Of Dodgers' off-season priorities, Yasiel Puig and Clayton Kershaw are at top of list

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

 

Yasiel Puig is still in L.A. He came by the ballpark to work out one evening last week and later was spotted playing catch in the Dodger Stadium outfield – just him and another guy, airing it in the gloaming. He's a regular at Lakers games, having hit it off with Lakers executive Jeanie Buss. He had a brief cameo in the national bullying discussion, courtesy J.P. Howell, but that was a false alarm, as it turned out the media and fans had abused him, in Howell's estimation, apparently by flogging him with fawning praise and rather gentle reminders to hit the stupid cut-off man.

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Clayton Kershaw is home in Texas, which we know by watching television. He was the National League's Cy Young Award winner for the second time in three years, and wore a nice plaid shirt for the occasion, and was saved by his wife, Ellen, when the conversation turned toward a new contract. He also received awards named for Branch Rickey, Warren Spahn and Roy Campanella, will return to Zambia this winter to the orphanage he funded, and even helped – circuitously – get Puig out of trouble. When it came to clearing Puig of a reckless driving case dating to his time in the minor leagues, the Dodgers cited Puig's community service, which consisted in some part of his playing ping-pong in Kershaw's fundraiser. The case was dismissed.

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Puig did recently ask a Dodgers executive how he might become more involved with the local community, helping where he can, when he can. The young man has a heart as big as his swing (almost), and is now seeking areas to direct it. If he's going to spend the winter hanging out at Dodger Stadium (on Monday with a couple dozen kids), and sitting courtside at Lakers games, and dropping in on Little Leaguers (which he did), then the Dodgers will be quite pleased with that, and he'd stand with the least of their worries.

As it is, the boys at Guggenheim, and Stan Kasten, and Ned Colletti have a team to put back together, and what we can assume, among other things, is Puig will be in right field and Kershaw will be on the mound come opening day. The Dodgers will be good. We don't yet know if they'll be anything like great. There's a hole at third base, where Juan Uribe played with renewed dexterity and trimness in his walk year, and at the back end of the rotation, and perhaps at second base, depending on just how ready for the big leagues Cuban Alexander Guerrero is. They'd like to re-sign Uribe, in part because he was sound for them last season and in part because the third-base market is leaner than a fungo bat. They've lost Nick Punto (Oakland) and, reportedly, Skip Schumaker (Cincinnati), and Mark Ellis is a free agent. Uribe, Punto, Schumaker and Ellis were good men in their clubhouse, which was important when the Dodgers were terrible but not completely falling apart. So these would not be insignificant departures.

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Following a 92-win season and a run to Game 6 of the NLCS, the Dodgers do not necessarily need to add an impact bat. Or, for that matter, an impact pitcher, depending on the outcome of the Japanese posting regulations and the availability of Masahiro Tanaka. They do need to add years to Don Mattingly's contract. They need to sort through an outfield of four players in their primes, but not immediately. They could trade Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or, possibly, Carl Crawford, and the interest on Kemp and Ethier in particular has been what one official called "moderate to moderate-plus." But perhaps the better plan is to wait for all four to show up to spring training healthy, happy and prepared to be productive, and if the crowd remains in mid-March, there'd be time – and a market – for a trade then. Were the Dodgers to find themselves short after that, a possible solution could be found in Joc Pederson, the 21-year-old Double-A outfielder who currently is playing well for the Cardenales de Lara of the Venezuelan winter league.

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What the Dodgers' offseason really comes down to, let's face it, is continuing the U.S. education of Puig and re-signing Kershaw, who is under team control for one more season. There is some optimism within the Dodger ranks for both. One Dodgers executive recently called Kershaw "the perfect guy," covering Kershaw as a pitcher and a man. And while those sorts of sentiments generally drive up the price in negotiations, the Dodgers believe that he is, and seem willing to pay for it, and are quite hopeful that Kershaw will not make his next start without a multi-year contract.

Maybe that's eight years, or more. Maybe that's $250 million, or more. Whatever it is, it is likely to be the largest contract ever given to a pitcher, by the team that sold for billions, and with a new television deal coming, and with a full ballpark most nights, and a new era calling, a quarter of a century since the last championship.

In some ways, you wonder what's taking so long. So schedule the press conference. Puig can come.