Playing Pepper 2022: Los Angeles Dodgers

It was a winter extended by the cold realities of a lockout, but the 2022 baseball season is rapidly approaching.  Given the vagaries of the scheduling and how rapidly everything has to happen, it would be easy to let some traditions go by the wayside.  Not in this space!  Playing Pepper returns for its 14th season with the assistant of some great bloggers and podcasters who rose to the challenge of the time crunch.  There’s a lot of things to sort out so let’s stretch, get ready and play some Pepper!  If you want to keep up with the Dodgers during the season, I’ve created a Twitter list using the recommendations of our contributors and some other options as well.  You can follow that here!

Los Angeles Dodgers
106-56, second in the AL West, lost in the NLCS
Website | Twitter
Last year’s Pepper
Top pitcher by bWAR: Walker Buehler (6.7)
Top hitter by bWAR: Max Muncy (4.9)

Not only was 106 wins not enough to win the division, forcing the Dodgers into a wild card game that was like walking a tightrope over a canyon (but let’s not revisit that, shall we?), but the team that edged them out for the divisional title was their storied rivals.  A deep playoff run might have eased that burden but it seems likely LA has something to prove this season.  Let’s turn to our bloggers to find out how likely it is they’ll do it!

Contributor Site Twitter
Scott Andes LA Dodger Report LAdodgerreport
Michael Wittman Call To The Pen Wittman7
Stacie Wheeler Dodgers Digest StacieMWheeler

C70: Not including lockout issues, tell me about Los Angeles’s offseason. What did you like about it, what didn’t you like about it, was there something you were hoping for that didn’t happen?

Scott: Obviously the best part of the offseason was the re-signing of franchise legend Clayton Kershaw and the big acquisition of MVP Freddie Freeman. We heard rumors of the Dodgers involvement in the Freeman market right after the World Series. I didn’t think there was a legitimate chance until he went unsigned and then the lockout happened. Things heated up when baseball returned. The addition of Freeman makes the Dodger’s lineup one of the best and deepest in baseball. Its bizarre and wonderful to see Freeman in Dodger blue and how cool is it to see Braves fans annoyed.

There was real worry that Kershaw was going to retire or sign with the Rangers to play close to his Dallas home and that may happen soon. But at least we can enjoy him for another year. He’s still a great pitcher, maybe not the best in the sport anymore but remains in the top 15. No words can describe how much Kershaw means to the organization and the city of Los Angeles.

The rest of the offseason was spent building depth with fringe players and secondary arms. The Dodgers reacquired reliever Daniel Hudson to help with the late inning Corp, inked the constantly injured and disappointing Andrew Heany, and added back-end starter Tyler Anderson. The Dodgers lost Max Scherzer to the Mets, Corey Seager on a monster deal to Texas, and sadly Kenley Jansen. The longtime closer signed with the Braves. Boy those games against the Braves should be interesting right? Otherwise the rest of the club is the same as last year. Pouty face middle reliever Joe Kelly departed for Chicago south side.

Michael: The Dodgers offseason was a slow one that finished with a bang. It started with signing Andrew Heaney then the lockout hit and after the lockout ended came the big signing of Freddie Freeman. The one thing I did like was that the Dodgers did add rotation depth. Andrew Heaney and Tyler Anderson were signed to one year deals which should help bridge the gap to when Dustin May can return from Tommy John or until other prospects such as Ryan Pepiot or Landon Knack are ready to contribute.

I really liked adding Freddie Freeman given that the Dodgers just lost Corey Seager, their best left-handed bat. With Max Muncy coming off an injury to his elbow ligament in his non-throwing arm, Freeman adds insurance in case the Dodgers don’t get the same type of production out of Muncy. I didn’t like the signing of Andrew Heaney. I guess the Dodgers see some untapped potential but he has looked awful this spring.

The one thing I was hoping was that there would be some type of resolution on Trevor Bauer. He is currently on leave until April 16th but that’s a big domino waiting to fall for the Dodgers. If he faces a long suspension, then that frees money up for the Dodgers who are just under the third and most punitive luxury tax threshold. If Bauer gets a 20-40 game suspension the Dodgers will likely let him return and he will help bolster the rotation.

Stacie: The lockout felt like it dragged on forever. After an agreement was finally settled upon, the flurry of free agent activity by Andrew Friedman was fun. The Dodgers reunited with their ace, Clayton Kershaw, on a one-year $17 million dollar deal. They also made a blockbuster signing with Freddie Freeman, locking him up for six years in Dodger Blue. Then Friedman stunned with a late spring trade to shore up the backend of the Dodgers bullpen with veteran closer Craig Kimbrel.

I hoped the Dodgers would bring back long-tenured Dodger Kenley Jansen. I can also accept that it was time for him to move on to another chapter in his career. The Dodgers didn’t wait long to fill the closer job in the bullpen. They made a surprise trade with the Chicago White Sox on April 1 to bring active saves leader Kimbrel to L.A. Overall, the Dodgers’ offseason was a successful one. They somehow made a behemoth of a team even bigger.

C70: Is this a transition year, with David Price, Justin Turner (maybe), Max Muncy, and Trea Turner, among others, being free agents at the end of the season?

Scott: It could be. I would expect the Dodgers to retain most of those players though. Muncy, and JT should return. Not sure about Price, or Trea. This isn’t Tampa Bay, the Dodgers have the money and the resources to bring back the majority of their core players. I don’t expect a teardown or rebuild for the richest club in MLB. (Thankfully)

Michael: The Dodgers are about to hit a transition stage. Justin Turner has a club option for 2023 and Trea Turner is a pending free agent. Add in the fact that Cody Bellinger is struggling mightily and due at least 16M in arbitration next year. If Bellinger struggles again he might be out of LA after 2022 as well.

The Dodgers do have a wave of prospects set to arrive soon in Miguel Vargas (3B/IF), Andy Pages (OF), Michael Busch (2B/IF), and eventually Diego Cartaya (C). With only Freddie Freeman and Mookie Betts locked on guaranteed deals past 2023, the Dodgers will have big decisions to make and there will be lots of turnover on the roster. 2022 surely feels like a transition year in bridging the current roster to the next form with more young talent.

Stacie: The Dodgers will have several contract decisions to make for the 2023 season. Five Dodgers currently have options for the 2023 season: club options for Max Muncy, Justin Turner, Blake Treinen, and Hudson and a player option for Trevor Bauer.

Justin Turner has a $16 million team option and $2 million buyout option. It’ll be a tough decision for the team considering Turner’s been a leader on the field and in the clubhouse the past eight seasons. 2023 will be his age-38 season, one in which the shift may or may not be banned. Yet with the implementation of the Universal DH this year, Turner will benefit from time off his feet at the hot corner. This rest may boost his productivity at the plate. Last season Turner was named an All-Star for the second time and ranked in the top five in wRC+ (125), WAR (4.0), OBP (.361) among NL third baseman with at least 100 plate appearances.

Trea Turner and the Dodgers agreed to a $21 million salary for his final arbitration year. The smooth sliding infielder was acquired in a trade with the Nationals at the deadline. After this season, Turner will become a free agent unless the Dodgers sign him to a contract extension. The shortstop has said that he’s open to negotiating. After Corey Seager’s departure to Texas, the Dodgers can’t let Turner go elsewhere too. President Andrew Friedman has actively shown that he’ll sign elite talent to a long-term deal, but Trea’s future in LA beyond 2022 is still undetermined.

Max Muncy is still not 100% after a serious elbow injury that kept him out of the playoffs last season. The Dodgers hold a $13.5 million club option for 2023 with a $1.5 million buyout.

In conclusion, I don’t see the Dodgers parting with JT. I also think they’ll push hard on extending Trea and bringing back Muncy. Muncy, when healthy, is an integral part of manager Dave Roberts’ lineup. He’s been pushed out the first base role by Freeman, but Muncy can still play second base and DH.

C70: Walker Buehler seems to just keep getting better. Is there any reason to think that won’t continue this season?

Scott: Nope, not really. He’s excellent. He’s a number one starter on just about any team in MLB. I expect him to have another great year.

Michael: Walker Buehler has taken the torch from Clayton Kershaw and is set to start opening day this year. The one thing to watch with Buehler is is fastball velocity. In 2019 and 2020, Buehler averaged over 96.5 MPH on his fastball. In 2021 he averaged 95.3 MPH on his heater. While this might not seem like a big difference, Buehler’s fastball was more hittable in 2021 as he allowed a .202 average compared to a miniscule .102 average in 2020.

Add in the fact that Buehler was used on short rest in the playoffs and seemed worn out in his final outing and it’ll be interesting to see if his heavy workload in 2021 will have any lingering effects in 2022. He should still be a top 5 Cy Young finalist if he has the good fastball in 2022.

Stacie: Walker Buehler is the 2022 Dodgers’ Opening Day starter. The well-deserved nod, announced by Roberts at Camelback Ranch, is the first of his career. The 27-year-old right-hander has earned the”ace” label. Buehler has established himself as one of the most dominant and reliable pitchers in the league. He went 16-4 with a 2.47 ERA, 3.14 FIP and 0.968 WHIP over a career-high 207 ⅔ innings pitched in 2021. He also made all of his scheduled starts (33) for the first time in his career. In the postseason, Buehler made four starts, two of them coming on three days’ rest. He’s been a workhorse for the Dodgers. There’s no reason to think that he won’t continue to get even better this upcoming season.

C70: Which prospect are you most excited for and when should they make their major league debut?

Scott: There are a couple, although none of them are organizational stars the way Seager, Bellinger and Urias were. Ryan Pepiot is a tall lanky right handed pitcher with a nasty changeup that could see a promotion to the big club at some point this season. The Dodgers are really high on him and he has some serious upside. Another young talent is infielder Michael Busch. He’s blocked by all the core guys (Muncy, Trea, JT, Freeman, Taylor). Top catching prospect Diego Cartaya is blocked by Will Smith too, but everyone is excited to see him sometime soon as well. Andre Jackson is a long haired starter that appeared last season and Andy Pages is a hitter knocking on the door.

Michael: The prospect I am most excited for is catcher Diego Cartaya but he is only 20 years old so he likely won’t debut until 2024. The prospect I am watching for this season is Ryan Pepiot. He is one of the Dodgers’ top pitching prospects and he has a mid 90’s fastball to go with an excellent changeup. He has a slider that he’s working on which is supposed to be the only thing holding him back. Given that Kershaw hasn’t pitched a full season injury free in a couple years the Dodgers could call Pepiot up around mid-season if not sooner should injuries arise. He could be the injection of talent and youth that sparks the rotation down the stretch and into the postseason.

Stacie: I’ve been most excited about Diego Cartaya’s journey to the majors. The Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect briefly played with the Single-A Rancho Cucamonga Quakes last season where he smashed 10 homers and drove in 31 runs in 31 games, good for a .298 batting average and a 1.023 OPS.
We’ve got to take a longer look at the 20-year old catcher at spring training where he continues to create a lot of hype. His back injury, along with the cancellation of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, limited Cartaya to 80 minor-league games after signing with the Dodgers in 2018 for $2.5 million out of Venezuela. Most agree he has the talent to become an All-Star level catcher even though we’ve only seen him play sparingly. Cartaya will probably start the season in Low-A, but I bet he moves up quickly.

As far as a player who may make his MLB debut soon, I’m excited for right-hander Bobby Miller. Again, we have a small sample size for Miller. He has pitched just 56 ⅓ innings since the Dodgers drafted him out of Louisville in 2020 in the first round. The hard-throwing Miller may not need much seasoning in the minors. The 22-year-old has a fastball that can reach triple-digits, a great slider, an effective changeup and a developing curveball. It’s a long shot that he’ll make the Opening Day roster, but I see him making his MLB debut with the Dodgers this season. Miller will start on Tuesday for the Dodgers against the Angels in the Freeway Series.

C70: How do you see 2022 shaking out for this team? What’s your expectation of where they finish?

Scott: They have competition this year with the Giants, Braves and Brewers. However this club is supremely talented. They have a stacked lineup and I see them winning 95-100 and being World Series contenders again. The hitting will be fantastic but the pitching is a bit thin. Now without Kenley they don’t have a defined closer. But dominant Blake Treinen should handle most of the 9th inning duties. They also have effective hurlers like Alex Vesia, Phil Bickford, and fireballer Brusdar Grateful. Lefty Victor Gonzales is a hidden weapon and guys like Price and Tony Gonsolin can provide bulk innings.

The main problem is the lack of rotation depth. Dustin May should be coming back from Tommy John surgery mid-season but once again Kershaw, Buehler and Urias are going to have to shoulder the brunt of the innings this year. I think they’ll try and pick up some pitching at the trade deadline. Perhaps they can move Gavin Lux or one of their prospects for another arm? Otherwise they don’t have many holes and look just as formidable as they did last season. Hopefully the World Series trophy returns to Dodger Stadium.

Michael: I don’t like sounding boastful but really this Dodger lineup is loaded and the team should be able to win the NL West fairly easily and win over 100 games. Should everything work out injury wise and in the back of the rotation I think the Dodgers could win 110 games in 2022. This is another World Series or bust season for the boys in blue.

Stacie: I expect the Dodgers to remain one of the top teams in baseball. Los Angeles will have some stiff competition in the division again vs. San Diego, but they will finish the season well ahead of the Padres. I will project a 101-61 record for the Dodgers in 2022 as they recapture the NL West title. 

C70: Besides yourself and the team account, give me up to three good Dodgers Twitter accounts to follow.

Scott: There are a lot of good Dodger Twitter follows. Check out these guys like my sister Stacie who writes for Dodgers Digest @staciewheeler. @callingthegame is a hilarious follow that holds nothing back when tweeting about the Dodgers. @ericstephen is another good follow who writes for True Blue LA. He’s very smart and always at the stadium. @chadmoriyama is at times laugh out loud funny, but his feed is not for the faint of heart.

Michael: @EricStephen – Part of the great staff at True Blue LA and he will give you a funny pun or two along with the latest on the Dodgers. @FabianArdaya – He is the Dodgers writer for the Athletic and always on top of things as well as his take on all things Dodgers for the Athletic.

Stacie: @ericstephen for the amazing Dodgers coverage and the puns
@grantbrisbee (not a Dodgers account) for the Dodgers-Giants games he’s the best (and worst)
@billplunkettocr for the reliable Dodgers coverage

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