LOS ANGELES — As of 6 a.m. PT on Thursday morning, third baseman Justin Turner and closer Kenley Jansen headline nine Dodgers who are now free agents, with the official start of baseball’s offseason.
Turner and Jansen are joined in free agency by starting pitchers Rich Hill and Brett Anderson, relievers Joe Blanton, J.P. Howell and Jesse Chavez, outfielder Josh Reddick and second baseman Chase Utley. They were nine of 139 major league players who became free agents on Thursday.
The Dodgers’ free agent group could grow this week, with a pair of option decisions to make. The ball is in Scott Kazmir’s court with his right to opt out of the final two years and $32 million of his contract, and the Dodgers hold the cards with a club option on catcher Carlos Ruiz that will pay him $4.5 million in 2017 if exercised or a $500,000 buyout if declined.
Qualifying offers — a one-year, $17.2 million contract for 2017 — must be made to free agents by 2 p.m. PT on Monday, with players having one week to accept or decline. Should a player sign elsewhere after declining the qualifying offer, the Dodgers would receive a compensatory draft pick in between the first and second rounds next June.
Players who switched teams during the season are not eligible to receive qualifying offers so among Dodgers, Hill, Reddick and Chavez won’t be receiving one. In reality, Turner and Jansen are locks for qualifying offers, and the only other to even consider would be Kazmir if he opts out. But more on that later this week.
Turner hit .275/.339/.493 and set career highs in several offensive categories in 2016, including home runs (27), doubles (34) and walks (48). One of the most coveted bats on the market, Turner is also a Gold Glove finalist at third base in the National League. He turns 32 in November.
Jansen, who turned 29 in September, saved 47 games with a 1.83 ERA in 71 games in 2016, with 104 strikeouts against only 11 walks. He has a 2.20 ERA and 1.93 FIP in parts of seven big league seasons, and a Dodgers-record 189 saves.
"Kenley's had a tremendous career as a Dodger that we hope will continue. He set the Dodgers save record this year,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said last week. “He's been a big part of our past success, and we hope he's a part of our future success.”
Hill was acquired with Reddick from the A’s for three pitching prospects on Aug. 1, and was arguably the best arm traded this season. When he was on the mound he was excellent, putting up a 1.83 ERA in six regular season starts and a 3.46 ERA in three postseason starts, including one on short rest in the NLDS and six shutout innings in Game 3 of the NLCS against the Cubs.
Hill, who turns 37 in March, was 12-5 with a 2.12 ERA in 20 starts in the regular season, with 129 strikeouts and 33 walks in 110⅓ innings.
Reddick followed a terrible August with a productive September, totaling .258/.307/.355 with the Dodgers. On the season, Reddick hit .281/.345/.405 with 10 home runs in 115 games between Oakland and Los Angeles. He turns 30 in February.
Utley had a solid bounce-back season at age 37, hitting .252/.319/.396 in mostly a platoon role at second base. He is absolutely beloved in the clubhouse, which could weigh heavily in favor of a return in 2017, but is it enough to offset his .236/.292/.381 line over the final four months of the season?
"[His clubhouse presence is] something we value greatly,” Friedman said. “The respect that we have for him on the field and off the field remains unchanged."
Howell, who turns 34 in April, has been a stalwart in the Dodgers bullpen, pitching between 64-68 games for each of the last four seasons. In 2016, Howell put up a 4.09 ERA and 3.50 FIP, with lefties hitting .302/.343/.417 against him, and was left off the playoff roster.
Blanton had a second very good season in the bullpen after a year away from baseball and a decade of starting before that. The right-hander posted a 2.48 ERA and 3.33 FIP in 75 games, with 80 strikeouts and 26 walks in 80 innings, riding his slider to success. Blanton also hung a slider to Miguel Montero for a grand slam in Game 2 of the NLCS, one of three home runs allowed by Blanton in the series. Blanton turns 36 in December.
Anderson, who turns 29 in February, set career highs in starts and innings with the Dodgers in 2015, then accepted the qualifying offer last winter, returning for $15.8 million on a one-year deal. His 2016 was torpedoed in spring training with a second back surgery in three years. The left-hander made just three starts and one relief appearance for the Dodgers in 2016, allowing 15 runs on 25 hits in 11⅓ innings.
Chavez, now 33, was acquired from Toronto on Aug. 1, and put up a 4.21 ERA and 3.97 FIP in 23 relief appearances with Los Angeles. Between the Blue Jays and Dodgers, Chavez had a 4.43 ERA and 4.49 FIP in 62 games, with 63 strikeouts and 18 walks in 67 innings.
There is a quiet period of five days during which free agents can’t sign with new teams, though they are free to negotiate with any teams. After 9 p.m. on Monday night, any free agent may sign with any team.
With these nine players now on the open market, the Dodgers now have 38 players on the 40-man roster.