The scent of fermented grapes wafted through a corridor outside the Dodgers clubhouse as Saturday night approached Sunday morning. The odor emanated from Cubs General Manager Jed Hoyer, who was soaked to the bone with champagne as he approached Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ president of baseball operations.
Friedman shook free from a small group of reporters to congratulate Hoyer. Hoyer climbed the stairs to the visiting manager’s office to embrace Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts, a former colleague in San Diego. Friedman returned to the task of picking up the pieces of his team’s exit in the National League Championship Series.
“It’s going to take some time to get over this,” Friedman said. “I think the experience from this postseason will serve our guys really well going forward. It hurts to say that, but that’s the silver lining in it.”
The calendar does not allow much time to grieve. As the Cubs celebrated their first World Series berth since 1945, the mood in the Dodgers clubhouse swung between pride in their accomplishments and disappointment in their early exit.
Later this week, the organization’s medical staff will exam the injured back of ace Clayton Kershaw, and determine whether he requires additional treatment. Five days after the World Series between the Cubs and the Cleveland Indians ends, the Dodgers will extend $17.2-million qualifying offers to closer Kenley Jansen and third baseman Justin Turner. Seven days after that, Jansen and Turner will reject those offers to enter free agency, kicking off an off-season in which the Dodgers will attempt to once more reshape a roster so it can snap a World Series drought of 28 years.
The front office does not believe this group requires significant revisions. The Dodgers overcame a historic slew of injuries, putting 28 different players on the disabled list, to win the National League West and finish two victories shy of the World Series. In his first season at the helm, Roberts established himself as a savvy tactician and a favorite to win the National League manager-of-the-year award. The culture no longer features the toxicity of previous years.
“The part that’s most disappointing is what a special group this is, and just the resiliency they showed all year. To have it end this way is tough,” Friedman said. “But I do think that there are a lot of positives to be drawn out of it. It’s hard to, right at this moment, but I’m sure we’ll be able to do that in the coming weeks, as we step up our off-season planning.”
The Dodgers will likely bolster their starting rotation, explore trade options for outfielders such as Yasiel Puig and hunt the market for relievers. But the two critical decisions will involve the free agency of Turner and Jansen. Despite an enviable amount of depth, the organization does not have obvious replacements for either player.
Jansen is expected to surpass the four-year, $50-million contract Jonathan Papelbon received from Philadelphia after the 2011 season. Jansen will jockey with Cubs closer Aroldis Chapman for a new record contract for a reliever. The Dodgers are expected to negotiate with both players, and could pursue Washington closer Mark Melancon as a more affordable alternative.
The market for third basemen features fewer obvious options. Turner could fetch a contract that lasts four to five seasons and costs more than $15 million per season, according to rival executives. The Dodgers can afford those prices, but it is unclear if they will commit to Turner, who turns 32 in November and underwent microfracture surgery on his knee last winter.
“I’m not thinking about what’s going to happen in the future,” Turner said. “Just taking my time with these guys to enjoy these moments.”
Turner operated as the lone reliable right-handed batter in the lineup in 2016. The team will seek to improve that aspect of the offense, and could reopen trade discussions with Milwaukee about slugger Ryan Braun.
As the front office ponders solutions for the roster, the franchise will also monitor the health of its cornerstone, Kershaw, who missed 10 weeks during the season because of a herniated disk. Upon his return in September, Kershaw declined to provide details on his condition, citing his disinclination to create excuses. But Friedman insisted that most pitchers would not have returned from Kershaw’s injury.
“Thank God for Kersh,” Jansen said. “To me, what he did, he could have easily not been in there with his back. He sacrificed himself, and kept working hard. Knowing that’s not a 100% Kersh, he still battled.”
As he rehabilitated during the summer, Kershaw and the trainers revamped his between-starts routine so he would place less stress on his body. Friedman felt confident that those discussions will aid Kershaw going forward.
“I think a lot of that already took place,” Friedman said. “He said it when he came back, that he’s going to continue to evolve and be mindful of the things that make sense for him in terms of putting himself in the best position to take the ball every fifth day. I wouldn’t bet against him on anything.”
The Dodgers exited Wrigley Field with frustration at their performance, having punted away the final three games of a series they led after Game 3, yet confident about their future. There is plenty to manage in the coming weeks. But Friedman struck an optimistic tone as he prepared to turn the page away from 2016.
“In the postgame embraces, there was a lot of talk about how we’ll be back next year,” Friedman said. “I think that’s motivation for all of us.”