The Dodgers are entering an uncertain offseason in many ways. They have a lot of quality free agents, some players due for raises, some players who should not be with the organization anymore … just a number of different factors.
For the first time in seemingly a while, the starting rotation seems like less of a sure thing. That’s because Clayton Kershaw (for the first time) and Max Scherzer are free agents. With Dustin May likely out for almost all of the 2022 season, the Dodgers’ current rotation looks like this:
It starts off well enough, but it falls off quickly. Heaney is a good bounce-back candidate, but he’s far from a sure thing. Gonsolin has lost a bit of the shine from his prospect days, Price might be a shell of a his former self and Jackson is an unproven rookie. Now, they have some guys on the come up in Landon Knack, Bobby Miller and Ryan Pepiot, but they aren’t going to be ready to be major contributors in 2022.
So now what?
The easy thing would be to re-sign both Kershaw and Scherzer. That would go a long way in curing any rotation ills. Kershaw needs to be re-signed, if he’s wanting to stay in LA, while Scherzer figures to be an attractive free-agent to contending teams. Hell, the Angels could be in play for him, even after signing Noah Syndergaard this morning to a 1-year, $21 million deal.
There are other free agents who could interest the Dodgers — Kevin Gausman, Jon Gray, Steven Matz, Robbie Ray, Carlos Rodon, Marcus Stroman, Justin Verlander — but the competition for their services are sure to be plentiful and there are a couple guys in there who might be too volatile to put in a rotation that needs more stability.
If the Dodgers don’t re-sign both Kershaw and Scherzer — or even fail to re-sign one of them — they might have to turn to the trade market.
The early rumors involve the Reds’ Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray (and maybe Tyler Mahle, a guy the Reds shouldn’t trade right now unless they’re blown away with an offer), both of whom would fit quite well. We’ve written about both of them as trade targets in the past. The Reds are in “payroll flexibility” mode and it’s been a while since we’ve seen a big-time Dodgers-Reds trade, so maybe there’s something to be made there. If you’re looking at 2022-23 free agents, guys who fit that criterion include Chris Bassitt, Zach Eflin, Nathan Eovaldi, Kyle Gibson and Sean Manaea, but none of them are at the level of Gray or another Oakland starter who might be available this winter.
Speaking of the A’s, they’re are also heading toward a rebuild. While they’re likely to trade one or both of Matt Chapman and Matt Olson, their starting pitchers could be better targets for LA. Folks are going to look at the aforementioned Bassitt and Manaea, but old friend Frankie Montas would make the most sense. The 28-year-old is coming off a solid 2021 season that saw him post a 3.37 ERA, 3.37 FIP and a 19.3 K-BB% in 187 innings. He had a rough pandemic-shortened 2020 season, but his 2019 season was strong before being cut short due to a PED suspension. The Dodgers are familiar enough with Montas, as they acquired him from the White Sox in December 2015 in the 3-team deal with the Reds that also landed them Micah Johnson and Trayce Thompson while they gave up Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler and Brandon Dixon. They then dealt him with Jharel Cotton and Grant Holmes to the A’s in the deal that landed them Rich Hill and Josh Reddick (lol).
The biggest knock on Montas coming up through the minors and in his early MLB days was the lack of a consistent third pitch to go along with his fastball/sinker and splitter. His slider has developed well enough that it’s a viable third pitch, while his splitter has gotten better over the years. In 2021, his splitter induced a 51.4 Whiff% and was 11.3 runs above average. The only two starting pitchers who have splitters that rival Montas’ is Gausman (45.9 Whiff%, 17.6 RAA) and Shohei Ohtani (48.5 Whiff%, 12.9 RAA).
Montas’ fastball was the best it has ever been in his career this past season, while his slider was uncharacteristically not great in 2021. The Dodgers might be able to help him improve the slider, as they are oft wont to do. And one things Montas doesn’t do particularly well is limit exit velocity, but the Dodgers have shown that’s a teachable skill and something that could improve.
No matter what happens this offseason (Collective Bargaining Agreement-dependent, obviously), the Dodgers are going to have some work to do with the rotation. Bringing back Kershaw and Scherzer is the easiest thing they could do. It’s probably the most unlikely, too, because money. We’ll see what happens, but it’s probably going to be a pretty active offseason for Andrew Friedman and Co.