The first wave of the Dodgers’ offseason is complete.
And as they march into winter, they have any number of possible roads lying ahead.
Through the opening weeks of free agency, the team has largely shed payroll.
With the expiring contracts of Trea Turner, Craig Kimbrel, David Price and other free agents — not including pitcher Clayton Kershaw, who is expected to finalize a one-year contract next week to return to the team in 2023 — the Dodgers already had about $70 million coming off the books.
After declining Justin Turner’s club option and, on Friday, non-tendering former National League MVP center fielder Cody Bellinger, the team has freed up about another $30 million more for next year’s payroll.
The question now: What will the Dodgers do with their nine figures of financial flexibility? And how aggressive will they be in spending this newfound $100 million to build their 2023 roster?
As the offseason rolls on, here are four things to watch.
Will Dodgers pursue Aaron Judge?
The more money the Dodgers have cleared from the books, the more their name has been attached to the biggest targets on the free-agent market.
There have been rumors linking them with Aaron Judge, the American League MVP outfielder expected to fetch the biggest contract of any player this offseason.
They’ve been mentioned in reports with Cy Young-caliber arms such as Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom, who could fill a need in their starting rotation.
Trea Turner, Carlos Correa and several other highly touted shortstops remain available, as well.
And at this point, there is seemingly no one out of the Dodgers’ seemingly ever-expanding price range.
So, will the team make a renewed run at another superstar addition?
President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman didn’t say for sure during a video call with reporters Friday.
“I think every offseason, you have choices to make in terms of consolidating resources into one player or spreading it around,” Friedman said. “Some offseasons we go in having very few needs, some we have more. And right now we’ve got a number of spots to address. Again, some of them we can do internally. But it’s just balancing that.”
Reset the luxury tax?
The other thing the Dodgers could do with their freed-up payroll: save it, and attempt to reset their luxury tax payroll after paying penalties each of the past two seasons.
Next season, MLB’s luxury tax threshold will be $233 million.
According to Fangraphs’ Roster Resource database, the Dodgers estimated luxury tax payroll is at $168.7 million (although that doesn’t include Kershaw’s undisclosed, soon-to-be-finalized deal).
It presents the opportunity of a luxury tax reset — especially because teams’ tax bills multiply each year they surpass the threshold.
Friedman was non-committal when asked Friday if the Dodgers were considering trying to stay beneath the luxury tax threshold.
“Payroll decisions factor into every decision that every team makes,” he said. “If you look back over the last seven, eight years, it’s probably factored in less for us than it has for the other 29 teams. But it’s still a factor. There are still things that we have to balance and juggle and try to put ourselves in the best position to have the best team possible.”
According to Justin Turner, however, the topic has already factored into his recent negotiations with the team.
“It’s a business and they have some decisions to make,” Turner told AM570 in a radio interview Thursday. “As far as, there’s all this crap about luxury tax and payroll and paying a gagillion dollars in taxes because the payroll has been high the last few years. I think they’re trying to figure out what they need to do, and prioritize what is best for them.”
Justin Turner and Cody Bellinger coming back?
Though the Dodgers allowed Justin Turner and Bellinger to become free agents, they’re still holding out hope of bringing both players back in 2023.
Turner, who had his $16 million club option declined last week, told AM570 he remains “in good standing with the Dodgers” but also noted that “it’s also a business, and things happen and decisions are made, that sometimes are out of our control, so we’ll see what happens.”
Bellinger, who likely would have made more than $18 million through arbitration had he been tendered a contract, will now be in the same boat, and is expected to draw plenty of interest from other teams willing to take a flier on a former MVP.
“We feel like with our staff and resources that, getting him to work this offseason, we have a real chance of working with him to help get him back on track,” Friedman said. “But he gets to go out and make the best decision for him and his family and we’ll see where that ends up.”
What are the Dodgers’ roster holes?
The Dodgers don’t necessarily need superstars, or familiar faces, to fill all of their current 2023 roster holes.
They could look into cheaper starting pitching options and try to replicate the success they had last season with Tyler Anderson and Andrew Heaney (who also remains a free agent and could be re-signed).
They could turn to former first-round pick Gavin Lux at shortstop, and fill out the rest of their infield with a mixture of younger players (such as Miguel Vargas and Michael Busch) and low-cost veterans.
Their newly created opening in center field could be addressed the same way. Trayce Thompson, Chris Taylor and James Outman all serve as in-house options. External names such as Kevin Kiermaier, the former Tampa Bay Ray who broke into the big leagues while Friedman was that club’s GM, could also make sense.
“We’re gonna spend the next few months vetting all of our various options and trying to be as aggressive as we can be,” Friedman said. “Balancing that with trying to give some opportunity to some of the talented young pitching we have, some of the talented young position players we have.”
The only thing clear for now: Just about every door possible is open for the Dodgers this winter.
They’ve stripped off about as much fat from last year’s roster as they could. Now, it’s time to see what recipe they’ll use to concoct their 2023 team.
“I’m confident we’ll have a real good team on the field and we’ll be in position to contend for a championship,” Friedman said. “Exactly what that looks like, I don’t think we’ve ever really had clarity on what that’s going to look like on Nov. 18.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.