It’s Shohei Ohtani or bust for the Dodgers. That statement is rather clear, but it may force a variety of scenarios. Here we’ll discuss the team’s outlook at the designated hitter position, and how it involves Ohtani, Max Muncy, and J.D. Martínez and multiple layers.
First, it’s pretty clear that the Dodgers didn’t extend Martínez the qualifying offer, to keep the position open for an Ohtani pursuit, among other things. Meanwhile, Muncy signed a two-year extension beyond just his team option for 2024 which would have undoubtedly been picked up.
If the Dodgers sign Ohtani, which right now is still a major if, he’ll be the full-time DH, and the team will adjust around that.
But what happens if they don’t? Here’s where things get interesting.
One could feasibly assume if the Dodgers miss out on Ohtani and J.D. Martínez is still available in the market, they’d just opt to bring him back.
That move has merits, obviously, we saw how big of a factor Martínez was last season, but it’s not one without counterpoints.
Say Ohtani doesn’t come, there is a very real and sound argument to not pursue a full-time DH; it goes through Max Muncy, who we now know will be around in 2024 and beyond.
Muncy is a first baseman. He has the flexibility to play elsewhere in the diamond. However, that flexibility was capped by the banning of his shift, putting a further strain on his glove work, and in an ideal situation, he’d be a fill-in guy at third, not your everyday guy.
The Dodgers before 2023 made use of the DH in the NL as a way to rotate different options. A player in a similar situation as Muncy although quite older, Justin Turner, really thrived having that spot open, not needing to play third every day in his last Dodgers season in 2022.
There’s the possibility of giving Will Smith more time off the catcher position, but keeping his bat in the lineup, and just generally keeping your whole team fresh. These were all benefits of not employing a full-time DH.
The Dodgers brought in Martínez in part to relieve pressure off some of the youngsters who would have to replace big bats such as Corey Seager and Trea Turner, who left in recent campaigns.
The merits of resigning Martínez are still there, but at the same time, Muncy tanked in the fourth percentile of Outs Above Average last season, and at times the glove work became a real liability.
Martínez experienced a real resurgence with the bat, but he’ll also turn 37 next summer, and with the Dodgers already having a DH-ish candidate, it may be best to invest that money elsewhere.
With Muncy getting a bulk of the DH at-bats, the Dodgers would still have names in-house to fill in at third. Like the veteran Chris Taylor, who is signed through 2025, and Michael Busch, who moved around the field in the minors last season to gain flexibility.
If one is inclined to go to the market for another hitter to bring to the fold, he’d be costly, but Matt Chapman would drastically improve this team’s defense at third base, and be a fine asset offensively. I personally doubt the front office would go after someone with Chapman’s profile, but there are other short-term options to bring in-depth to this offense.
The point here, though, is that with Muncy locked up, there is a real risk-reward assessment to be made when it comes to pursuing Martínez again, should Ohtani not work out. The best thing for Muncy and the Dodgers would probably not be playing 145 games at third base in 2024.