Does free-agent reliever Blake Treinen fit into the Dodgers’ plans for 2021?

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Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen pitches against the San Diego Padres.
Dodgers reliever Blake Treinen pitches against the San Diego Padres in Game 2 of an NLDS game Saturday in Arlington, Texas. (Tony Gutierrez / Associated Press)

BLAKE TREINEN

CASE FOR DODGERS KEEPING HIM: The Dodgers want a veteran to bridge the closer transition from Kenley Jansen to Brusdar Graterol.

CASE AGAINST: The Dodgers let Brandon Morrow walk after an excellent 2017. They shy away from offering long-term contracts to setup men.

BEST OTHER FITS: Padres, Athletics, Red Sox

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Second in an occasional series examining the status of Dodgers free agents:

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The Dodgers were able to woo Blake Treinen last winter during free agency.

This offseason, the reliever is likely to have more suitors after earning a key role in the Dodgers’ bullpen and becoming an important piece of their World Series championship team.

The hard-throwing right-hander didn’t rediscover his 2018 form, when he produced one of the best-ever seasons by a reliever with the Oakland A’s. But he nevertheless pitched crucial innings in October, highlighted by his first postseason save in Game 5 of the World Series.

Treinen’s first foray into free agency came a year late. A former seventh-round pick, the South Dakota State product broke into the majors with the Washington Nationals in 2014 before being traded to Oakland in July 2017. The next season, he saved 38 games for the A’s with an 0.78 earned-run average and 531 ERA+ (a stat in which 100 is considered average).

Had he become a free agent then, Treinen might have been one of the most coveted relievers in the sport. But in 2019, a combination of injuries and inconsistency led to a career-worst 4.91 ERA and sharp drop in his value on the open market.

The Dodgers signed Treinen to a one-year, $10-million deal last December, selling him on a plan to let his body heal and slowly refine his mechanics. By the time the season belatedly began in July, he displayed flashes of his former self, posting a 1.04 ERA with 14 strikeouts over his first 17 games.

Treinen didn’t finish the campaign as strong, allowing nine runs over his final 8 ⅓ innings during the regular season. He began the playoffs with four consecutive scoreless appearances, but then allowed six earned runs in his next six outings.

However, his role in the back end of the bullpen never diminished. And in his first save opportunity of the postseason, he finished off the team’s World Series Game 5 win over the Tampa Bay Rays — the penultimate victory of the Dodgers’ championship run.

Reliever Blake Treinen celebrates with catcher Will Smith after recording a save against the Tampa Bay Rays.
Reliever Blake Treinen celebrates with catcher Will Smith after recording a save against the Tampa Bay Rays in Game 5 of the World Series. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Despite that, Treinen faces unknowns again as a free agent. The market is saturated with high-end right-handed relievers, including Treinen’s old Oakland teammate Liam Hendriks and fellow former All-Star closers Kirby Yates and Trevor Rosenthal. It’s likely spending could be down as well, given the revenue reductions in the sport caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s also unclear how strongly the Dodgers will attempt to bring Treinen back. They weren’t expected to extend him a qualifying offer of $18.9 million for 2021, and they didn’t.

Though Treinen’s 3.86 ERA this season represented a strong personal improvement from 2019, it ranked last among the Dodgers’ qualified pitchers. And while his veteran presence could be helpful to a bullpen that ended the season without a clear closer, the club could also look to younger options such as Brusdar Graterol to pitch more high-leverage innings next year.

Treinen’s upper-90s velocity remains a strength, and the sinkerball specialist recorded his highest ground-ball rate, 65.3%, since 2016. However, his strikeout rate fell for a third straight year, to a career-low 20.6%. So did his whiff percentage, getting swing-and-misses a below-league-average 22.9% of the time.

Whether this season was the first step in a career rebound, or an aberration for a pitcher who will turn 33 next season, remains to be seen. He helped the Dodgers win a championship. Now, he’ll try to be a winner in free agency.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.