The Los Angeles Dodgers' attempt to defend their World Series crown ended in heartbreaking fashion Saturday at Truist Park. The Dodgers were vanquished by the Atlanta Braves in six games during the National League Championship Series.
The Braves earned sweet revenge after being on the opposite side of a 3-1 collapse last season. The Dodgers now head into the offseason with lingering questions.
Will the front office re-sign key stars, such as ace starters Clayton Kershaw and Max Scherzer? What about star closer Kenley Jansen and infielders Chris Taylor and Corey Seager?
There is also the looming decision on Trevor Bauer, who has been on paid administrative leave after a woman accused him of assault. Bauer has an opt-out clause, but will he exercise it given his legal situation?
In total, the Dodgers have 13 key players who are headed towards free agency. While the front office has a large payroll to utilize, the team will need to improve to stay in contention in a surging National League.
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Dodgers manager Dave Roberts noted that the upcoming offseason looms large. He said that some tough decisions will have to be made.
"We have some guys that are free agents and we all know who they are," Roberts said. "Potentially to not see those guys back, it is sort of a changing of the guard. Whoever is not back, I am certainly going to miss them personally. The team is going to miss them.
"The six years that I have been here, there’s been a core group of guys that could potentially get turned over this winter. I am not looking forward to it. They are great players and great men. I wish we could’ve won another one with this group."
The Dodgers raced out to a strong start in the NL West. They battled all season with the San Francisco Giants and finished with 106 wins. Injuries hindered Roberts’ ability to wield his full roster this postseason.
Players such as Max Muncy and Clayton Kershaw were sidelined. Others like Joe Kelly and Justin Turner dealt with the injuries late.
"Losing (Max) Muncy is obviously huge," Taylor said. "We lost one of the best hitters in the league. The at-bat quality he gives, the pressure that he puts on pitchers, maybe the best strike zone discipline. That was huge.
"We have a few more guys, JT being out of the lineup and missing his presence. … I don’t think we can use that as an excuse. Every team is going to have injuries in the regular season and the postseason."
Still, the Dodgers came close to returning to the World Series. Taylor was a postseason hero with his heroics against the St. Louis Cardinals in the NL wild-card game. He kept the Dodgers’ season alive with a walk-off home run.
In the NLCS, he blasted three home runs to force a Game 6. His contributions are valuable to the organization. His super-utility role allowed Roberts to deploy unique lineups. Where he lands in free agency will impact the Dodgers roster.
The same can be said for the trio of aces. The Dodgers acquired Scherzer at the trade deadline to boost a potential postseason run. He was spectacular down the stretch for the club. Scherzer went 7-0 and posted a 1.98 ERA in 11 regular season starts.
Scherzer is expected to have suitors as one of the best pitchers in the game. The same can be said for Kershaw and Bauer. Given the improvements by Walker Buehler and Julio Urias this season, the front office must decide if they want to allocate salary to maintain their high-powered rotation.
Jansen is another name to watch. The Dodgers invested a lot in him from a young age. He developed into a standout closer with the organization.
His price tag in free agency could be a point of discussion with the likelihood that relievers Justin Bruihl and Brusdar Graterol take significant leaps. Blake Treinen is still in the bullpen with closer experience.
Jansen noted that he will take free agency in stride and see how everything plays out.
"You know it’s not in my hands," Jansen said. "I got to thank God for a great opportunity that I have here with the Dodgers. I am thankful to be here after all these years. It is the only thing I know. I was 17 years old as a catcher and they made me a pitcher. Here I am now. It happened fast and I enjoyed this journey. I always say, whatever happens, I am glad to be with the Dodgers."
The Dodgers could look different next season, but they still have immense talent. The league witnessed a breakout campaign from Will Smith and got introduced to Gavin Lux. Dodgers stars Mookie Betts and Buehler will be around as well.
The Dodgers will regroup and likely be favorites for the 2022 World Series. One window may be closing, but the future is still bright for Roberts and the organization.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Los Angeles Dodgers face offseason questions after NLCS loss to Braves