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Dodgers need to add to position player depth once offseason resumes

A look at LA’s 40-man roster

Houston Astros v Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images

Major League Baseball’s lockout has provided an intermission of sorts for the offseason, with rosters frozen. We already took a look at where the Dodgers stand on the pitching side — they need starters, plural — so let’s see where Los Angeles stands on the position-player side.

The Dodgers filled a large need just under the wire, signing Chris Taylor to a four-year, $60 million contract on December 1, announcing the transaction 89 minutes before the lockout began. In addition to providing an above-average bat, Taylor starts at six different positions, his flexibility making it easier to manage the roster and lineups.

But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

Eighteen position players are on the 40-man roster at the moment.

Dodgers position players on the 40-man roster

Starters (9) RHB Bench (3) LHB Bench (6)
Starters (9) RHB Bench (3) LHB Bench (6)
C: Will Smith C: Austin Barnes 3B/1B: Edwin Ríos
1B: Max Muncy (L) SS: Jacob Amaya 1B/OF: Matt Beaty
2B: Gavin Lux (L) IF/OF: Eddys Leonard IF/OF: Zach McKinstry
3B: Justin Turner OF: Luke Raley
SS: Trea Turner OF: James Outman
LF: AJ Pollock IF: Jorbit Vivas
CF: Cody Bellinger (L)
RF: Mookie Betts
IF/OF: Chris Taylor
Dodgers 40-man roster

I included nine starters in anticipation of the National League having the designated hitter, though that will be decided through the collective bargaining agreement, whenever those negotiations continue.

The composition of the position-player roster is a Rorschach Test of how you view the roster.

On one hand, outside of catcher Austin Barnes, the rest of the major-league-ready portion of the bench is all left-handed batters. Clearly, the Dodgers need a right-handed bat.

But then again, six of the nine listed as starters bat right-handed, and given how many different lineups the Dodgers use, on any given day one or two of those right-handers could be on the bench. Adding a left-handed bat, specifically a starter, makes a lot of sense in this regard.

In reality, they need multiple position players.

Just like last year:

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.

When I wrote that last January, the Dodgers hadn’t yet signed Justin Turner. They eventually did sign Turner, in February, and also added Sheldon Neuse via trade. But those were the only position-player additions to the 40-man roster before the season.

Turns out, Plan A was having both Beaty and McKinstry on the active roster. Beaty was optioned twice during the season but was mostly effective in a bat-heavy role. McKinstry was good at the plate for his first two months active, but missed over a month with an oblique strain, then slumped so badly in July he was sent to the minors.

The 2021 Dodgers were thin. Injuries played a large part, including Edwin Ríos needing shoulder surgery after a horrendous 4-for-51 start. The bench mob of Beaty, McKinstry, Ríos, Neuse, Luke Raley, DJ Peters, Zach Reks, and Keibert Ruiz — the planned depth heading into the season — hit a combined .208/.286/.353 in 655 plate appearances, with only Beaty providing a wRC+ above 89.

It’s not to say the Dodgers offense collectively was bad. They still led the National League in runs scored for a fourth straight season. It just wasn’t nearly as deep as in previous years. They were buoyed in 2021 by in-season additions Trea Turner, who played at an MVP-level with Los Angeles, and Albert Pujols, who thrived in a specialized, lefty-mashing part-time role. But they also got a sub-replacement-level 180 plate appearances from in-season acquisitions Billy McKinney, Steven Souza Jr., Yoshi Tsutsugo, and Andy Burns.

Souza, McKinney, Burns, and Raley combined for 17 games and 13 plate appearances in the playoffs, during which the Dodgers scored two or fewer runs in half their games and were eliminated in the NLCS.

They need more depth.

Back to the current 40-man roster, the non-starting depth chart begins with Barnes, Beaty, McKinstry, and Ríos, with expectations for the latter likely in need of tempering in his first year back from shoulder surgery. After that, it’s Raley and four prospects added to the roster in November. Outfielder James Outman is likely the most major-league ready of the group, and shortstop Jacob Amaya’s defense worthy of a look.

But they also added infielder Jorbit Vivas and infielder/outfielder Eddys Leonard. Both are fine prospects with presumably bright futures, but they also have a combined 64 games of experience at High-A, their highest minor league level. To expect anything from those two in the majors in 2022 is a stretch, so the Dodgers at the moment have a functional 38-man roster instead of 40, including only 16 position players.

Say it with me, again: the Dodgers need more position players.

Luckily, there are plenty of them still available.

Available targets

Going back to MLB Trade Rumors’ top-50 free agent rankings as a rough guide, the pitching side already saw 16 of the 19 starting pitchers already find homes for 2022 and beyond. But there are plenty of hitters left on the market.

Of the 23 position players listed in MLBTR’s top 50, only nine have signed. Five of the top six bats on the market are still free agents, with only Corey Seager signing before the lockout.

Carlos Correa is the top free agent on the market, by virtue of behind a much better defender and five months younger than Seager, who got $325 million over 10 years from Texas. Correa’s potent bat and defensive prowess might make the Dodgers more willing to wade in those deep waters than they were with Seager. But such a move would have to consider that in Correa’s last two games in Los Angeles, a full Dodger Stadium crowd several times loudly suggested he fornicate with himself for his role in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing scheme.

Freddie Freeman is the best bat available, with a 135 wRC+ in 2021 and no worse than a 132 wRC+ for nine years running. It’s already shocking that the Braves haven’t locked up their incredibly popular longtime star and recent MVP, especially following the windfall of a World Series triumph. The balance with Freeman would be taking the surest bat but limiting the flexibility elsewhere. Freeman at first base would force Max Muncy to probably a mix of second base, third base, and potentially designated hitter.

Kris Bryant provides defensive versatility, in that he started games at all three outfield spots plus third base and first base. Defensive Runs Saved and Total Zone Rating had him below average at third base, left, and right. Outs Above Average had him average in left and in limited duty in center, but below average everywhere else. His bat very likely makes up for it, even if it’s a notch below Freeman’s level.

While adding a middle-of-the-order bat would be great, the Dodgers don’t necessarily need someone on the expensive side of the menu. They just need productive, usable players.

Kyle Schwarber could fit the bill as a left-handed power bat to split time between left field, first base, and possibly designated hitter, though his strong 2021 (32 home runs, 145 wRC+) likely pushed him into costly waters. Schwarber’s contract projections included three years, $45 million (Kiley McDaniel at ESPN), four years, $60 million (Ben Clemens at FanGraphs), and four years, $70 million (MLB Trade Rumors).

Heading into last year, Schwarber and Joc Pederson had eerily similar career numbers. A Pederson reunion in Los Angeles would be cheaper than Schwarber, but also seems unlikely given Pederson saw 112 plate appearances against left-handers in 2021, more than any two seasons combined from 2017-20 with the Dodgers. Pederson’s probably not going to want to return to what would certainly be a strict platoon role.

Perhaps the Dodgers pursue another left-handed Braves outfielder, going the Joe Kelly route by pursuing a player who helped eliminate them in the previous postseason. Eddie Rosario was 14-for-25 (.560/.607/1.040) with three home runs and nine RBI while winning NLCS MVP.

Jonathan Villar is a switch-hitter who can play three infield positions, scratching the Dodgers’ versatility itch. So does Josh Harrison, a right-handed batter who also plays outfield in addition to infield.

In addition to the ample free agent options, trades are always an option. When we looked at available pitching targets, both the A’s and Reds have position players who could be targeted as part of larger deals. Like first baseman Matt Olson and a pitcher from Oakland, or taking on Mike Moustakas’ contract ($38 million guaranteed remaining over the next two years) along with a pitcher from the Reds, for example.

The point is there are many options for the Dodgers to upgrade their position-player depth. Once the offseason restarts, that should be a priority.