MLB Offseason in Review: Catching Up with the Dodgers and Angels for 2021
By D.Higgins, MLB Correspondent
It’s that time of year again, baseball fans, where we hear those four beautiful words that officially signal the arrival of spring: “Pitchers and catchers report.” Yes, spring training camps in Arizona and Florida are open, and Major League Baseball is set to return for the 2021 season.
Let’s check in on the offseason moves for our local teams, and preview the 2021 season.
The 2020 World Champion Los Angeles Dodgers (did I ever mention they are the World Champions?!) spent much of the offseason quietly celebrating and saying goodbye to several free agents. But just before spring training camp opened, they made a February splash by signing ace Trevor Bauer and bringing back third baseman and clubhouse leader Justin Turner.
All winter long, Turner and the Dodgers were at a stalemate, with Turner reportedly seeking a 4-year deal and the Dodgers not willing to go that long for the 36-year-old. Teams like the Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays were rumored to have shown interest, but Turner finally signed a two-year, $34 million contract to stay in L.A. (with a $16M club option for 2023).
With just days left in the offseason, Turner decided to stay home, where he has steadily played the hot corner and provided a clutch veteran bat since 2014. At a press conference on February 19 Turner shared his relief, saying, “At the end of the day it all worked out like it was supposed to, and I’m back in Dodger blue like I was supposed to be.” He figures to continue to slot into the #3 spot in the lineup and play steady defense.
The lack of clarity on the universal DH throughout MLB was casting doubts on Turner staying with the Dodgers in the National League, but in the end, they decided his veteran leadership was too valuable. His .886 OPS as a Dodger puts him in the franchise’s all-time top 10, next to Hall of Famers like Mike Piazza and Duke Snider. Turner is also a clutch postseason player–he ranks first in Dodgers postseason history in hits (79), home runs (12), runs (40), and RBI (41).
Before bringing back Turner, the Dodgers said goodbye to several key pieces. Most notably, utility man Kiké Hernandez signed with the Red Sox, and outfielder Joc Pederson moved on to Chicago to play for the Cubs. Relievers Pedro Baez (Astros), Alex Wood and Jake McGee (both now on the Giants) also departed.
Speaking of “goodbye,” the Dodgers also mourned the loss of two Hall of Famers — manager Tommy Lasorda and pitcher Don Sutton. The team will wear #2 and #20 patches to honor both legends throughout the 2021 season.
Despite those notable losses, the Dodgers are still one of the best teams in baseball and didn’t need to re-tool the roster too much. While the San Diego Padres vastly improved by adding starting pitching galore (trading for two aces in Yu Darvish and Blake Snell), the Dodgers locked up reigning Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer to a unique short-term deal that makes him the highest paid player in baseball. Despite several often-controversial tweets and social media blunders, the polarizing Bauer remained the top pitcher on the market. The Dodgers came out ahead, beating out the New York Mets at the last minute by giving the L.A. native a deal for three years and $102 million, which includes opt-outs after each of the first two seasons.
By adding Bauer, along with the return of veteran David Price (acquired in last year’s trade with Boston that brought in Mookie Betts), the Dodgers have a rotation that is at least seven-deep in quality arms, probably lining up in this way in 2021:
- Clayton Kershaw
- Walker Buehler
- Trevor Bauer
- David Price
- Julio Urias/Dustin May/Tony Gonsolin
Because of their depth, at least two of Urias, May, and Gonsolin will move to the bullpen, which allowed the Dodgers to trade two veteran relievers in Adam Kolarek and Dylan Floro for minor league depth on February 12.
In addition to the excess starters, the bullpen should line up with mostly familiar faces:
- Kenley Jansen
- Joe Kelly
- Blake Treinen
- Brusdar Graterol
- Corey Knebel*
- Scott Alexander (LHP)
- Victor Gonzalez (LHP)
*Acquired via trade from MIL on 12/2/20
On the position player side, the Dodgers return a strong core led by Mookie Betts, Corey Seager, and Cody Bellinger (who is coming off winter shoulder surgery). While their depth took a hit by losing Pederson and Hernandez, the starting lineup remains about the same as their Championship team from 2020:
- Mookie Betts – RF
- Corey Seager – SS
- Justin Turner – 3B
- Max Muncy – 1B
- Cody Bellinger – CF
- Will Smith – C
- AJ Pollock – LF
- Gavin Lux – 2B
Bench pieces and platoon players include Edwin Rios, Chris Taylor, Austin Barnes, Matt Beaty, and Zach McKinstry (who hopes to take the role as the new super-utility player following the departure of Hernandez).
The future looks bright for the Dodgers, too, as top prospects like Keibert Ruiz (C), Josiah Gray (RHP), and Mitch White (RHP), join DJ Peters (OF), and the recently acquired Sheldon Neuse (IF) waiting in the wings.
It’s a two-team race in the division as the Giants and Diamondbacks are still rebuilding and the Rockies are basically tanking after trading star 3B Nolan Arenado to the Cardinals. Despite a strong offseason from the Padres, manager Dave Roberts and the Dodgers should find themselves winning the NL West for the 9th consecutive season in 2021 and competing for back-to-back championships.
After another disappointing season, the Angels had an opportunity to take advantage of a weakened AL West, where the trashcan-banging Houston Astros are lessened by the departures of George Springer and Josh Reddick, as well as several key bullpen arms. Furthermore, ace Justin Verlander will be out the entire season due to Tommy John surgery. The Oakland A’s lost both Marcus Semien and former Angel Tommy LaStella to free agency, as well as star closer Liam Hendricks. The Rangers and Mariners did not make any notable moves to improve and will likely struggle to be .500 ball clubs.
So how did the Angels and new general manager Perry Minasian respond? Well, by mostly standing still.
They never appeared to really be in the Trevor Bauer sweepstakes, and they also do not have the prospect depth to make a trade for the starting pitching they still desperately need (if you’ve heard this before, it’s because this has been the problem for the Angels for several years, now).
The Angels added veteran starters Jose Quintana and Alex Cobb to join Andrew Heaney and last year’s standout Dylan Bundy. Still, the Angels lack a front-line starter, and they may have to constantly try and out-slug their opponents in order to help the pitching staff. Angels starting pitchers combined to post the second-worst ERA in the Majors in 2020.
The 2021 rotation will likely line up this way:
- Andrew Heaney
- Dylan Bundy
- Jose Quintana
- Griffin Canning
- Alex Cobb
- Shohei Ohtani
Ohtani, the sensational two-way player from Japan, may be limited on the mound, again, as injuries caused him to throw just 1.2 innings in 2020. The Angels may not be expecting much from Ohtani, but they could go to a 6-man rotation if he is healthy.
The Angels strengthened their bullpen by trading with Cincinnati for closer Raisel Iglesias, as well as picking up Junior Guerra and Alex Claudio in free agency.
They are hoping that these key additions will help stabilize a bullpen that blew an MLB-worst 14 saves in the shortened 2020 season.
The 2021 Angels bullpen looks to feature:
- Raisel Iglesias
- Felix Peña
- Jaime Barria
- Mike Mayers
- Ty Buttrey
- Junior Guerra
- Alex Claudio (LHP)
On the other side, the Angels return a very powerful lineup, led by two of the top players in baseball: Mike Trout and Anthony Rendon.
Albert Pujols will likely play the final season of his Hall-of-Fame career, and the last season of his massive 10-year/$240 million deal with the Angels. However, they have lost Gold Glove shortstop Andrelton Simmons to the Minnesota Twins in free agency and their depth and farm system remains thin.
Replacing Simmons is veteran SS Jose Iglesias, acquired in a trade with Baltimore in December. The 31-year-old hit an eye-popping .373/.400/.556 in 2020, albeit in limited action at just 39 games. The Angels also added to their bench with veteran catcher Kurt Suzuki and outfielders John Jay and Juan Legares, while trading for Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler. The 2021 lineup is expected to look like this from manager Joe Maddon:
- David Fletcher – 2B
- Jared Walsh – 1B
- Mike Trout – CF
- Anthony Rendon – 3B
- Justin Upton – LF
- Shohei Ohtani – DH
- Dexter Fowler – RF
- Jose Iglesias – SS
- Max Stassi – C
Bench players and depth pieces include Jo Adell, Taylor Ward, Franklin Barreto, & Luis Rengifo, along with Pujols, Suzuki, Legares, and Jay.
Overall, the Angels may not have made any big splashes over the winter, but in a weakened AL West and a top tandem of Trout and Rendon, who knows? They could stay in contention and become a fringe playoff team, hoping to play meaningful October games for the first time since 2014.
That wraps up our local MLB offseason review, as we look forward to a full 162-game season in 2021. With spring training opening and allowing a limited number of fans in Arizona’s Cactus League stadiums during exhibition season, here’s hoping baseball fans can also sit in Dodger Stadium and Angel Stadium for regular season games very soon.