Image: (Charlie Riedel / Associated Press)
Los Angeles Dodgers
2021 Record: 106-56 (.654 win%, 2nd in Division)
2021 Payroll: $266,020,809 (1st)
Projected 2022 Lineup:
1. RF Mookie Betts, .273 AVG/.369 OBP/.496 SLG, 5.6 fWAR
2. 1B Freddie Freeman, .292 AVG/.388 OBP/.523 SLG, 4.7 fWAR
3. SS Trea Turner, .292 AVG/.351 OBP/.486 SLG, 5.1 fWAR
4. DH Max Muncy, .251 AVG/.373 OBP/.501 SLG, 3.5 fWAR
5. 3B Justin Turner, .274 AVG/.355 OBP/.462 SLG, 2.9 fWAR
6. C Will Smith, .248 AVG/.347 OBP/.494 SLG, 3.6 fWAR
7. LF Chris Taylor, .245 AVG/.331 OBP/.420 SLG, 2.0 fWAR
8. CF Cody Bellinger, .245 AVG/.333 OBP/.478 SLG, 2.6 fWAR
9. 2B Gavin Lux, .260 AVG/.339 OBP/.432 SLG, 1.8 fWAR
Projected 2022 Rotation:
1. Walker Buehler, 198.0 IP/3.72 ERA/1.25 WHIP, 3.0 fWAR
2. Clayton Kershaw, 151.0 IP/3.88 ERA/1.19 WHIP, 2.6 fWAR
3. Julio Urias, 180.0 IP/4.25 ERA/1.24 WHIP, 2.3 fWAR
4. Tony Gonsolin, 130.0 IP/4.85 ERA/1.39 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
5. Andrew Heaney, 129.0 IP/4.54 ERA/1.26 WHIP, 1.2 fWAR
Projected 2022 Top 3 Relievers:
1. Blake Treinen, 70.0 IP/3.77 ERA/1.28 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR
2. Craig Kimbrel, 66.0 IP/3.74 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
3. Brusdar Graterol, 63.0 IP/3.81 ERA/1.30 WHIP, 0.5 fWAR
The Dodgers entered the 2021 offseason with some huge question marks on the roster. With Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor, Kenley Jansen, and others entering free agency, Los Angeles was left with quite a few holes in the lineup, rotation, and bullpen to fill.
The Dodgers were able to return some of these players, bringing back Taylor on a four year, $60 million contract and Kershaw on a one year, $17 million deal, along with re-signing pitchers Jimmy Nelson and Danny Duffy to one year contracts with opt-outs. Los Angeles was unable to retain big name players Scherzer, Seager, and Jansen, who signed with the Mets, Rangers, and Braves, respectively. Thus, the Dodgers had to turn to free agency and trades to replace much of the talent they were losing.
The big splash of the offseason for Los Angeles came just as Spring Training was getting underway. Looking for a huge left-handed bat to fill in for the recently-departed Corey Seager, the Dodgers inked a deal with former MVP Freddie Freeman worth $162 million over six years. Los Angeles also made a number of smaller signings to fill out the rotation and add depth to the offense and bullpen. This includes one year deals with pitchers Andrew Heaney, Tyler Anderson, and Daniel Hudson, as well as infielder Hanser Alberto. They also inked players like outfielder Kevin Pillar and corner infielder Jake Lamb to minor league deals.
About one week prior to Opening Day, Los Angeles made one more notable acquisition, a trade sending outfielder AJ Pollock to the Chicago White Sox for decorated reliever Craig Kimbrel in a one-for-one deal. The Dodgers, who were looking for one more arm to stabilize a bullpen that no longer features long-time closer Kenley Jansen, were willing to part ways with one of the bats in their powerhouse lineup in order to bolster their pitching staff. Among other smaller trades Los Angeles made this past offseason are deals sending outfielder Luke Raley to the Tampa Bay Rays for minor leaguer Tanner Dodson and pinch-hit specialist Matt Beaty to the division rival San Diego Padres for another minor leaguer in River Ryan.
Outside of the Freeman signing and Pollock-Kimbrel trade, the Dodgers took care of their needs quietly in the offseason, filling most of the holes on the roster by either re-signing some of their free agents or picking up cheap veterans on one year deals. The luxury-tax payroll for Los Angeles currently sits at $282 million according to Spotrac, which is second in the league only to the New York Mets. This figure could grow close to $300 million for the Dodgers if they choose to make a big trade deadline acquisition.
2022 Season Preview:
The focal point of this 2022 Los Angeles squad is their star-studded offense. Starting at catcher, Will Smith is one of only two Dodgers in our projected lineup that does not have an All-Star appearance in his career. Despite this, he is coming off of a 2021 campaign that was arguably worthy of one, where he hit .258/.365/.495 with 25 home runs and played above-average defense.
He was so good last season, in fact, that he secured the starting catcher position for at least the next few years, as the Dodgers traded top catching prospect Keibert Ruiz to the Nationals at the deadline. Thus, the only threat to Smith’s job in 2022 will be backup backstop Austin Barnes, who is one of the longest-tenured players on the roster.
The infield will be anchored by newly-acquired first baseman Freddie Freeman. Freeman, who won the National League’s Most Valuable Player award for the Braves in 2020, led the National League in runs scored last season and is currently on a streak of three straight Silver Slugger awards. Freeman, who is 32 years old, is still an elite hitter, as his xwOBA, xBA, and xSLG were all in the 96th percentile or better in 2021. Also spending some time at first base this season is fellow lefty superstar Max Muncy.
Muncy was in the MVP race for the majority of the 2021 season, ultimately finishing tenth in the voting with a 138 OPS+ and 36 dingers. Muncy will spend much of the beginning of the season as Los Angeles’s designated hitter, as he is still recovering from a torn UCL that he suffered during the last game of the 2021 regular season.
Getting the most starts at second base will most likely be the other hitter in the lineup without an All-Star appearance, Gavin Lux. Lux had a resurgent month of September last year, after struggling so much in the beginning portion of the season that he was sent down for a month. Since being the number 2 prospect in all of baseball, Lux has found little success at the major league level but upon being called back up last September, he showed flashes of the player he was expected to be when he shot up prospect ranking lists as a minor leaguer.
Shortstop will be manned by Trea Turner, sliding back to his natural position with the departure of Corey Seager. Turner, who may very well be the best shortstop in the league, won the batting title last season and finished fifth in MVP voting with a .328 average and 195 hits. At 28 years old, Turner may still be getting better, and in 2022 he will be a threat to lead the league in both categories and win an MVP once again.
At third base for Los Angeles is long-time Dodger Justin Turner. Sharing a surname with the previously mentioned shortstop, Turner provides Los Angeles with another solid right-handed bat, as he has quietly recorded an OPS+ above 120 in each of the last eight seasons, and only two All-Star nods to show for it, making him possibly the most underrated hitter in the league. Despite still being great offensively, Turner’s defensive prowess has deteriorated as he’s aged and, because of this, he may serve as the designated hitter for a large chunk of the season.
Infield options off the bench include Edwin Rios, Hanser Alberto, and Zach McKinstry. Rios, who missed almost the entirety of the 2021 season with shoulder surgery, had spectacular pop in limited at-bats in 2019 and 2020, with a slash line of .260/.338/.634 across the two seasons. Rios will likely be the first bat the Dodgers turn to if an injury occurs to someone in the everyday lineup.
Alberto is a new face to the Los Angeles roster after he signed a one year contract with the club this offseason. Being below average at the plate over his entire career, Alberto will serve the Dodgers as a positionally-versatile utility man that can slide in whenever one of the starters needs a day off. McKinstry, another utility guy that can also play outfield, will function in a similar role to Alberto.
Holding down right field for Los Angeles is bonafide superstar Mookie Betts. There isn’t much that needs to be said about Betts’ talents, as his five All-Star appearances, five Gold Gloves, four Silver Sluggers, and 2018 Most Valuable Player Award do much of the talking. However, Betts did have a down year in 2021, playing through some pain and registering a .854 OPS. This was his lowest since 2017, a season in which he still finished sixth in MVP voting.
Betts has been elite defensively in right field just about his entire career, so expect him to make another run at a Gold Glove in 2022, as well as bounce back offensively now that he is healthy and fresh. Next to Betts in center field is another guy who plays some of the best defense in the game at his position. Cody Bellinger is coming off of an abysmal 2021 season. Two years removed from his MVP 2019 campaign, Bellinger registered 45 OPS+ last year, the worst of his career by a very wide margin. There are a variety of things that may be to blame for Bellinger’s struggles in 2021, and those, along with the hopes for his future, will be broken down later in this preview.
It’s easy to be overshadowed and even occasionally forgotten about when playing in the same outfield as Mookie Betts and Cody Bellinger, but Chris Taylor was an All-Star in 2021. Throughout the majority of his career, Taylor has been viewed mainly as a utility player, a guy that can play anywhere and take a side role to the superstars the Dodgers keep rolling out. However, last season he proved that he was much more than that, with a 113 wRC+ and a career-high 63 walks.
With Los Angeles trading away left fielder AJ Pollock this spring, Taylor will be given the biggest workload and highest expectations of his career in 2022, with hopes that he can follow up his solid 2021 season with equal, or even better production. On top of the surplus of talent in the bigs, Los Angeles will likely dig into its once again deep farm system as the year progresses. Infielders Michael Busch, who is MLB’s 67th top prospect and Miguel Vargas, who is ranked 94th on the same list, will both be given chances to make a big impact at the major league level in 2022.
Moving to the rotation, the Opening Day starter for the Dodgers will be Walker Buehler. Buehler finished fourth in National League Cy Young voting in 2021, with a career-low 2.47 ERA. He also set a career high in innings pitched, showing his skills as a workhorse on the mound, and xwOBA and xERA were both in the 87th percentile. Buehler has been a candidate for the Cy Young award for the past few seasons and, barring an injury or collapse, should be in the running for it once again in 2022.
Following Buehler is fellow ace and face of the franchise, Clayton Kershaw. Kershaw had one of the worst years of his career in 2021, posting a 115 ERA+, his lowest since his rookie season. Last year’s numbers honestly weren’t bad for Kershaw. He was still in the top twenty percent of the league in numerous categories, including strikeout rate and walk rate, showing that he has much more left in the tank.
The biggest obstacle to Kershaw’s success of late has been his own body, as he had multiple stints on the injured list in 2021. At this point in his career, one can assume that the future hall of famer will miss some starts just about every season. But, when he is healthy, he is still very much an All-Star level pitcher.
Next in the rotation is the 2021 MLB wins leader, Julio Urias. Urias, in contrast to Kershaw, had the best season of his career last year. His 2.96 ERA, 3,13 FIP, and 1.018 WHIP were all career lows and his hard hit percentage was in the 94th percentile. In addition, despite still being only 25 years old, Urias has lots of major league experience under his belt, including recording the final out in the Dodgers’ 2020 World Series victory. Thus, he is more than ready to shoulder a huge workload for Los Angeles this season as the cemented number three starter in the rotation.
Slotting in at fourth in the Dodgers’ rotation is righty Tony Gonsolin. Gonsolin has quietly had a successful start to his career in Los Angeles. Across his first three seasons in the big leagues from 2019 to 2021, he has a 148 ERA+ and a 9.4 strikeouts per nine. Los Angeles would love if he were able to replicate these numbers in 2022, as he is finally being given the opportunity to be a full-time starter for the club after starting a career-high 13 games in 2021.
Last in the projected Los Angeles rotation is fresh face Andrew Heaney. Heaney was actually a Dodger once before, having been acquired by the club from the Marlins in 2014, then traded to the Angels a few hours later. The Dodgers acquired Heaney again this past offseason, signing him to a one year, $8.5 million deal. He was pretty awful in 2021, with a 5.83 ERA for the Angels and Yankees. Time will tell if the Dodgers can work their magic with Heaney and turn him into a quality pitcher like they’ve done with so many players before him.
After Heaney, the Dodgers seem to lack depth at the Major League level. However, they have multiple minor league pitchers who should be ready to debut in 2022, including Ryan Pepiot, Landon Knack, and 57th ranked prospect Bobby Miller. They also have Dustin May, who should be fully recovered from Tommy John Surgery at some point this season. Another potential starting pitcher for the Dodgers in 2022 is Trevor Bauer, who is currently still under investigation by Major League Baseball for assault allegations. It is unclear if and when he may ever pick up a baseball again.
The bullpen in Los Angeles is very deep, even without all-time Dodgers saves leader Kenley Jansen, who left the team to sign with the Braves this past offseason. The front runner to earn the closing job seems to be Blake Treinen, who had a 1.99 ERA last year and 85 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. In competition with him is newly acquired Craig Kimbrel, who had a remarkable 0.49 ERA with the Cubs before being shipped off to the other side of town and struggling with the White Sox. Los Angeles will hope to bring out the first-half-of-2021 version of Kimbrel and have another lockdown arm out of the pen.
Another new addition to the Dodgers’ bullpen is Daniel Hudson, who is on his second stint with Los Angeles. He, like Kimbrel, was great the first half of last season, then ran into trouble after being traded to a team in the playoff race. Thankfully for the Dodgers, if Kimbrel and Hudson struggle, they have many other arms that can fill in. The most intriguing of these is Brusdar Graterol, the fireballer of the team, who was touted as the Los Angeles’s future closer before he ever made his debut with the team.
Among the rest of the options out of the Dodgers’ bullpen over the course of the season are righties Tommy Kahnle, Jimmy Nelson, Evan Phillips, and Mitch White, and lefties Tyler Anderson, Justin Bruihl, Garrett Cleavinger, Danny Duffy, Caleb Ferguson, Victor Gonzalez, David Price, and Alex Vesia.
With a star-studded roster that boasts a combined 43 All-Star appearances, 4 MVP awards, and 5 Cy Young awards, the Dodgers have a plethora of talent. On top of that, they also possess a top five farm system in the league. This franchise has built its decade-long success on having a contending major league roster supplemented by a deep and loaded minor league system, and this year is no exception.
Record Prediction: 104-58
Just when everyone thought the Dodgers were finally going to lose some key pieces, they brought back their All-Star utilityman and longtime ace, then added an MVP as the cherry on top. On paper, this team should run away with the National League West, but baseball isn’t played on paper. The team that looks to be in the best position to challenge Los Angeles for the division title is the Padres, but the same was said last year, and the Giants had different plans.
Regardless, the Dodgers seemed to come out of the offseason with their roster in a much better shape than the Padres or Giants, and therefore should be in a better position than the two to take the division. They should reach 100 wins in the process as well, from beating up on the Diamondbacks and Rockies all year. However, winning 100 games or the NL West isn’t the goal for this Los Angeles team.
Manager Dave Roberts declared in an interview earlier this spring that his guys will take home the Commissioner’s Trophy this November, and most projections agree with him. This is the expectation for this insanely talented squad. It seems like we say this every year, but the Dodgers should win the World Series, and anything short of that will be a massive disappointment.
Player to Watch #1: Walker Buehler
For the first time since 2010, Clayton Kershaw will start the season fully healthy, and not be the Opening Day starter. Despite Kershaw still being the face of the franchise and an incredible pitcher, manager Dave Roberts elected to give the honor to fellow ace, Walker Buehler.
Upon a successful rookie campaign in 2018, in which he recorded a 2.62 ERA, 0.961 WHIP, and 3.04 FIP, Buehler was quickly dubbed the successor to Kershaw, and the face of the future of the Dodgers’ rotation. To some extent, he has lived up to the hype, registering a 143 ERA+ from 2019-2021, a span that also included two seasons of over 200 strikeouts and two All-Star appearances.
However, Walker Buehler is not Clayton Kershaw. And yes, giving any player the expectation that they should be like Clayton Kershaw is completely unfair. But, Buehler has the tools to dominate in the same fashion that his first ballot hall of fame teammate did. The way in which he does so won’t be the same, though, as Buehler leans more on velocity than Kershaw ever did.
His arsenal is driven by a fastball that routinely reaches the high 90’s, with which he can blow by hitters if needed. Buehler also, similarly to Kershaw, relies on a slider and curve, both of which having around a 35% whiff rate in 2021. Nonetheless, he is already one of the top pitchers in the majors and has the stuff to take it to the next level. It seems like every spring nowadays we’re saying this to ourselves, but this may finally be the season in which Walker Buehler wins a Cy Young Award.
Player to Watch #2: Michael Busch
My first pick here was going to be Dustin May, but given that he will be rehabbing from Tommy John surgery for a good chunk of the season, and when he does come back, he will almost surely be on a strict innings limit or exclusively used out of the bullpen, it would make more sense to predict his big season in 2023. The next choice was Gavin Lux, but we already profiled him in our 2022 Unheralded Player Predictions article.
Thus, let’s dig into the farm system and go with 2019 first round pick, Michael Busch. As a left-handed bat with pop and defensive experience at both first and second base, it’s easy to understand why so many scouts have been calling Busch the second coming of Max Muncy. Busch, who is currently slotted as the 67th ranked prospect in all of baseball, is coming off of a solid 2021 campaign for AA Tulsa in which he slugged to the tune of an .870 OPS, hitting 20 home runs.
Busch, who is on track to make his major league debut this upcoming season, likely won’t get the call to the majors until well into the summer. However, when the Dodgers do bring him up, he will be expected to make an impact right away. If Busch can produce in a manner similar to the teammate he seems to always be compared to, then Los Angeles will have yet another guy that can plant baseballs in McCovey Cove.
Player to Watch #3: Cody Bellinger
Everyone knows Mookie Betts is going to be amazing in 2022. The same can be said about Freddie Freeman. Ditto to Trea Turner as well. Thus, let’s spotlight a guy who was just about as bad as you can be last year. After a solid first four years in the league, in which he accumulated a .273/.364/.547 slashline, Cody Bellinger had a very unusual 2021 season. I mean, when was the last time a guy hitting .165 played in almost 100 games for a team that won 106 of them? Maybe never.
Bellinger’s 2021 OPS was a whopping 493 points lower than his 1.035 mark that won him a National League Most Valuable Player Award just two years prior. The Biggest culprit? Injuries. Mainly, a fractured rib, a fractured leg, a tight hamstring, and surgery on a right shoulder that he dislocated whilst celebrating an NLCS-winning home run in 2020. It’s clear that Bellinger was playing through a lot of pain in 2021 and it hindered his performance severely, altering his swing and slowing his bat speed to a point where he would often struggle just to make contact.
Despite this, Bellinger provided the Dodgers with arguably their biggest hit of the season, a go-ahead single against the division rival Giants in the ninth inning of game five of the NLDS. Did this one hit make up for the awful year that preceded it? Depends on who you ask.
Nevertheless, Bellinger came into Spring Training this year healthier than he has been in a long time, ready to fix his swing. If he can produce anywhere close to his 2019 MVP form, or even his 2017 Rookie of the Year form, this scary Dodgers lineup is going to get even scarier.
Categories: 2022 Season Preview