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Will the Dodgers go into 2023 without a designated closer?

Last spring, when Kenley Jansen signed a one-year contract with the Atlanta Braves, the Dodgers said they would move on without the franchise saves leader and didn’t need a closer to do it.

A couple of weeks later, they traded for … a closer, Craig Kimbrel (the only active pitcher with more saves than Jansen).

Kimbrel’s time in Los Angeles did not go well. He was unreliable, lost his job before the end of the season, wasn’t on the Dodgers’ postseason roster and is now an unsigned free agent.

But a closer is not on the Dodgers’ offseason agenda. They again are claiming a deep bullpen group will give them plenty of options to pitch the ninth inning without a designated closer.

“I don’t think it’s something that we absolutely have to have,” Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said this week during the Winter Meetings. “That being said, we want to get better. So whatever ways that comes about we’ll be aggressive to act. But I don’t know yet what that will look like.”

The Dodgers have already lost a couple of experienced relievers to free agency. Chris Martin signed with the Boston Red Sox (where he will set up for Jansen) and Tommy Kahnle with the New York Yankees.

“We will have pitchers that will close games,” GM Brandon Gomes said with a smile when asked if the Dodgers will have a closer in 2023. “I don’t know if we’ll have a closer. We’ll have pitchers in our ’pen that are capable of closing games that we feel very good about.”

Both Friedman and Gomes acknowledged that things could change “but I don’t think we feel compelled to have somebody who has a long track record” as a closer, Gomes said.

The only relievers on the Dodgers’ current roster with more than four career saves are Blake Treinen and Daniel Hudson. Treinen had shoulder surgery in November and is not expected to pitch until late in the 2023 season – if that. Hudson tore the ACL in his left knee in June and underwent surgery to repair the ligament. The Dodgers are optimistic that he could be ready to pitch by Opening Day or shortly after.

If the Dodgers really don’t choose to acquire a closer by then, they could instead designate one from among the current bullpen group. In that case, Evan Phillips is the leading candidate. Released by the Orioles and waived by the Rays days apart in August 2021, the 28-year-old right-hander emerged as one of the best relievers in the National League – and the Dodgers’ most reliable – in 2022 with a 1.14 ERA, 0.76 WHIP and the kind of swing-and-miss stuff (11 strikeouts per nine innings) that another candidate, Brusdar Graterol, lacks (just 7.2 strikeouts per nine innings in his career despite his 100-mph fastball).

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