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Dodgers should embrace their youth movement while making Mookie Betts everyday SS

Or “Other declarations that one would not expect more than a quarter of the way through the season”

Los Angeles Dodgers v Chicago Cubs
An odd sight we should probably get used to.
Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images

Normally, I write up trade prediction idea essays to fill the time address perceived gaps on the Dodgers’ roster. I started with that premise looking at the many, many gaps on this team when a thought occurred to me. Trades are not the answer this time.

Mookie Betts should be the everyday shortstop

With the early season-ending injury to Gavin Lux, the Dodgers have had to improvise at the shortstop position this year. The improvisation increased when backup-now-regular Miguel Rojas was injured. The results have been about as bad one would think to be fair. Here are the three current players on the roster who have played shortstop this season, and their numbers while playing the position (excluding Luke Williams’ 1-for-8):

  • Miguel Rojas, 16 for 82 (.195/.241/.232), 3 2B, 2 RBI, 5 BB, 12 K (25 games)
  • Chris Taylor, 9 for 57 (.158/.238/.368), 2B, 3B, 3 HR, 6 RBI, 5 BB, 22 K (18 games)
  • Mookie Betts, 7 for 21 (.333), 3 HR, 3 2B, 8 RBI, 3 BB, 2 K (7 games)

It is a small sample size, but let us take a moment to appreciate what a freakishly good athlete Mookie Betts is. In some ways, it’s almost unfair just as a human being.

Earlier this year, when Gavin Lux was injured for the year, I pointed out that outside trade help was likely not coming. In that essay, I argued that the best potential shortstop that would hit the market in the upcoming year was Tim Anderson of the White Sox. I also argued that he would likely not be given up easily.

Almost as if on cue, the White Sox started playing terribly. A video where he may or may not have said he hates playing in Chicago surfaced, and the internet was off to the races. At the end of the day, per Baseball Trade Simulator, it would theoretically take the Dodgers trading Tony Gonsolin straight up for Anderson.

Even before the injury to Dustin May, it was my view that this trade was a very bad idea. For starters, Anderson has frequently been injured during the past few seasons, playing about two-thirds of the time. Now, the Dodgers are desperate for starting pitching depth.

The starting pitching core is a 35-year-old Clayton Kershaw, a suddenly inconsistent and currently sidelined Julio Urías in a contract year, Gonsolin, an injured Dustin May, an injured-until-the-All-Star-Break Ryan Pepiot, Noah Syndergaard, and rookie Gavin Stone. Michael Grove was on the taxi squad and has returned to Oklahoma City for a rehab assignment. Depleting this depleted core even further seems like a very foolish idea for the Dodgers to do. Bobby Miller will join the group on Tuesday.

While there may be a dearth of available shortstops, the Dodgers can fix this problem by sliding Betts over to shortstop and swapping him back to right field late in games, allowing Rojas or Taylor to enter games as a defensive replacement as appropriate. This strategy then raises question marks about the Dodgers' outfield core, which prompted another check using Baseball Trade Simulator for potential outfielders for the Dodgers to acquire.

Trying to find a replacement outfielder is much easier than trying to find a replacement shortstop. But again, the person who was most intriguing, Bryan Reynolds of the Pirates, is not available. Shocker of shockers, the Pirates actually paid someone they developed to stick around, which leads to the title of this essay. Aaron Hicks of the Yankees was just designated for assignment, but frankly, the last thing that the Dodgers need is another reclamation project outfielder.

The Dodgers should embrace their youth movement

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at St. Louis Cardinals
Never forget that James Outman was left in the minors in 2022.
Joe Puetz-USA TODAY Sports

In one respect, I will never forgive the Dodgers for the following decision they made last year. In 2022, when they had James Outman, who literally hit for two cycles in less than five actual games, the team decided to stick with Joey “I only cost Double-AA hurler Clayton Beeter, who was frustrated with the Dodgers’ throwing program” Gallo and Cody Bellinger.

Would Outman have changed the outcome of the NLDS? Probably not. But even Gallo admitted recently the Dodgers did as much as they could do to no avail during the season.

Why the aside? Because there is a legitimate argument that had Lux not been injured, Outman would still be in the minors. Based on what we have seen so far, apart from his inability to deal with/handle high heat, James Outman has forced himself into the everyday lineup. He is the Dodgers’ centerfielder going forward.

The Dodgers had a plan going into this past offseason. Whether that plan made any sense was a discussion we covered on a previous day. But the theme of this year should be clear: the Dodgers should embrace their youth movement because the Punch-and-Judy show the team has had in the corner outfield positions has been tough to watch.

Here’s how outfielders Trayce Thompson, Jason Heyward, and David Peralta have hit this season, and the results have not been pretty.

  • Jason Heyward, 18 for 84 (.214/.330/.440), 16 R, 7 2B, 4 HR, 9 RBI, 15 BB, 21 K
  • David Peralta, 22 for 104 (.212/.257/.317), 11 R, 5 2B, 2 HR, 17 RBI, 7 BB, 18 K
  • Trayce Thompson, 7 for 64 (.109/.269/.297), 11 R, 4 HR, 12 RBI, 13 BB, 34 K

A common theme arises from these three players — they strike out way too often. In fact, when the Dodgers as a team get a runner on third with less than two outs, they strike out 30.6 percent of the time, second-worst worst mark in the majors, trailing only the struggling Padres (36 percent).

As of this essay, Thompson is mired in an 0-for-38 slump, tied for the worst by a non-pitcher in Los Angeles Dodgers history. I have been Thompson’s most vocal defender, proclaiming him the team’s Cinderella Man last year. It has been almost physically painful to watch Thompson this season as a fan. In fact, since that magical three-homer night on April 1, Thompson has four hits in 60 at-bats, with 33 strikeouts.

Frankly, an entire essay could be spent on Thompson’s regression from three-home-run-night to 0 for 38 (and counting). Stephen Nelson’s call of “Stop it!” feels like it needs a voiceover from Ron Howard ala Arrested Development (“And so he did.”).

Heyward started stronger than I would have thought as he has not passed my eye test in weeks. Truthfully, most chatter focused on the strength of his Baseball Savant metrics (namely hitting the figurative tar out of the baseball) and that those metrics indicated that Hayward should have more offensive production.

But with the regression in those statistics, what if everyone was looking at the metrics incorrectly? Namely, what if the results were not the outlier, but rather the strength of the metrics themselves? A loud out is still an out. It is an interesting thought experiment. In any event, Heyward’s production dropped off a cliff, the metrics have softened and the strikeouts have piled up.

Peralta has been the most consistent in results, which is a low bar compared to Thompson and Hayward. He’s been adequate as a pinch-hitter and his defense has been fine. He’s been less bad than Hayward and Thompson of late, but admittedly, the pesky hitter that tormented the Dodgers in Arizona has yet to fully make an appearance statistically.

Frankly, an entire follow-up essay could and should be focused on the scuffling five: Taylor, Thompson, Hayward, Peralta, and Austin Barnes. But I will conclude this short essay with the following thought. Right now, the Dodgers have time to figure out who amongst Thompson, Heyward, and Peralta is going to rebound to stick around.

MLB: Los Angeles Dodgers at Milwaukee Brewers
Coming soon?
Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Otherwise, the solution to the Dodgers’ outfielder problem can be found with someone I repeatedly suggested that the Dodgers should trade: Michael Busch. If not Busch, then maybe the Dodgers give Jonny DeLuca or Andy Pages a serious look for a cup of major league coffee. At this time, while a youngster would accrue service time and have growing pains in the majors, I understand that a runway would be needed to determine who the Dodgers should stick with going forward this season.

To use the analogy, if the runways are filled with planes needing maintenance, wouldn’t it make sense to figure which planes are worth keeping and which planes are worth scrapping for something new? At some point, the Dodgers are going to have to do something about the ineffective play in their outfield. Moving Betts to shortstop would shore up the infield but necessitate a decision on what to do about Thompson, Heyward, and Peralta.

There is no rush yet as there is still about 70 percent of the season left. It feels like a statistical improbability that a team that strikes out as much with such uneven production as the Dodgers have will continue winning at the clip they have been winning. But time will tell, especially in weeks like this against quality opponents like Atlanta and Tampa Bay.