The Dodgers have made known their willingness to add a right-handed batter this offseason. The most logical solution is a return of Justin Turner, the Southern California native who manager Dave Roberts called “one of the Dodger greats” in December.
Or perhaps it’s DJ LeMahieu, the younger and bigger-ticket free agent prize the Dodgers have been at least loosely linked to. Jorge Castillo of the Los Angeles Times reported that with Turner seeking a four-year deal and the Dodgers offering two years, LeMahieu tops LA’s list of external options at third base.
If it’s not a free agent, perhaps a trade is the avenue the Dodgers will choose. Rescuing Nolan Arenado from the clutches of incompetence in Colorado is an option, though Castillo also reported Kris Bryant (in his final year with the Cubs) and Eugenio Suarez (with four years remaining on his contract with the Reds) are available via a salary-dump trade.
But who the Dodgers get as their impact bat isn’t necessarily important to the point I wanted to make today.
It’s that the Dodgers shouldn’t stop there.
Turner wasn’t the only regular or semi-regular to become a free agent the day after the World Series. Joc Pederson and Kiké Hernández combined for 70 starts and 286 plate appearances in 2020, between 12-13 percent of the team’s total. Those will need to be replaced.
It’s reasonable to expect Edwin Ríos, he of the .634 slugging percentage in 139 major league plate appearances, get an increase in playing time. Some of that will come at third base, even if the Dodgers re-sign Turner, and perhaps especially so. Turner has started 66 percent of games at third base since the start of 2017, so there is playing time to be had there.
Gavin Lux was one of the top prospects in baseball entering 2020, and while his season was subpar — 11 for 63, .175/.246/.349 — it’s reasonable to expect he will play a big role with the Dodgers in the very near future. But he’ll have to earn it.
The current roster
The Dodgers at the moment have only 16 position players on the 40-man roster (and 39 players in total). Using a very generous sense of the word, I count 11 “locks” on the current roster:
- Catchers (2): Will Smith, Austin Barnes
- Infielders (5): Max Muncy*, Corey Seager*, Edwin Ríos*, Gavin Lux*, Matt Beaty*
- Outfielders (2): A.J. Pollock, Mookie Betts
- Infielder/outfielders (2): Cody Bellinger*, Chris Taylor
Those 11 players plus Turner, Hernández, and Pederson accounted for all but 15 Dodgers plate appearances in 2020, a season in which Los Angeles was relatively fortunate on the injury front.
Beaty might not really be a lock, especially since he was optioned for the final 15 games of the season. But he was active for all four postseason series, even if he only played in two games, and Beaty did start 56 games and had 268 plate appearances in 2019.
But even with these 11 locks, the Dodgers would need two more position players on the active roster. The normal-season rule is a 26-man roster, with no more than 13 pitchers allowed. Those limits changed during a pandemic-shortened 2020, and any such changes for 2021 would have to be negotiated by players and owners.
For the final 55 games of the 60-game season in 2020, the Dodgers had 18 position players on their 40-man roster (They had 19 before Terrance Gore was designated for assignment on July 29). Luke Raley and DJ Peters were never called up, while Zach McKinstry and catcher Keibert Ruiz only spent a total of 14 games on the active roster between them.
The Dodgers functionally had 14 position players account for mostly 13 active spots (there were a handful of games the Dodgers had 14 active position players), thanks to no major injuries.
They also had the designated hitter, which, under the current rules won’t be in effect for the National League in 2021. This can be negotiated by the players and owners for this season, but that this hasn’t been resolved yet this far into the offseason is absurd.
Having the designated hitter last season allowed the Dodgers to give some respite to regulars last season. Ten different players started at DH, including 10 games for Turner and nine for Corey Seager, who were nursing injuries at different points of the year.
If the Dodgers don’t have the designated hitter as a regular pseudo-rest spot, maybe they would be more likely to use the injured list. But more importantly, having to pinch hit for pitchers will mean the bench gets used even more, keeping those roster spots valuable.
One of the roster additions will be the right-handed bat the Dodgers will surely acquire. That still leaves one spot, for which McKinstry’s positional utility seems perfectly suited. That leaves four position players on the 40-man roster: Ruiz, and outfielders Raley, Peters, and Zach Reks.
It feels light.
Call me crazy, but for a front office that has valued depth during their successful six-year run, I have a hard time believing that their Plan A would include both Beaty and McKinstry on the active roster to start the season, with such thin options behind them, and that’s before considering that Lux could very well begin in the minors again. It’s not to say Beaty and McKinstry won’t necessarily make an impact, but over the course of a full season many players would also need to contribute.
So yes, the Dodgers will add an impact bat. Perhaps Turner, maybe LeMahieu, possibly Bryant or Suarez, or someone else. But that shouldn’t be it on the position-player side.