When the Dodgers acquired Mookie Betts ahead of the 2020 season, it felt like the missing link, or simply adding to riches on a championship-caliber squad. A few years later, to call the former MVP an integral part of this squad feels like an understatement.
With the departures of Corey Seager, Cody Bellinger, and others across the years, and amidst a younger, more inexperienced group, Betts’ production and veteran leadership are invaluable. In 2023 we can add it another category to that list — his versatility.
In 77 games this season, Betts has played second base on 18 occasions, including 15 starts. He’s played another 13 games at shortstop, including 10 starts, all while remaining a plus defender wherever he’s deployed.
The fact Betts can play regularly as a middle infielder shouldn’t come as that big of a surprise, given the fact that’s the position he came up in, before moving to right field. As the Red Sox employed the likes of Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts in Betts’ early days in the bigs.
First career appearance at shortstop for Mookie? No problem. pic.twitter.com/z8FCgkhRGh— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) April 21, 2023
If anything, we’ve all become a little numb to Mookie Betts’ outstanding athletic abilities. However, not only his ability, but willingness to move around defensively, when he is the face of the franchise, and arguably the best defensive right-fielder in the sport, is huge. And it provides the Dodgers with a considerable boost in the trade market.
Out of all the biggest issues for the Dodgers in 2023, offensive production isn’t really near the top, as the ball club sits second in the National League in runs scored (5.45 per game) and home runs (128). Particularly with J.D. Martinez and Max Muncy both healthy, this is a formidable bunch.
Nevertheless, there is always room for improvement, and unlike in past seasons, the depth isn’t quite as strong in 2023, which was evident recently with Muncy and Chirs Taylor missing extended time.
With Miguel Vargas scuffling at the plate, and Miguel Rojas experiencing a down season with the bat even for his standards, the Dodgers’ middle infield is far removed from the days of Trea Turner and Seager.
That being said, the options on the trade market to improve those positions are virtually nonexistent. With both Central divisions so bad that virtually any team in either is a playoff contender by default, And others like the AL East and NL West, where strength is common, and only the Rockies out of the race, there are just not yet that many sellers in an inflated market.
Finding any bat that may move the needle and play either of those middle infield positions is a significant challenge, to say the least.
However, finding a platoon bat in the outfield, particularly a right-handed one, might be a far easier option, and that becomes a realistic and intriguing option. All because Betts has proven he can more than handle himself at both short and second.
Even in the outfield, the options aren’t exactly in bulk, nor of the highest quality. However, one won’t be so pressed to find bats worth a flier. Just to name a few, Lane Thomas, albeit a tricky one with a few years of control remaining is an option, as he currently has a 138 OPS+ for the Nationals. Randall Grichuk of the Rockies (.285/.324/.524 against left-handed pitchers the last three seasons) might be a worthwhile flier, and neither would cost much if anything.
An interesting one would be Teoscar Hernández (109 OPS+, making $14 million), as the Mariners are currently 38-41, they still might look to compete, but we’ve seen Seattle general manager Jerry Dipoto hedge his options in the past. He hasn’t been afraid to move on from players in their walk year, even in the middle of possibly contending for a wild card spot.
These are just names off the top of my head. The main takeaway here is that the ability to rely on Mookie Betts to provide the offensive output we’ve come to expect from him, while occupying a middle infield position, defensively, is enormously valuable. Adding flexibility for a squad, that currently has nothing, but below-league-average production at that position.