potential ninth-inning option moving forward, but their decisions this offseason will reveal whether they’re willing to give Phillips a shot to grab the job and run with it next season. He’s an intriguing late-round sleeper candidate for fantasy managers next spring.

** There’s no shortage of intriguing topics to cover with the Dodgers, but it’s worth spending a moment on Cody Bellinger. The 27-year-old outfielder has relentlessly tinkered with his swing and offensive approach for the last few years in an effort to re-discover his MVP-caliber form. None of it has worked. He’s hit a calamitous .203/.272/.376 with just 41 home runs and 23 steals over 1,143 plate appearances over the last three seasons. Given his natural talent, it would be a mistake to write Bellinger off completely from a fantasy standpoint. However, he’s going to need to prove it over an extended stretch for fantasy managers to consider trusting him again, especially in shallow mixed leagues.

** The Dodgers possess one of the more intriguing farm systems in baseball, which is headlined by elite catcher prospect Diego Cartaya. He figures to take over the primary catching duties in Los Angeles in a few years, but fellow position prospects Miguel Vargas and James Outman appear poised to make an impact for fantasy managers next year, especially those in deeper mixed leagues. Both sipped a cup of coffee in the big leagues this past season and could be in line for expanded roles moving forward, depending on the Dodgers’ offseason decisions. They’re certainly worth monitoring in the late stages of fantasy drafts next spring.

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Key Free Agents: Trea Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Tyler Anderson, Justin Turner, Craig Kimbrel, Andrew Heaney, Joey Gallo and David Price

Team Needs: According to multiple reports, the Dodgers have already agreed to a one-year contract to bring future Hall of Fame southpaw Clayton Kershaw back for a 16th season in Los Angeles. The club has also tendered a $19.65 million qualifying offer to left-hander Tyler Anderson in the hopes of bringing him back as well. Given the Dodgers tremendous financial flexibility, there’s a chance they have the ability to re-sign both Trea Turner and Justin Turner, along with Anderson, this offseason. Besides retaining Turner, their offseason figures to include plenty of speculative dice rolls on late-inning relief options. The Dodgers don’t have any glaring weaknesses and seem to have endless options to solve any potential issues. They’re among the most well-positioned organizations for sustained success.