Resign or Release with the Dodgers' Free Agents: Part 1
With the World Series now complete, teams around the league have begun looking towards free agency. The Dodgers have nine free agents, many of which are expected to leave Los Angeles. Here is a breakdown of whether or not Andrew Friedman and company should resign each player currently out of contract.
CL Kenley Jansen
Jansen is easily a top five closer in baseball who will be one of the most sought after free agents this winter. The 29 year old has a career ERA of 2.20 after transitioning to the mound from catcher earlier in his career. Despite blowing six saves in 2016, Jansen was still able to record an elite 1.83 ERA, 47 saves, 3.2 WAR, and an eye popping 13.63 strikeouts per nine. In the postseason he was just as dominant, surrendering a run in only one of his seven appearances. He was able to pitch multiple innings regularly for the first time in his career, easily shutting down the Cubs and Nationals.
Due to his excellent performance levels over the past five years and the demand in the market for high end relievers, Jansen will receive what could be the largest contract in MLB history for a reliever. The Dodgers would be smart to lock down their star closer to a deal in the vicinity of 4 years/$80 million. Aroldis Chapman and Mark Melancon are also free agents giving the Dodgers two alternative options in the event Jansen leaves, but with LA’s spending power signing Jansen should be the minimum of the team’s activity with the group of free agent closers.
3B Justin Turner
Justin Turner has been a changed man ever since signing in Los Angeles prior to the 2014 season. The Long Beach Native has become one of the best two way third basemen in the National League, racking up an impressive 5.6 WAR in 2016. Turner’s 124 weighted runs created plus ranked eighth in the majors while his defensive value of 16, according to Fangraphs, ranked first in MLB. Turner will be hitting free agency at 32 years old with micro fracture knee surgery in his recent past, but his tremendous performance at the plate and in the field easily puts him among the top five in the 2016 free agent class.
There will be a demand for Turner from multiple teams including the Giants, but the Dodgers need to ensure he stays in Los Angeles. Replacing Turner’s production at the hot corner without another quality option on the free agent market would be incredibly difficult. Plus, his presence as a clubhouse leader was invaluable to the team’s excellent performance without Clayton Kershaw. Due to his age, Turner will most likely not get a monster deal, but a contract similar to Jansen’s in the 4 year/$80-85 million range will probably be enough. Handing out two contracts with a $20 million annual value may be new for Friedman, but Turner’s presence in the lineup, in the clubhouse, and in the field is simply too much for the front office to overlook.
SP Rich Hill
Hill is the Dodgers’ third most important free agent, but his market this offseason could be the most interesting to watch. The starting pitching market is notoriously weak this winter making Hill arguably the best in his class, but his age and injury history make him hardly a lock for a massive contract. The Dodgers need a solid number two behind Kershaw in the rotation and Hill could fill that role were he to return to Los Angeles. However, Friedman does not necessarily need to open the checkbook in order to fill that spot.
Julio Urias had a strong first season with an ERA under three after his initial rough start and he could be ready to slide in to the top of the rotation. In addition, the Dodgers could use their top three farm system to acquire an ace via trade. Chris Sale, Jose Quintana, Sonny Gray, Chris Archer, and others should all be available this winter at one price or another. If the Dodgers decide they do not want to hand out another pricey free agent contract, they could easily stick with their current options or use their farm system to acquire someone via trade. As a result, resigning Hill is far from a slam dunk. The best move for the Dodgers may be to evaluate the market and their internal options before making a decision on Hill in the latter stages of free agency (if he does not sign elsewhere before then).
RP Joe Blanton
Despite Blanton’s awful performance in the NLCS, the right hander was the team’s second best reliever throughout the season. Signed to a one year/$4 million deal last offseason to be the long relief man out of the ‘pen, Blanton exceeded expectations and then some. The right hander recorded a 2.48 ERA in an impressive 80 innings pitched over 75 appearances. The Dodgers’ bullpen had been terrible the past few years before Jansen, but Blanton’s presence as a reliable setup man completely changed the complexion of the bullpen and was vital in making the relief core one of the best in baseball.
Entering what will be his age 36 season, Blanton does not carry huge value. That being said, his tremendous 2016 season should earn him a contract in the range of two years/$12-15 million. The Dodgers certainly loved the right hander as he was the team’s most heavily utilized reliever, but Friedman does not like to pay bullpen guys top dollar. Resigning Blanton becomes even less of a possibility with rumors circulating that the Dodgers intend to pursue Chapman as well as Jansen. Rather than relying on Blanton as the team’s setup man in 2017, Friedman may have bigger ambitions to combine Chapman and Jansen in the back end of the bullpen. Paying a middle reliever $6-8 million annually simply would not be logical nor characteristic of the Dodgers’ front office. Therefore, Blanton should probably begin looking outside of Los Angeles for his next job.