Andrew Friedman signed Trevor Bauer — and the controversy that trails him everywhere — to win the World Series. He acquired Max Scherzer at the trade deadline to replace Bauer after Bauer was accused of sexual assault, to win the World Series. He added Trea Turner to the swap with the Washington Nationals to win the World Series.
By mid-September, after the injured list lightened, the 2021 Dodgers were the most talented team in recent franchise history. The lineup was loaded. The starting rotation was deep. The bullpen was elite.
But they didn’t reach the World Series. More injuries surfaced once the calendar flipped to October. Mind-boggling offensive inconsistency plagued them in the postseason. Poor pitching decisions materialized.
So, instead of hosting Game 2 of the World Series, Friedman addressed the media at Dodger Stadium on Wednesday. The Dodgers’ president of baseball operations did not call the season a failure. He prefers, at least publicly, a more nuanced evaluation after the 106-win Dodgers were bounced in the National League Championship Series by the Atlanta Braves.
“There’s a lot to be proud of,” Friedman said. “But, obviously, we fell short of our ultimate goal.”
Friedman on Wednesday addressed the two controllable variables in the Dodgers’ demise. First, who exactly made the decisions to have Scherzer and Julio Urías pitch in relief? Was it the front office or manager Dave Roberts?
“They are Dave’s decisions with [pitching coach] Mark Prior and [game planning coach] Danny Lehmann and [bench coach] Bob Geren in the dugout,” Friedman said. “We do a lot of work to prepare ahead of time to understand how certain relievers match up against certain hitters.
“Games play out in so many different ways that it’s impossible to anticipate it before, so those decisions are made in the dugout, as they should be, because so many things have changed in the two, three, four hours from going through it through the game.”
As for the offense’s troubles, Friedman was stumped like most observers. The Dodgers scored four or fewer runs in eight of their 12 postseason games. But the perplexing deficiency was already apparent during the regular season against subpar pitching.
Starting Aug. 6, when Turner debuted, the Dodgers scored fewer than five runs in 23 of their final 53 games. They tallied double digits three times. They posted two of those outputs in the final week against the crumbling San Diego Padres and the Milwaukee Brewers, who were in cruise control after clinching the National League Central title.
“We needed someone to step up and pull an Eddie Rosario,” Friedman quipped, referring to the NLCS MVP. “It’s a fair question. I don’t know the answer.
“After we made the Trea Turner deal, in my opinion, one through eight, it was the deepest, best lineup I’ve been around. But it didn’t quite play like that over the final two months. It was just a little bumpier than I expected.”
Swinging for Bauer in February, doubling down in July and compiling a $267-million payroll indicated an uneasy reality Friedman and his assistants are now confronting: The 2021 season could’ve been the Dodgers’ best chance to win another championship for the foreseeable future.
Barring disaster, the Dodgers will remain pennant contenders in 2022. But division supremacy no longer is guaranteed with the San Francisco Giants’ emergence. And change is coming.
Friedman highlighted the “really good core in place,” but that core will likely lose members this winter. Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, Corey Seager, Chris Taylor and Scherzer are all free agents. Kershaw and Jansen are franchise icons. Seager and Taylor are playoff heroes. Scherzer just arrived, but he was the best pitcher in the majors in the second half. They’re not all returning.
“As we look forward, whether it’s our internal guys or external guys, it’s how to round out our roster to put us in the best position to succeed,” Friedman said. “I’m confident we’ll get there. I don’t know exactly what that will look like yet. But that’s why we have the winter.”
It’ll be a longer winter than Friedman expected.