One of the best things that Friedman & Co. did this season was ensure that the Dodgers roster was not only full of top tier talent, but also made sure that there was a even balance of both young stars and veteran leaders. For every Julio Urias there was a Clayton Kershaw. For every Corey Seager there was a Chase Utley. For every Trayce Thompson there was an Andre Ethier. But now that the 2016 season is officially over many of those important veterans have officially hit the free agent market.
The list of experienced leaders in the clubhouse that may not be returning is somewhat shocking. This list includes Justin Turner, Rich Hill, Josh Reddick, Joe Blanton, Kenley Jansen, JP Howell, and Carlos Ruiz. These players were not only highly productive players on the field, they were also leaders in the clubhouse. Replacing them will not be as simple as finding someone with comparable numbers on the stat sheet. In fact, many would argue (including myself) that the leadership role that these players embraced was even more important than the statistics they put up.
Just look at the last few teams to win the World Series. More specifically, look at the Dodgers Bay Area rivals, the San Francisco Giants. Few people, if any, would say that they were the most talented team in the playoffs each of the three seasons that they won it all. In fact, there is a good argument to be made that they were the least talented overall of any team in the playoffs in any of the three years. That didn’t seem to matter though. Instead, the Giants embraced the role and the veteran players like Hunter Pence unified the team, leading them all the way to the ultimate goal.
So… what does this mean for the Dodgers looking forward? To me it means one of two things. Either the few remaining veterans will need to step up even more than they are now or the Dodgers need to go out and sign a few veterans. The former is unlikely as the players like Adrian Gonzales and Clayton Kershaw only have so much in them and few would doubt that they are already giving it everything they have. That leaves the latter as the most likely route the Dodgers will take.
Now, these types of signings won’t be the sexiest by any means. These are not the 9-figure salary type of deals that make headlines in January or February. But do not be mistaken, these types of signings are the ones that win you championships and make headlines in October.
Looking at the current free agent market, a couple names jump out at me as players who could fill this role. First and foremost I think that re-signing Chase Utley should be a priority. The Dodgers do have a second baseman in Howie Kendrick but he has turned into more of a utility player since coming to Los Angeles and another second baseman will be needed when he is in the outfield. Not only do the Dodgers need a 2nd baseman next season, Utley proved to be a true leader and role model for Corey Seager who still has a lot to learn. That alone would be worth the money even if he ended up not being all that productive at the plate.
However, if the Dodgers decide that they want to go with someone younger, there is another option. After signing with the Mets last season, Neil Walker proved to be a leader in the clubhouse for a team who needed it desperately after watching Michael Cuddyer retire and David Wright go down with injuries. At only 31-years-old, Walker would represent rather significant upgrade offensively while still bringing the experience necessary to help boost the Dodgers to a championship.
The last player that sticks out to me as someone who could make a big difference next season is former A’s and current Indians outfielder Coco Crisp. At 37-years-old, Crisp is definitely nearing the end of his career. However, Crisp had a respectable .261/.329/406 slash line in his five seasons with Oakland and has helped contribute to a team who is only one win away from taking it all this season. The Indians do still have a $13 million option that they could exercise on Crisp but that seems unlikely as he would probably demand much less than that on the open market.
There is always the possibility that the Dodgers will make a move via the trade market to fill these veteran voids but this is much less likely as they would have to part with young talent in the process. Look for the Dodgers to utilize the free agent market to bring in role players and leaders in order to make a run at bringing home the first Dodgers championship since 1988.