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FSM Essential Recap: 2021 Dodgers Season Recap

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The Los Angeles Dodgers season came to an end Saturday night in Atlanta. The roller coaster season filled with injuries, inconsistencies, and off-the-field drama didn’t have the storybook ending as 2020 did. Now Andrew Friedman will have tough decisions to make with a potential work stoppage in Major League Baseball looming.

 

Dodgers
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The Dodgers 2021 offseason saw the defending champs add the reigning Cy Young Award winner in Trevor Bauer to a three-year, $102 contract with two opt-outs and MLB-record single-season salaries in the first two years of the deal.

Adding more firepower to a staff that included Clayton KershawWalker BuehlerWorld Series hero Julio Urias and Dustin May had Dodger Nation feeling highly confident in the pitching staff. The Dodgers also had David Price back after opting out of the 2020 season, Tony Gonsolin, who pitched well for them in 2020, and rookie Josiah Gray ready to be called up at any time.

The Dodgers also acquired pitcher Corey Knebel from the Brewers for a player to be named later or cash considerations. They also acquired pitcher Garrett Cleavinger from the Phillies in a 3-team trade, sending minor league first baseman Dillon Paulson and a player to be named later or cash considerations to the Rays

The Dodgers then re-signed pitcher Blake Treinen to a two-year, $17.5 million contract with a club option for 2023 and agreed to a deal with Scott Alexander so the Dodgers felt their bullpen would be a strength and a shouldn’t be an issue heading into the regular season.

Offensively, the Dodgers got great news when team leader Justin Turner agreed to a 2-year, $34 million contract. Turner, Corey SeagerCody BellingerWill SmithMax Muncy, and Mookie Betts would once again be relied upon to lead the Dodgers offense. Los Angeles had hoped that rookie Gavin Lux would claim the starting second base role and provide even more pop to the lineup. The Dodgers offense could be potent if AJ Pollock and Chris Taylor could bounce back from their offseasons.

But things don’t always go as planned.

 

The Dodgers regular season was filled with bumps, bruises, and Bauer.

 

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LA entered the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the World Series. Some national pundits even predicted that the team had a chance to go down as one of the winningest clubs in baseball history. Unfortunately, the team fell short of those expectations. Still, they were able to match a franchise record with 106 wins despite being snakebitten by injuries and losing their big off-season starting pitcher acquisition to administrative leave.

The Dodgers had their fair share of adversity during the season and postseason. It all began when right-hander and rising star Dustin May underwent season-ending Tommy John surgery in May. That was a massive blow to the Dodgers’ rotation.

In June, the team placed right-hander Trevor Bauer on administrative leave after a woman accused him of assault for the rest of the season. Bauer, the 2020 NL Cy Young Award winner, was 8-5 with a 2.59 ERA in 17 starts at the time of his suspension. However, claims brought forth by a San Diego woman prompted the Pasadena Police Department to launch an investigation and Major League Baseball to place Bauer on administrative leave while also conducting their own probe into the matter.

 

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The Dodgers now had two significant needs at the trade deadline: starting pitching and bench depth. Both are traditional strengths for rosters Andrew Friedman constructs. However, this year, even with a $260-million payroll, was different.

Friedman acquired three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer from the Washington Nationals to bolster the starting pitching at the July 30 deadline. He also took All-Star Trea Turner with him. It cost them four minor leaguers, including top prospects Keibert Ruiz and Josiah Gray, in addition to agreeing to take on the remaining money on Scherzer’s contract.

The Dodgers also signed Cole Hamels and traded for Danny Duffy for rotation insurance. Adding Turner bolstered the roster’s position player depth. Once Kershaw returned from the injured list in September, the Dodgers appeared set for the postseason with four quality starting pitchers. The trade, for a stretch, was being discussed as the most critical deadline deal in Major League Baseball history.

 

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But the blueprint began disintegrating before the postseason. Hamels got $1 million to play catch and try a simulated game in which he hurt his arm. Duffy never recovered from an elbow injury. 

Then, later in the season, the team lost Clayton Kershaw, who did not pitch in the postseason. To make matters worse, Los Angeles lost slugger Max Muncy in the final game of the regular season. Muncy, an All-Star, hit .249 with 36 HR and 94 RBI during the regular season.

On Saturday night, the Atlanta Braves won Game 6 of the NLCS and the Dodgers season was over, just like that. So now the real work begins for Andrew Friedman & Co.

 

Tough decisions loom for Friedman as key Dodgers are scheduled to hit the open market in free agency. Here are some key players the Dodgers will have to make those decisions on.

 

Dodgers
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Let’s start with Corey SeagerSeager enters free agency as arguably the top shortstop on the free-agent market. Several teams will do their best to sign the superstar to a contract, most notably the New York Yankees.

Going back to Spring TrainingSeager has been asked about his future in Los Angeles numerous times. Usually, he just shrugged it off and said he was focused on the season or something along those lines. However, when asked about his future following LA’s loss to the Braves in Game 6 of the NLCS, he said he wanted to return to LA.

Yeahabsolutely,” Seager said following Game 6 to the media. “I grew up here. I’ve spent a lot of time here. I believe in what these guys do. I believe in how we go about it. Absolutely.”

Seager is calculated to earn a contract for nine years/$272 million. However, his contract could more likely be around 12 years/$340 million, according to Spotrac. That’s a lot of money to pay for a player with an injury history, but Seager has come up big for the Dodgers in their biggest games. Can they afford him? Absolutely. The Dodgers can afford any player they’d like.

We saw them break the bank for Mookie Betts last year by giving him a contract north of $350 million for the next decade. Many expect Seager to switch positions at some point; it’s just a matter of how soon he’s willing to do it. Whether it’s third base or first base, MLB sources don’t expect Seager to be playing shortstop five years from now.

 

Dodgers
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There’s a strong chance that no player will ever wear #74 again for the Dodgers. At 34 years old, Kenley Jansen has at least a couple more years left in the tank after he bounced back in 2021.

Entering the season, it seemed likely that the Dodgers wouldn’t bring back Jansen, as his production seemed to decline. Well, Jansen proved that he still has plenty left in the tank, as he had one of the better seasons of his career in 2021.

Aside from a disastrous three-game stretch in July, Jansen was fantastic for the Dodgers in 2021. He was even better in the postseason, as he tossed seven scoreless innings and had 14 strikeouts.

I think he’s been able to focus on things that are important and that can help you instead of a little bit in the past,” manager Dave Roberts said during the NLCS.The scope gets a little bit more broad, and the noise gets a little bit more loud and invasive.

So now I think that this whole year, especially after that little stumble he had after the break, he’s just really harnessed that focus, and this is as good as I’ve seen Kenley Jansen pitch in my time here with the Dodgers.”

“It’s not in my hands,” Jansen said to the media following the Game 6 loss. “I gotta thank God for the great opportunity I had here as a Dodger. I’m thankful to be here for all these years. This is the only team I know. They believed in me when I was 17 years old as a catcher. And then they made me a pitcher and believed in me as a pitcher. And here I am now. It happened fast. I enjoyed this journey. And I’ll always say, whatever happens, I’ll always be a Dodger.

 

Dodgers
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Max Scherzer was everything the Dodgers could have hoped for and then some, especially in the regular season. The 3-time Cy Young Award winner and Trea Turner were dominant since being traded to the Dodgers at the MLB trade deadline. Scherzer was pitching in a pitcher’s paradise in the NL West, the breeding ground for NL Cy Young Award winners. There’s a reason he told the Washington Nationals his preference was to be traded to the NL West.

I did want to stay in the National League,” Scherzer said to reporters in a zoom call before his Dodgers debut. “I had familiarity over here, and especially for these last two months. Obviously, I wanted to stay in warm weather. It’s a good thing for a pitcher to stay in warm weather. I told the Nationals I wasn’t going dictate what team I wanted to go to, but I would tell them what teams I would accept a trade to.”

Scherzer may have dropped a pretty big hint that he might want to stay with the Dodgers after collecting his 3,000th strikeout. After the game, he said he hoped to be present to see Dodgers teammate Clayton Kershaw collect his 3,000th career strikeout as well.

Hopefully, I’m here and be able to watch his 3,000th strikeout as well,” Scherzer said.

Kershaw, who is also about to be a free agent, is probably looking at another two or three seasons to hit that mark, depending on his health. In other words, if Scherzer wants to be on Kershaw’s team when Kershaw achieves the milestone, Scherzer will have to re-sign with the Dodgers (providing they bring Kershaw back).

There’s no doubt that Scherzer will be in high demand as a free agent this offseason, with at least one other California team apparently interested. However, the Dodgers have the finances to make it work, and they’ll be in contention to keep Mad Max, if not the front-runners.

 

Dodgers
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Chris Taylor had a career year for the Dodgers in 2021. Taylor, an All-Star, won’t steal many headlines this winter, but everyone inside the Dodgers’ clubhouse raves about what the utility man brings to a team.

The 31-year-old made his first All-Star Game appearance this season and was awarded the Dodgers’ coveted Roy Campanella Award, given annually to the player who best exemplifies spirit and leadership, as voted on by all players and uniformed personnel.

Then, Taylor made history in the postseason with a three-homer game in Game 5 of the NLCS. He made close to $8 million in ’21. He’ll get a significant pay raise this offseason.

I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Taylor said. “I’ve loved every minute of being a Dodger. I have no idea what’s going to happen this offseason. I’m thankful that I had the opportunity to play for the Dodgers.”

 

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Clayton Kershaw is scheduled to become a free agent at the end of the season. He has thought about his future but couldn’t say with certainty where he will be playing next year via Bill Plunkett of the Southern California News Group.

Yeah,” the 33-year-old Kershaw said before pausing. “And I can honestly say I have no idea what’s going to happen. I really have no idea. I’m excited to pitch for now. I’m excited to pitch in the playoffs again – which is something I don’t want to take for granted. And then we’ll figure it out from there.”

Kershaw is in the final season of the three-year, $93 million contract extension he signed in November 2018. He previously spoke of his desire to remain with the only organization he’s known but cautioned that he wasn’t sure how matters would unfold.

Before a left forearm injury ended his season on Oct. 1, Kershaw went 10-8 with a 3.55 ERA. The 22 starts were his fewest in a 162-game season since making 21 in 2016.

Though still a very productive Major League starter, there’s no secret that Kershaw isn’t the same pitcher he was during his prime. He also just received a PRP injection on his left forearm, which raises some questions. Nevertheless, Kershaw said he expects to be ready by Spring Training.

The left-hander, however, is arguably the best pitcher in franchise history and is undoubtedly the face of the franchise. Los Angeles will try to find ways to keep Kershaw. But the final decision ultimately comes down to the future Hall of Famer’s desires.

 

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When the Dodgers signed Albert Pujols to a one-year deal in May, there was no guarantee that the signing would work. However, bringing in the 41-year-old future Hall of Famer turned out better than anyone expected. “Tio Albert” had an impact in the clubhouse that was far greater than any moment on the field. He became a leader whose voice was respected and listened to by everyone in the organization.

Pujols gave Dodgers skipper Dave Roberts an excellent option against left-handed pitchers and allowed Max Muncy to get a day off or play another position. His solid showing down the stretch for the Dodgers may have opened some doors for him to play in 2022 if he wishes.

Pujols wouldn’t say if the ’21 season was his last. Much like Kershaw, Pujols wanted to wait until the offseason to decide whether he wanted to play another season or retire as one of the greatest players ever. So he’ll have all winter to decide. If he wants to keep playing on a team-friendly deal, the Dodgers would be an option.

 

The Dodgers have the money to sign who they want and the farm system to make any deal they desire. Their window for World Series titles is far from closed, but Andrew Friedman & Co. need to make tough decisions this offseason. For Dodger Nation and the team itself 2021 was a failure, and they don’t want to be th same case in 2022.

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– Joe Arrigo

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