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While the MLB offseason provides great theater, the Dodgers remain on the sideline

Viewing the hot stove from outside the kitchen

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Minnesota Twins v New York Yankees - Game One Photo by Brace Hemmelgarn/Minnesota Twins/Getty Images

With the Dodgers essentially sitting out the high end of the free agent market this offseason, the bulk of the hot stove season has only been a viewing experience, much like watching Red Zone on Sundays, getting snippets here and there without necessarily caring about any particular team.

The viewing experience became incredible theater on Tuesday night, when Carlos Correa opted instead to sign with the Mets. Correa already had an agreement with the Giants, with a press conference scheduled for earlier Tuesday to introduce their new $350-million shortstop on a 13-year contract. An issue arose with his physical, giving the Giants pause, which opened the door for agent Scott Boras to pursue other suitors. Owner Steve Cohen came calling, ready with a reported $315-million deal over 12 years agreed to just before midnight. Jon Heyman at the New York Post and Jeff Passan at ESPN have the details on what went down.

This is delicious on several levels.

First, it’s a reminder that a deal isn’t done until it’s done. There’s a reason teams are reticent to officially even talk about a move until it’s finalized, and why free agent pacts are reported as agreements, usually pending a physical. Much like two accountants can have differing and, um, creative interpretations of a balance sheet, physicals can mean different things to different doctors or teams, depending on what they’re looking for, and/or risk aversion. Giants president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi even released a statement on Wednesday confirming that “there was a difference of opinion, over the results of Carlos’ physical examination.” That simply opened the door for the Mets to swoop in on the Giants’ parade, the timing of which was broken down by Ken Rosenthal at The Athletic and Susan Slusser at the San Francisco Chronicle.

Correa was always going to get booed at Dodger Stadium, for his role on the sign-stealing Astros and being a high-profile face defending them afterward. That only figured to ramp up when he joined the Giants, adding that rivalry to the fire. But now, Correa figures to be booed when he visits both Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Giants had a disastrous few weeks. They were far along on megadeals with arguably the top two free agents this offseason, only to lose Arson Aaron Judge then see their actual agreement with Correa go up in flames. On the same morning Judge was getting reintroduced in The Bronx while being named captain of the Yankees, and the baseball world was reacting to the Mets’ latest splurge, the Giants are left with a free agent tree mostly picked clean by now. Perusing a trio of free agent rankings to start the offseason — ESPN, FanGraphs, MLB Trade Rumors — only six players remain who were ranked in the top 30 of any of those lists:

  • Hitters: Jean Segura (FanGraphs No. 25), Jurickson Profar (ESPN No. 27), Michael Conforto (FanGraphs No. 30)
  • Pitchers: Nathan Eovaldi (all three lists, between 15-23), Taylor Rogers (FanGraphs No. 19, MLB Trade Rumors No. 24), Corey Kluber (FanGraphs No. 29)

There are still dozens of free agents to be had, but the high-impact players have already signed.

But I’m not sure Dodgers fans should spend too much time pointing and laughing at the Giants’ plight, considering Los Angeles is shopping in the bargain bin this winter. Bringing back franchise icon Clayton Kershaw was a no-brainer, with his $20 million contract nearly matching the expenditure for the total of the other three one-year deals they’ve signed. Though considering the J.D. Martinez deal hasn’t yet been finalized, perhaps we shouldn’t count that just yet, just to be safe.

The Dodgers do have several young players who will be mixed in more prominently than in years past. As a general concept, this is a good path, and one necessary to sustainability — a word that sounds fancy and business-y, like “synergy,” but it usually just means the team doesn’t want to spend as much.

What that means at this moment is a Dodgers roster with limited depth, need for improvements, and one beloved Los Angeles fixture headed elsewhere. There’s still time to make those needed additions, though the available pool of players is shrinking.

We can talk all we want about how the Dodgers are trying to reset their competitive balance tax rates so that, in the 2023-24 offseason they can go all in for Shohei Ohtani. That to me seems like an incredibly narrow destination, with the process to get there fraught with any number of things that can go awry.

Even the front end of that plan is on shaky ground, because if Trevor Bauer has his suspension reduced upon appeal — assuming that decision comes down from MLB’s arbiter this offseason — the Dodgers will almost certainly end up paying competitive balance tax anyway, for a third year in a row, with no tax reset.

What’s more likely is that the Dodgers simply want to dial back on spending this year, and it’s not necessarily part of some grand plan.