We are less than three weeks away from Opening Day, and there are still many unanswered questions in regards to how the the roster will look to begin the year. Though the rosters have expanded to 26, there are numerous players that are still fighting to secure a spot.
One of the players that appears to be fighting for a spot is Gavin Lux. Though many project him to be the second baseman for the Dodgers for the foreseeable future, his spot on the team isn’t guaranteed to begin the season.
With 19 days until the first game of 2020, manager Dave Roberts still hasn’t given Lux the starting spot yet. “We’ve still got a long way to go to make that decision,” Roberts said a few weeks ago to reporters. “With what Gavin did last year and the upside, he’s certainly in that conversation. I still think he has to earn it. He’s earned it and he has to continue to earn it. You can say that about a lot of players, but there are only so many roster spots.”
As MLB.com’s Ken Gurnick mentions in his article, it contrasts with what he said about catcher Will Smith, who Roberts said will get the majority of starts behind the plate, with Austin Barnes as his backup. Roberts has also publicly said that Mookie Betts will be used primarily as their leadoff hitter, and that left field will be a platoon between Joc Pederson and A.J. Pollock.
Again, there’s still plenty of time for Lux to be named as the starter, but it hasn’t happened at the time of this article, causing us to speculate just a little.
There’s no question of the talent Lux possesses. Hell, he’s widely viewed as one of the top prospects in the game of baseball for a reason. However, he did struggle during his month-long tenure in the big-leagues last season, so it wouldn’t be a surprise for the Dodgers to send him to the minors to get some at-bats under his belt before calling him back up.
Lux appeared in 23 games last September with the Dodgers, underwhelming after being arguably the hottest hitter in the minors throughout the 2019 season. He hit .240 with an OPS of .705, only hitting two home runs and striking out nearly 1⁄3 of the time. The postseason wasn’t any easier for him, as he went 2-for-9 while striking out six times.
He’ll get his fair share of at-bats in 2020 against major-league pitching, but maybe having him begin the year in Oklahoma City could be a good thing for him. Plus, it can give him some extra time to work against left-handed pitching, considering he hit .083 against lefties while with the Dodgers.
Another reason we can see Lux begin the season in the minors is to open up more playing time across all positions. With Lux penciled in at second base, it really limits the amount certain players can see the field. Guys like Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, Joc Pederson, AJ Pollock, Matt Beaty and Edwin Rios could all benefit from Lux beginning the year in the minors.
Some options include slotting Taylor and Hernandez in at second base. Another is moving Cody Bellinger to first and Max Muncy to second, opening up an additional outfield spot for guys like Beaty or Rios. When Lux is with the team, Roberts will still work his magic and figure out a way to get every player consistent at-bats, though there’s no question that without Lux, the Dodgers become a much more flexible team.
The final reason Lux could begin the season in the minors is because of the whole “service-time” issue. Ah, yes, the Kris Bryant rule. When a team is able to finesse an extra year from a player by optioning them back-and-forth between the majors and the minors.
The Dodgers did this a few seasons ago with Walker Buehler, who fell just four days short of accumulating enough time for one full year of service time, prolonging his free-agency an extra year. Coincidence it was that close? Maybe. Take that for what you want.
According to Eric Stephen on the TrueBlue LA podcast (by the way you should go give it a listen), he said that the date to keep an eye on is May 8. If Lux begins the season in the minors, and isn’t called up until after that date, the Dodgers gain an extra year of control over him. If Lux meets his expectations, having an extra year of control over him could be huge.
For those questioning how that works, hopefully this explanation helps out:
Players receive Major League service time for each day spent on the 26-man roster (it was 25, prior to 2020) or the Major League injured list. Important to players and clubs alike, service time is used to determine when players are eligible for arbitration as well as free agency.
Each Major League regular season consists of 187 days (typically 183 days prior to 2018), and each day spent on the active roster or injured list earns a player one day of service time. A player is deemed to have reached “one year” of Major League service upon accruing 172 days in a given year. Upon reaching six years of Major League service, a player becomes eligible for free agency at the end of that season (unless he has already signed a contract extension that covers one or more of his free-agent seasons).
After he got called up last season, Lux accumulated 28 days of service time to end the 2019 season. If he is called up on exactly May 8 and is on the big-league roster through the remainder of 2020, that will total 143 days. If you add 28 and 143 together, that gives you 171, one day short of the 172 number.
Again, there’s a chance the Dodgers aren’t even considering that, but it’s a date to really keep an eye on should he begin the season in triple-A.
Ultimately, I think Lux ends up with the starting job on Opening Day. There clearly is a spot for him, and there honestly isn’t a true reason he doesn’t deserve it. I stated a few reasons as to why we could see him in the minors, but I think the Dodgers know they have their second baseman of the future, and fully intend to treat him as such.
- Mookie Betts still has a stomach bug, is expected to be out of the lineup until at least Wednesday
- Joc Pederson will play five innings in a minor-league game tomorrow
- Blake Treinen will make his Cactus League debut today
- Chris Taylor is back in the starting lineup after being hit by a pitch last week
First pitch: 12:05 p.m. PT
TV: SportsNet LA