The Dodgers have yet to make a major roster addition during the opening month of Major League Baseball’s offseason. But on Monday, they ensured another important piece of their 2023 team would be back in the fold in 2024.
The club is nearing a new one-year contract with outfielder Jason Heyward worth $9 million pending a physical, according to a person with knowledge of the situation who was unauthorized to speak publicly. The deal, which was first reported by ESPN, is a straight-up contract with no incentives or options for the 34-year-old veteran.
Heyward’s deal will keep him in Los Angeles after his breakout 2023 season, in which the former All-Star and five-time Gold Glove winner batted .269 with 15 home runs in a productive right-field platoon role.
It also addresses an area of need for the Dodgers, who were looking to bolster their corner outfield depth in the free-agent market, especially with star right fielder Mookie Betts expected to split his time at second base again next season.
Originally signed by the Dodgers to a low-risk, minor league contract last offseason (Heyward was also being paid more than $21 million by the Chicago Cubs after they released him with a year remaining on his contract), Heyward reworked his swing in L.A. to become one of the more consistent left-handed bats on a platoon-heavy 100-win Dodgers team.
He posted his best batting average in five years and his most home runs since 2019 and ranked fourth on the Dodgers with an .813 on-base-plus-slugging percentage — better than both Max Muncy and Will Smith.
Unlike Muncy and Smith, Heyward wasn’t a full-time player. Of his 377 plate appearances, all but 28 came against right-handed pitchers. While he appeared in 124 games, he played a full nine innings only 59 times.
Yet, both Heyward and the Dodgers embraced their partnership over the course of last season. Heyward, whose original signing was aided by an endorsement from his longtime friend Freddie Freeman, was simply appreciative to be playing well with a contending team. The Dodgers, meanwhile, were thrilled with the veteran’s clubhouse presence, behind-the-scenes work ethic and vocal leadership in his 14th MLB season.
“I would love to be asked to come back,” Heyward said in September, when asked if he was hoping to stay with the Dodgers ahead of his upcoming free agency. “If they feel like I’m valuable to be back here, that would be an honor.”
Heyward’s deal will be the second notable re-signing for the Dodgers this offseason, after they inked a two-year, $24-million extension with Muncy earlier this month.
With those two locked up, the Dodgers have only a few position player needs left: a designated hitter (potentially two-way star Shohei Ohtani, or perhaps another reunion with J.D. Martinez); another corner outfielder (Teoscar Hernández is one of the bigger names that has been on their radar); and maybe another versatile right-handed bat (potentially a replacement for Kiké Hernández, if he goes elsewhere).
With the winter meetings approaching next week, the rest of the team’s focus remains fixed on the starting pitching market — which, despite Ohtani’s lingering free agency, has heated up in recent days with the Philadelphia Phillies’ re-signing of Aaron Nola and the St. Louis Cardinals’ reported addition of Sonny Gray — two pitchers who had previously been linked with the Dodgers.
On that front, top free-agent starters Blake Snell, Yoshinobu Yamamoto and Jordan Montgomery all remain available.
The trade market might offer other possibilities, including Dylan Cease of the Chicago White Sox (who have been engaged with the Dodgers about a potential deal, according to a person with knowledge of the situation unauthorized to speak publicly), Corbin Burnes of the Milwaukee Brewers (a pitcher the Dodgers would have immediate interest in if he were to be put on the block) and Tyler Glasnow of the Tampa Bay Rays.
The Dodgers could also look for other options, such as Lucas Giolito or Jack Flaherty (two trade deadline targets in whom the team is believed to still have interest), Seth Lugo (a pitcher they pursued in free agency last year), or other veterans such as Michael Wacha or Marcus Stroman.
The Dodgers’ offseason, after all, will still be judged by their ability to land Ohtani, a top starting pitcher or two, or perhaps even both.
But in the interim, they completed another substantial piece of business Monday, bringing back Heyward for an L.A. encore.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.