The Los Angeles Dodgers are the defending World Series champion and boast one of the top-ranked farm systems in the league.
Their mix of established veteran stars and intriguing prospects with the potential to shine sets them up perfectly to continue contending for titles over the nest several seasons.
Championship windows are a perilous thing, though. There are so many variables that occur within a chaotic season, and standing pat with even the most proven roster brings with it risks.
A good front office can balance optimizing winning in the present while still setting themselves up nicely for success down the road.
It’s a difficult task, and different people will have different limits on the extent future assets should be swapped to bolster championship aspirations in the present.
The good news for the Dodgers is that they’re no longer searching for that elusive championship formula after the 2020 season.
They figured out the equation, and it’s a position of luxury to know that the current batch of players throughout this lineup is capable of winning another championship.
It’s no longer a tantalizing hypothetical. The empirical evidence has shown that this roster is superior to the rest of the league—not just on paper, but now in practice.
The question heading forward for this front office is just how much to tinker with this already demonstrated championship blueprint.
There’s a case to be made on both sides. On the one hand, why mess with something that the rest of the league is still frantically trying to figure out how to catch?
There’s a chance that a bold transaction can derail this progress, and maybe it’s better to stick with the status quo when there’s not much indication that as presently constructed, the Dodgers aren’t favorites to repeat as champions in 2021.
On the other hand, it’s not like this past season ever seemed like a foregone conclusion that the Dodgers would end as champions.
They were still taken to seven games in the NLCS, and if Kevin Cash hadn’t pulled Blake Snell early in game 6, there’s a good chance that series would have gone to seven games as well.
Yes, the Dodgers are top-to-bottom the best team in baseball right now, but there might not be that large of a margin for error in the pursuit of a repeat championship.
The Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts last offseason in exchange for prospects, and in hindsight, that move certainly looks like the final piece in solving this championship puzzle.
The Betts experiment has been unequivocally successful thus far, and perhaps adding another veteran star would continue helping this team propel to stratospheric levels.
A key factor to keep in mind is that they were eventually able to sign Betts to that lucrative extension, so this wasn’t a typical case of mortgaging future assets for a one-year rental.
Betts is under contract to be with the Dodgers until 2032, so this wasn’t just a short-term commitment, but a long-term one.
It’s much more comforting for the team to be able to pull the trigger on a deal involving intriguing prospects if they have strong confidence in being able to secure the returning package for the foreseeable future.
There’s a big difference between rolling the dice on a rental player while losing key pieces of the future big league roster and essentially trading long-term potential for long-term proven commodities.
The Betts situation has shown that when it comes to trading multiple prospects for a truly impactful big league star, there’s no question you pull the trigger, especially if you’re confident in the ability to retain that star long-term.
There’s still merits to rolling the dice on the short-term rental, but the Dodgers are in the advantageous position of not needing another piece to put them over the top.
There’s not much of a need for them to go after a short-term rental, because they’re still favorites to repeat as champions as currently constructed.
There’s no need to give up prospects who can help aid in team progression in upcoming seasons for a quick jolt to a lineup not requiring any added jolt.
However, if there’s a star player to be acquired with multiple years remaining on their current contract or a strong sense that the Dodgers front office would be able to come to an agreement later on in the form of a contract extension, they need to make that trade happen.
Prospects present the theoretical possibility of future success. Adding a proven commodity today helps ensure even stronger championship contention today than already exists.
One of the looming variables hanging over any decision the Dodgers make regarding the acquisition of another hitter is the universal DH.
The NL isn’t going to be using one for the 2021 season, but the current CBA expires after that season, and it may be here starting in 2022.
It’s a huge potential development because teams will be prepared to construct a lineup with an extra hitter that normally wouldn’t fit in the starting lineup.
For example, if the Dodgers were to look into acquiring someone like Francisco Lindor from the Cleveland Indians, they wouldn’t have to worry about how to get both him and fellow shortstop Corey Seager into the lineup every game.
There’d be no concern about positional fit or converting someone to a position not natural to them to get that offense into the lineup.
It’d be a remarkably powerful tool for NL front offices to work with. They could shape their rosters and bold acquisitions could happen that normally wouldn’t because of that previous lack of defensive fit.
In the context of all this, the Dodgers have a very important decision to make at third base this offseason that could have powerful ramifications going forward.
Justin Turner is a free agent this offseason, and while he’s been a huge part of the Dodgers’ success these last handful of seasons, he just turned 36.
There’s a chance that the Dodgers would want to go younger at the position, and that’s where some interesting trade options emerge.
Even if the NL were to not eventually implement the DH, Seager could shift over to third as Turner’s replacement if Lindor joined the Dodgers.
There are some obstacles each of those three trade targets presents that could force the Dodgers into either re-signing Turner or looking internally for his replacement.
Bryant is entering the final season of team control with the Chicago Cubs, so there’s no guarantee that he’d be with the Dodgers for the long term.
Yes, they were able to sign Betts to the extension, but every player is different, and they’d have to gauge his level of interest in a long-term commitment when it would take losing significant prospects to acquire him.
Arenado has a no-trade clause that he would have to waive with the Colorado Rockies, and he also has an opt-out clause that he could initiate next offseason.
Again, the assessed likelihood of player decisions regarding their free agency futures would play a huge role in whether these trades happen.
Regarding Arenado, it’s also unclear whether the Rockies would be willing to trade a transcendent talent like Arenado to a division rival.
The Dodgers have shown in the past that they’re willing to explore options to improve the team without dwelling too much on positional fits.
The DH would make positional clashes like this moot, but even without it, the versatility of this lineup allows for adaptations to be implemented.
Lindor is also set to be a free agent next offseason, so his acquisition could present similar issues that the Bryant and Arenado ones could as well.
If they were to let Turner walk in free agency, there’s also the possibility that they could elevate Edwin Rios to start at third base, who had a 149 OPS+ for them in 83 plate appearances last season.
The Dodgers have a lot of possible routes to explore this offseason, and there’s a strong case to be made for each one being the wisest.
However, the Betts situation shows what type of success can follow if the front office can convince one of these stars to commit to the Dodgers long-term.
If a team has a foreboding sense that they’re about to lose a franchise player for nothing when that guy hits free agency, it forces their hand to make a trade.
At least getting a return of intriguing prospects is better than falling victim to either stubbornness or misplaced assurance in their ability to retain that star player.
If the Dodgers are confident in their ability to sign one of those potential star player trade targets long-term, they need to make the trade happen.
Parting with prospects is difficult, but nobody is regretting the Betts trade while basking in the championship glow of this past October.
Championships today are worth hypothetical success later, and adding either Lindor, Arenado, or Bryant to this current lineup is well worth the risk.
If any of these three shows a willingness to be like Betts and re-sign long term with the Dodgers, it’s even less of a debate. Offer a prospect package to any of these teams that are simply too enticing to give up while that team also grapples with the possibility of losing that player for nothing next offseason.
Sell that star player on the long-term viability and fun of being with this Dodgers organization, and it ensures that an already potent offense remains even more potent going forward.