LOS ANGELES — Nothing has gone as the Dodgers had planned at shortstop in 2023, as they scramble to fill time at the position with a trio of players.
“It’s been an adjustment,” manager Dave Roberts said. “There’s no one way to manage a roster, but typically the shortstop position is pretty consistent. Sometimes you concede the bat for consistent defense. We just haven’t had that luxury this year.”
The contrast was evident on Monday night when Trea Turner of the Phillies came to Los Angeles, a reminder of the stability the Dodgers had at shortstop in recent years. Turner started 160 games at the position in 2022, replacing World Series MVP Corey Seager, a franchise fixture dating back to 2016.
Seager signed a $325-million, 10-year contract with the Rangers after 2021, and Turner signed with Philadelphia for $300 million over 11 years in December. Mookie Betts, in the third season of his 12-year, $365-million deal, made his fourth start at the position on Monday night.
Turner joked that Betts “has to play more than a few games” at the position to officially join the $300-million shortstop club.
Any thought of Turner being in that club in Los Angeles died when they never formally made him a contract offer, either during spring training in 2022 or in the offseason. Turner had talks with the Padres and Phillies before choosing Philadelphia.
“I entertained one west coast team, and I would have entertained another, especially one that I enjoyed and played at. It didn’t work out,” Turner said Monday. “I definitely would have considered it, and would have entertained it. I thought they would be on me, but they weren’t.”
The Dodgers instead turned the keys over to Gavin Lux, returning to his original position at age 25 after a breakout season in 2022 while playing second base. Those plans blew up on February 27 in spring training when Lux tore the ACL and sprained the LCL in his right knee, ending his season.
That moved 34-year-old Miguel Rojas — acquired by trade in January and signed to a one-year contract extension — into regular shortstop duty rather than the utility role originally envisioned by the team. That also meant 32-year-old Chris Taylor playing less outfield and returning to backup duty at shortstop, a position he’s played before but only had one inning at the position last season.
Even those plans were scuttled by left leg injuries for Rojas in the season’s opening month. He missed five games with a left groin strain, then roughly a week later strained his left hamstring to land on the injured list.
“I tried to play through [the groin injury], but I was putting a wrap on it,” Rojas said. “When you start doing that in April, maybe what’s going to happen at the end of the year won’t be satisfactory.
“They made the decision of ‘Let’s get you healthy, let’s get you back because we need you at the position the way you can play it, not playing on one leg.’”
Rojas was activated on Monday after missing 11 games, but didn’t start. The Dodgers will instead pick and choose his starts, more like the role envisioned in January, except Roberts acknowledged Monday that Rojas won’t move around the infield, but rather play shortstop when he does play.
“I think he wants to be out there as much as possible, but I do think that managing his load is really important as far as the long game this season,” Roberts said.
Since Rojas landed on the IL, Luke Williams started three games at shortstop before getting optioned, and the last nine games at the position has been shared between Taylor (five starts) and Betts (four).
Roberts wouldn’t commit to how the time at shortstop will be split.
“It’s going to be interesting how it plays out. I think Mookie is gaining my trust. He enjoys it, he’s good at it,” Roberts said. “Miguel Rojas is as good a defender as anyone at that position, and I trust C.T., who’s played great at short.”
Multiple times, Roberts has referred to getting Betts’ “feet on the dirt” at either second base or shortstop as a form of rest, compared to the physical wear and tear of running in the outfield.
Betts himself called finally playing shortstop “a dream come true” on April 21, his first game at the position in the majors. Betts for years has routinely taken pregame grounders in the infield. Turner, his teammate for a year and a half, said he wasn’t surprised that Betts is playing shortstop now.
“I thought that was a possibility, just because he’s a freak, and he’s played second already,” Turner said. “Of course, he makes a nice double play the first time he’s out there.”
Rojas has hit left-handers to the tune of .264/.326/.387 with a 95 wRC+ in his career, his better side, so it wouldn’t be surprising if he starts Tuesday against Phillies southpaw Matt Strahm. But there isn’t yet a discernible pattern as to how the shortstop playing time will be divvied.
“The main thing is that whether it’s Chris, Miguel, or Mookie, they’re all into playing the position, and helping us on a given day, and for me that’s really powerful,” Roberts said. “Whether it’s not ideal, whether it’s good or bad, time will tell.”