If the Dodgers weren't already favored to repeat as World Series champions, they certainly are now.
Adding Trevor Bauer to a rotation that already includes Clayton Kershaw and Walker Buehler gives them three Cy Young contenders to go along with MVP contenders Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Corey Seager. That's ballgame right there.
OK, enough with my dubious predictions. Let's talk about the Fantasy Baseball implications.
Bauer was arguably the AL's best pitcher in 2018. He was less arguably the NL's best pitcher in 2020. He was something less than great in between. It was always fair to wonder which version would show up in 2021. I was more confident than others, believing 2019 to be the aberration given the way he was trending before then and trusting he would stick with the approach that helped him improve the spin rate on so many of his pitches in 2020. It's why I ranked him fourth among starting pitchers, behind only Shane Bieber, Jacob deGrom and Gerrit Cole.
I'm even more confident now. The Dodgers' handling of pitchers is second to none, and their approach should mesh well with Bauer's as the two sides work to smooth over whatever bumps emerge. He'll have the best supporting cast money can buy, will still be permitted to take on a huge workload and should rank among the league leaders in wins and strikeouts even if his ERA regresses more than hoped.
What I'm less confident about is what the rest of the Dodgers rotation will look like. It was already overloaded with David Price set to return after opting out in 2020, and now it's likely two of Julio Urias, Tony Gonsolin and Dustin May will be left out of the opening five. If you had any of them pegged for a breakout this year, you might want to rethink that. These numbers won't amount to much in Fantasy if they're coming in two- and three-inning stints ...
Of course, maybe they won't be, at least not all the time. There's a reason I call it an opening five rather than a starting five, and that reason is because the Dodgers have even more liberty to mix things up. They live for it anyway, having long relied on a pitcher surplus to manage the innings of their developing arms, and after a year in which everyone saw a drastic reduction in innings, there's even more need for caution.
We know Bauer will take the ball at least every fifth day. He's been thoroughly vetted for it, and the Dodgers are paying him unprecedented money over a short period of time to do just that. We know Kershaw and Buehler will start as often as they're able. The approach to Kershaw might be fairly straightforward, but we've come to expect an IL stint or two for him over the course of a 162-game season. The Dodgers are well equipped to handle it.
Buehler is trickier. The Dodgers have already been so cautious about his workload, having him basically skip spring training the past two years and build up during the regular season instead. It led to him having just one six-inning start last season, as short as it was, which certainly isn't the mark of an ace. There were a couple more six-inning starts in the playoffs, but combining his regular and postseason numbers, he threw only 61 2/3 innings in 2020.
As careful as they've always been with Buehler, you think this is the year the Dodgers are turning him loose? I wouldn't be counting on more than 160 innings from him, which means another slow buildup -- possibly by piggybacking with Urias, Gonsolin or May in the early going -- and perhaps a phantom IL stint or two along the way. It's for that reason that I've already singled out Buehler as a bust candidate, and the addition of Bauer only bolsters that claim.
Among the remaining rotation candidates, Price has the best chance of retaining a spot all year, but let's not forget he's 35, hasn't pitched since 2019 and appeared to be on the decline even then, losing a little off his fastball and a lot off his ERA.
Price is getting some sleeper buzz heading into his first year with the Dodgers, but the team itself knows better than to be so sanguine. If and when the time comes to bail him out, they'll have a proven replacement at the ready.
The odds are low, then, that any of Urias, Gonsolin or May will become full-time relievers. The one best suited to is also probably the most talented, Urias. He served mostly as a multi-inning reliever in the playoffs and saw his K/9 jump from 7.4 in the regular season to 11.3. More likely, all three will remain semi-stretched out, throwing two and three innings at a time out of the bullpen so they can hop back into the rotation at a moment's notice. In other words, I'm not sure any of Urias, Gonsolin or May will be an exclusive starter who'll take a regular turn every fifth day. I'm thinking something more like Nick Pollack of Pitcher List lays out here:
You know, the Dodgers could do some funky things with their rotation via a 5.5 man rotation to keep innings down for all but Bauer:— Nick Pollack (@PitcherList) February 5, 2021
Unpredictability is the name of the game, in other words -- at least until the attrition sets in, requiring the Dodgers to firm things up. Of course, unpredictability is also kryptonite for a pitcher's Fantasy value, and it's fair to say I'm not so eager to draft any of Urias, Gonsolin and May as a result. They all deserve to be drafted based on their potential and the lurking specter of opportunity, but chances are they'll find a long-term home on your bench. For now, I'm presuming that's truer for Gonsolin and May than for Urias, but it might be true for all three.
So which 2021 Fantasy baseball sleepers should you snatch in your draft? And which undervalued first baseman can help you win a championship? Visit SportsLine now to get Fantasy baseball rankings for every single position, all from the model that called Will Smith's huge breakout last season, and find out.