Free agency won’t be upon us until the day after the World Series ends, which will be somewhere between November 1-5. But looking at the group of pending Dodgers free agents show that another season of roster turnover is likely on the position player side.
J.D. Martinez, Jason Heyward, and David Peralta started all three playoff games for the Dodgers this season. All three will be free agents, as will trade deadline acquisitions Kiké Hernández and Amed Rosario.
While this outgoing position player group lacks the punch of losing both Justin Turner and Trea Turner last offseason, plus the non-tender of Cody Bellinger, the 2023 group still comprised a big part of the Dodgers offense.
Martinez, Heyward, Peralta, Hernández, and Rosario accounted for 383 starts during the regular season, 26.3 percent of the team total. After July 26, by which both Hernández and Rosario were acquired, that quintet accounted for 31.2 percent of Dodgers starts.
In 2022, Bellinger, both Turners and trade deadline acquisition Joey Gallo combined for 458 starts, 31.4 percent of the team total for the season.
Dodgers free-agent hitters, 2022 & 2023
The combined stats of these two groups are remarkably similar offensively. The 2022 group has a big advantage in Wins Above Replacement, the difference mostly applicable to Trea Turner, who signed a $300-million deal with the Phillies last December.
None of this year’s group of Dodgers free agents is in line for anything close to that kind of payday. Even though this group will be free agents in a few weeks, the Dodgers could re-sign one or some of them. A Heyward return, given his production and standing in the clubhouse, seems highly possible.
But given how integral the 2023 group was to the Dodgers offense — one that scored 900 runs for the first time in 70 years — it’s clear that more change could be afoot.
Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman will be back atop the Dodgers lineup, and catcher Will Smith still has two seasons before reaching free agency.
James Outman had a solid rookie season and will get Rookie of the Year votes. Gavin Lux is expected back after tearing his ACL and spraining his LCL during spring training, which will presumably move stellar defender Miguel Rojas into more of a utility infielder role.
The Dodgers hold a $14-million 2024 club option on Max Muncy, which will be decided within five days of the World Series ends. Either he’s back at third base and/or designated hitter, or Muncy gets added to the list of free agents above, meaning even more turnover is coming.
Betts’ stellar work at second base in addition to right field added to the Dodgers versatility, which will also open up possibilities this offseason when deciding which holes to fill.
Some of that flexibility was ceded by having Martinez as a full-time designated hitter, but he was also quite productive when in the lineup. Outside of locking up the DH spot for a transcendent talent like free agent Shohei Ohtani or re-signing Martinez, I wonder if the Dodgers would rather keep the DH position open and shared by multiple players, including Muncy to open up more time at third base for one or both of Michael Busch or Miguel Vargas.
How Busch and Vargas are viewed remains to be seen. Outman and Vargas both went through struggles in the first half of 2023; Outman recovered, but Vargas did not and remained in Triple-A after the All-Star break. Busch was the Pacific Coast League MVP in Triple-A this season, but hit just .167/.247/.292 in his limited time in the majors (81 plate appearances). But that necessarily mean Vargas and Busch won’t eventually be productive going forward.
If anything, Lux is a great example that development, even for a highly-rated prospect, isn’t necessarily linear. He struggled in 2020 and 2021 but thrived in 2022, and will be counted on heavily in 2024.
The Dodgers could work all of these young players in, including outfielder Jonny DeLuca as well, but it’s hard to believe they are counting on all of them as their roster plan. Expect at least one starting-level position player, maybe two, to get added this offseason.