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The Dodgers still need more position player depth

Even if James Outman blossoms into a regular role in the majors in 2023, the Dodgers’ position-player depth behind him leaves a lot to be desired.
Even if James Outman blossoms into a regular role in the majors in 2023, the Dodgers’ position-player depth behind him leaves a lot to be desired.
Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

We’re now in 2023, which means there are actual games to be played later this year. In 86 days, games that count will be played. But players will need to report to spring training in the next six or seven weeks, so there isn’t too much offseason left for the Dodgers to add a position player.

I’ve said multiple times this offseason that the Dodgers lack depth on the position player side of the 40-man roster. To date, they’ve signed designated hitter (and occasional outfielder) J.D. Martinez and traded for light-hitting and speedy infielder Yonny Hernández.

Trea Turner, Justin Turner, and Cody Bellinger, a trio that accounted for 1,790 plate appearances in 2022, all signed free agent deals elsewhere. So did Joey Gallo, and Edwin Ríos was non-tendered.

Miguel Vargas, the highly-regarded prospect who made his major league debut last August, is expected to get a lot of playing time in 2023. Outfielder James Outman could see significant time this season, and the Dodgers also added second baseman Michael Busch along with outfielders Jonny DeLuca and Andy Pages to the 40-man roster in November.

Creating playing time for younger players is a noble goal, but it shouldn’t preclude the Dodgers from adding more players this offseason.

At the moment, the Dodgers have 19 position players on the 40-man roster. Infielders Jorbit Vivas and Eddys Leonard, plus top-prospect Diego Cartaya have yet to play above High-A Great Lakes, so it’s a hard sell to expect them to contribute much or at all in the majors in 2023.

That effectively leaves 16 position players who could conceivably play in the majors this season. But MLB rules limit teams to 13 pitchers on active roster, which means for every single game, the Dodgers will need 13 active position players.

Even if you give multiple runways to various prospects, there is still almost no depth, especially relative to the first eight seasons of the Andrew Friedman-led front office.

Putting together an active roster with the current group, the position players look something like this:

  • Catchers (2): Will Smith, Austin Barnes
  • Infielders (5): Freddie Freeman, Gavin Lux, Max Muncy, Yonny Hernández, Jake Amaya
  • Outfielders (3): Mookie Betts, Trayce Thompson, James Outman
  • Infielder/outfielders (2): Chris Taylor, Miguel Vargas
  • Designated hitter (1): J.D. Martinez

Amaya has yet to play in the majors, but neither have any of the six remaining position players on the 40-man roster not included on this potential active roster.

Jason Heyward was signed to a minor league deal with a non-roster invitation to spring training, and may very well earn a spot on the major league roster. But he also missed the last three months of 2022 with a knee injury and hit just .211/.280/.326 with a 67 wRC+ in 152 games over the last two seasons. Having Heyward as an option is perfectly fine, but counting on him is another story.

Looking at this another way, let’s look at the last few full seasons for the Dodgers.

Los Angeles was remarkably healthy last season, with the top nine position players — the ones listed as the regulars at all nine positions on Baseball Reference — averaging 134 starts and 578 plate appearances. In 2022, the 12 position players on the opening day roster accounted for 5,668 plate appearances.

All non-pitchers totaled 6,245 plate appearances (Tyler Anderson and Evan Phillips also batted once each), leaving 577 PA that were covered by players not on the opening day roster.

In 2021, with long-term injuries to Bellinger, Corey Seager, and Zach McKinstry, the Dodgers needed 799 plate appearances from players not on the opening day roster. They also didn’t have to fill the designated hitter role that year, and spent nearly the whole season with 12 position players, not the 13 that are required now.

Ignoring the shortened, expanded-roster 2020 season, the Dodgers needed 793 plate appearances from folks not on the 2019 opening day roster (or injured list to start the season). In 2018, they needed 1,162 PA.

That’s a lot of plate appearances to cover, even on the low end.

In 2019 the Dodgers got the best of both worlds, with Will Smith, Alex Verdugo, Matt Beaty, Gavin Lux, Edwin Ríos, and Kyle Garlick all contributing as rookies for a team that won 106 games. Verdugo was the only one that began that season on the opening day roster.

As currently constituted, Vargas and Outman will be relied on in large roles, with the inexperienced Hernández and Amaya also on our proposed opening day roster.

Even if the Dodgers have fortunate health outcomes again in 2023 like last year, they’d still need nearly 600 PA — basically a full season’s worth — from other folks. Again, the other six position players on the 40-man roster have yet to play in the majors, including three players who haven’t yet played above High-A. Counting on that group plus, as an example, Heyward coming off two injury-plagued years, to fill the gaps leaves a lot to be desired.

They need more.