Los Angeles Dodgers
2020 Record: 43-17
First Place, NL West
Team ERA: 3.02 (1st)
Team OPS: .821 (2nd)
What Went Right
A popular talking point, as the 2020 campaign finally got underway in late July, was whether this year’s World Series champion would need to be viewed in a different (lesser?) light than past winners. It was the asterisk discussion, brought on by all of the edits that had to be made to the schedule and the rulebook as MLB embarked on a season amid a global pandemic. Shoutout to the Dodgers for basically rendering that discussion moot in the end. They compiled the best regular-season record in baseball, had by far the best run differential of any team at +136, and then took down the Brewers, Padres, Braves, and Rays in the expanded playoffs en route to the franchise’s first title since 1988. We’ll call it the baseball equivalent of running the table; Los Angeles left no doubt. Mookie Betts, acquired from the Red Sox in February and signed to a 12-year, $365 million contract extension in July, rolled to a second-place finish in the NL MVP balloting while claiming his fourth Silver Slugger Award and fifth Gold Glove. Clayton Kershaw regained a couple ticks of fastball velocity and put up a dominant 2.16 ERA, 0.84 WHIP, and 62/8 K/BB ratio in 58 1/3 regular-season innings before going 2-0 in his two Fall Classic starts. Corey Seager finished second on the team in WAR, behind only Betts, and claimed MVP honors in both the NLCS and the World Series. Julio Urias stayed healthy throughout the summer and then registered a 1.17 ERA in 23 postseason frames, working as both a starter and reliever. Walker Buehler battled a lingering blister on his right hand throughout September but delivered a 1.29 ERA with 31 strikeouts over 21 innings in October. Oft-injured outfielder A.J. Pollock appeared in 55 of a possible 60 regular-season games and slugged 16 home runs. Chris Taylor frequently shifted between five different positions and still produced an .842 OPS. The list of tremendous individual and team achievements goes on and on and on.
What Went Wrong
It’s a shame to have to bring this up again, but Justin Turner’s behavior during the World Series celebration in Arlington, Texas was categorically wrong. He got pulled off the field and put in quarantine before the eighth inning of the Game 6 clincher when word came down that he had tested positive for COVID-19. But the veteran third baseman then suddenly reemerged from the clubhouse after the final out, pushed past MLB security, and dropped his mask to participate in multiple team and family photo ops. Since then, at least nine other members of the Dodgers organization, and at least one family member, have tested positive. No formal discipline is coming -- MLB ultimately accepted some blame for how the situation played out -- but it left an unnecessary stain on the Dodgers’ great accomplishment. On the baseball side of things, there wasn’t a whole lot to gripe about. Kenley Jansen proved untrustworthy toward the end of the World Series run, but the bullpen -- filled with young power arms -- managed to overcome. David Price, acquired in the Mookie Betts trade, opted out of the season in early July over concerns about COVID-19 and is due $32 million ($16 million of which will be covered by the Red Sox) for his age-35 campaign in 2021. Gavin Lux seemed poised to take over as the everyday second baseman this year in Los Angeles, but he mostly lingered at the alternate training site and batted just .175/.246/.349 in 69 plate appearances during the time he did spend on the major league roster. Joc Pederson hit .190/.285/.397 in 43 games, making him a non-consideration for the qualifying offer as he entered free agency in November.
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** Cody Bellinger curiously decided to make a swing change sometime between spring training 1.0 and spring training 2.0, and it led to a poor start that he never quite fully recovered from. After claiming NL MVP honors in 2019 with a .305/.406/.629 batting line, 47 home runs, 115 RBI, and 121 runs scored, the 25-year-old wound up hitting just .239/.333/.455 over 243 plate appearances in 2020. He was the fourth overall pick in the average Yahoo draft this spring and summer, ahead of teammate Mookie Betts, and failed to offer a proper return on that level of investment. Betts should move up draft boards in 2021, while Bellinger could fall down near the top or middle of the second round.
** Another potential draft-day tumbler for 2021 is Max Muncy, who was a top-75 pick in most standard 2020 fantasy leagues. He garnered down-ballot NL MVP votes in 2018 and 2019 while averaging a .927 OPS with 41 home runs and 104 RBI for every 162 games played before underwhelming to the tune of a .192/.331/.389 slash line in 58 games this summer. Combined with his less-than-stellar defensive play between first base, second base, and third base, the 30-year-old Muncy came short of registering even a half-point of WAR.
** Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May finished fourth and fifth, respectively, in the 2020 National League Rookie of the Year balloting, setting the stage for a stiff competition over the final spot in the Dodgers’ season-opening starting rotation in 2021. Gonsolin actually led all Dodgers pitchers this in WAR, but May is younger and could be perceived to have the brighter future of the two. They’ll both play important roles next year no matter what, but there’s obviously a big difference in fantasy value between a rotation role and one in long relief.
** Be prepared for the full-on breakout of 25-year-old catcher Will Smith. Had this been a normal season, we might have already seen it. Smith, a first-round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of Louisville, has posted a .937 OPS with 23 home runs and 67 RBI in 91 games since making his major league debut in May 2019. He might still share some playing time with Austin Barnes -- the Dodgers like to keep their players fresh, and they have the depth to pull it off -- but Smith should push for 115-plus starts next season and could quickly become a top-three option at baseball’s shallowest position.
** For the most part, the Dodgers have to be pleased with the big five-year, $80 million contract they handed to closer Kenley Jansen back in January 2017. But as he enters the final year of that deal, it’s fair to wonder what the future holds for the ninth-inning role in Los Angeles. 22-year-old right-hander Brusdar Graterol looks to be a worthy successor, and 24-year-old left-hander Victor Gonzalez has put himself in position for a prominent high-leverage gig. Dodgers manager Dave Roberts may do more mixing and matching with save opportunities next year.
Team Needs: That’s a long list of free agents above, but the Dodgers figure to re-sign Turner and won’t really miss the others. The depth chart is stacked, and there’s more high-impact talent coming through the minor league ranks. They’ll be preseason World Series favorites in 2021 without making a single move.