Major League Baseball’s offseason is officially here, the morning after the World Series ended. A huge chunk of the Dodgers core, including the three longest-tenured players in the organization, are now free agents. Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, and Max Scherzer highlight the 11 who gained their professional freedom as of 6 a.m. PT on Wednesday.
Other Dodgers who became free agents are Albert Pujols, Corey Knebel, Jimmy Nelson, Steven Souza Jr., Danny Duffy, and Cole Hamels. Technically the first five days of free agency are considered MLB’s “quiet period,” during which free agents can only sign with their former team.
Free agents are allowed to talk and negotiate with any team during the quiet period, but can’t actually sign with a new team until 2 p.m. PT on Sunday.
Sunday at 2 p.m. is also the deadline for teams to make qualifying offers to free agents, which this year is an $18.4 million deal for 2022.
MLB-wide, 160 players became free agents on Wednesday. The Dodgers’ 11 free agents are tied with the Mets and A’s for the most by any team.
Seager seems like the most likely of the group to cash in, still in his prime at age 27, and perched near the top of the position player market along with fellow shortstop Carlos Correa of the Astros. Seager hit .306/.394/.521 with 16 home runs and 22 doubles in 95 games in 2021, a season in which he missed 10 weeks with a broken hand. He had a 147 wRC+ this year, and is a career 132 wRC+ hitter.
“It’s unknown. You’re saying goodbyes without really knowing. You do the normal stuff, wish everybody a happy offseason, remember it, remember how it feels, prepare for next year, stuff like that, but then you’re uncertain about where you’ll be,” Seager told reporters in Atlanta after the Dodgers’ season-ending NLCS loss. “I grew up here. I spent a lot of time here. I believe in what these guys do. I believe in how we go about it.”
Kershaw has been the franchise, with as decorated a career as any player in his 14 years pitching for the Dodgers. There’s also uncertainty surrounding the left-hander, and not just because he turns 34 in March. Kershaw missed over two months with elbow and forearm soreness, the same malady that knocked him out for the postseason during the final weekend of the regular season.
Test results showed no ligament damage, so Kershaw won’t need surgery this offseason, planning instead for an injection of platelet-rich plasma and plenty of rest. After aggravating his elbow injury on October 1, Kershaw insisted free agency wasn’t yet on his radar.
Dodgers 2021-22 free agents
|Steven Souza Jr.||OF||33|
“My future is going to take care of itself. I’m not really worried about that right now. I really wanted to be with this group going into October,” Kershaw said. “I haven’t wrapped my head around it, and I don’t plan to anytime soon.”
“What he’s meant to this organization, to this city,” Andrew Friedman said on October 27. “Taking off my president of baseball operations hat, there’s something nostalgic and great about Kersh playing with one team, and being able to win another championship, and having a parade. That being said, he’s put himself in this position to be able to go out and do whatever makes the most sense for his family, and we will support that.”
The only player with the Dodgers longer than Kershaw is Jansen, who was signed as a catcher out of Curacao in November 2004. Jansen is the Dodgers’ all-time leader in saves (350), third only to Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera and Trevor Hoffman with a single team in MLB history. Jansen also paces the Dodgers in games pitched (701), relief strikeouts (1,022), just the 12th major league pitcher to strike out 1,000 batters in relief.
Jansen also had a resurgent season on the mound, with a 2.22 ERA and 3.08 FIP in 69 innings. Walks were a problem, with his worst walk rate since 2010, but he improved dramatically as the season wore on, with a 16.3-percent walk rate through July 31 down to 7.5 percent over the final two months of the year.
After three straight blown saves in July, it looked like Jansen might end the season out of the closer role, as was the case in both 2019 and 2020. But instead, the right-hander was dominant down the stretch with a 1.26 ERA, 2.37 FIP, and 35.8-percent strikeout rate since the beginning of August. In the postseason Jansen was even better, pitching seven scoreless innings while striking out 14 of 25 batters faced.
Taylor hasn’t been a Dodger as long as Kershaw, Jansen, or Seager, but he has been invaluable as a regular over the last five years. Taylor made his first All-Star team in 2021, hitting .254/.344/.438, a 113 wRC+ with 20 home runs. He was the Dodgers’ best hitter in the postseason this year, hitting .351/.419/.784, including a walk-off home run in the National League wild card game and a three-homer game in Game 5 of the NLCS.
The Dodgers had trouble accounting for the loss of Enrique Hernandez’s multi-positional excellence in 2021. Losing Taylor, who started at six different positions this season and who leads the Dodgers in games played over the last five years, all with a 116 wRC+ and 14.1 fWAR that ranks 20th in the NL during that stretch, would be even more costly.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen. All I can say is I’ve loved every minute of being a Dodger. I have no idea what’s going to happen this offseason,” Taylor said on October 23. “I’m so thankful that I had the opportunity to play for the Dodgers.”
Scherzer remains a premium free agent even heading into his age-37 season, coming off a season that is sure to garner consideration for a Cy Young, an award he’s already won three times.
Acquired by the Dodgers along with Trea Turner on July 30, Scherzer was fantastic down the stretch, going 7-0 with a 1.96 ERA and 1.98 FIP in 11 starts, followed by a 2.16 ERA and 3.05 FIP in 16⅔ postseason innings. But he wasn’t the same after closing out Game 5 of the NLDS in San Francisco on two days rest.
That pushed his first NLCS start back a day to Game 2, a game he left in the fifth inning with a dead arm. His scheduled Game 6 start against the Braves was also pushed back, with Scherzer calling his malady “muscle fatigue.”
Pujols was another in-season addition by the Dodgers, signed on May 17 after he was released by the Angels. Pujols settled into the first part-time role of his 21-year, future Hall-of-Fame career. The 41-year-old hit .254/.299/.460 in 85 games with the Dodgers, but he served the dual roles of lefty masher — .303/.347/.606, 149 wRC+ and 10 home runs against southpaws — and preeminent hugger after home runs.
“I think Albert can do whatever he wants to do, and if he wants to play next year he’s certainly going to be a really good contributor to whatever ball club,” manager Dave Roberts said during the NLCS. “You learn not to bet against Hall of Fame ballplayers because they understand what it takes to have success and they understand how their bodies, or skillset might have changed or diminished a little bit because of age — which happens to everyone — but how to still be productive. He’s a winning baseball player and he’s been huge for us.”
Knebel and Nelson are both former Brewers who were key cogs in the Dodgers bullpen this season, though both were limited by injuries. Nelson led the Dodgers in ERA (1.89), FIP (1.89), and strikeout rate (37.9 percent), but saw his season end in early August, needing both Tommy John surgery and flexor tendon repair, which is expected to cost him most of the 2022 season as well. Knebel missed 92 games with a right lat strain from April to August, but posted a 2.45 ERA and 2.90 FIP in 25⅔ innings during the regular season, then pitched in seven postseason games and struck out 11 of 23 batters faced.
Souza joined the Dodgers on a minor league contract in April, and was designated for assignment after both major league stints with Los Angeles, going 5-for-33 (.152/.222/.333) during the regular season. The 32-year-old rejoined the Dodgers for a third time in October, playing in 10 of 12 postseason games, going 1-for-8 with a walk.
The Dodgers acquired Duffy at the trade deadline in July, then signed Hamels as a free agent in August, hoping to get a pitching boost in some role from both down the stretch. But both were hurt, Duffy with a left flexor strain and Hamels with a shoulder injury, ending their Dodgers tenure before pitching in a game.
These 11 free agents leave the Dodgers with 40 players on their 40-man roster heading into the offseason. The roster includes Trevor Bauer, who is on administrative leave under MLB’s domestic violence, sexual assault, and child abuse policy, but with no more season there is no more restricted list.