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Dodgers’ runway for Miguel Vargas is getting shorter and shorter

MLB: JUN 09 Dodgers at Phillies Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

LOS ANGELES — Miguel Vargas will start at second base for the Dodgers on Saturday, with left-hander Reid Detmers on the mound for the Angels. That’ll be just Vargas’ seventh start in the last 13 games, with playing time becoming more and more rare during a hellacious slump.

“Where we’re at with this club — wins are always important — I just think there comes a point where you’ve got to run out our best offense on a daily basis,” manager Dave Roberts said Friday. “Having that optionality to have Mookie [Betts] in the dirt, pick matchups for Miguel Vargas, I think right now where we’re at, it’s smart.”

Mookie Betts adding more and more infield to his incredible repertoire makes the decision to bench Vargas easier, with Betts’ last four starts coming in the infield, including three of the last four games at second base in lieu of Vargas.

Vargas pinch-hit on Friday and drew a seven-pitch walk in the eighth inning, a positive sign for a hitter who hasn’t had many things go his way lately. Vargas has five hits in his last 62 at-bats, and since June 1 is hitting .150/.263/.300. Among the 204 major league hitters with at least 90 plate appearances during that time, Vargas ranks dead last in batting average, 187th in both on-base percentage and slugging, and 191st in wRC+ (54),

It’s been a sharp fall for Vargas, who made his major league debut last season and was rated a top-50 prospect in the sport before the season by five national outlets. The Dodgers were so high on Vargas, they anointed him the starting second baseman before spring training, a position at which he played 77 games in the minors, about a quarter of his primary position of third base.

In the first few months of the season, Vargas was holding his own. He showed more power in May than in April, a month in which he was hit by a pitch on his hand, but in both months was essentially a league-average hitter, and starting regularly.

Miguel Vargas, month by month in 2023

Month PA BA/OBP/SLG XBH wRC+ Avg. exit velo wOBA xwOBA
Month PA BA/OBP/SLG XBH wRC+ Avg. exit velo wOBA xwOBA
April 100 .213/.354/.338 7 98 85.0 .316 .346
May 104 .223/.288/.457 13 99 88.3 .318 .359
since June 1 96 .150/.263/.300 6 54 86.9 .249 .243

When Vargas was hitting, it was much easier to overlook his defense at second base, which has not been good. He’s tied for second-worst in the majors with minus-7 Outs Above Average, below average going to his left or right, or going back on the ball.

Vargas is also near the bottom in Defensive Runs Saved (-4), and merely below average by Total Zone Rating (-1).

So if he’s not hitting and not fielding his position well, how long will Vargas remain on the roster?

“I think everything should be on the table,” Roberts said of the possibility Vargas could be optioned to Triple-A. “There’s a piece of winning here, and there’s also a piece of getting his mind where he needs to be. He’s never struggled like this.”

With Chris Taylor currently on the injured list with right knee soreness and out until after the All-Star break, the obvious option to join the Dodgers should Vargas get optioned is Michael Busch, who got an extended run at third base when Max Muncy was on the injured list. In Busch’s two major league stints this season, he’s hitting .200/.294/.267 in 51 plate appearances.

The August 1 trade deadline looms, and perhaps the Dodgers will acquire a right-handed batter who would take most of Vargas’ playing time, either by getting a second baseman or by getting an outfielder which would mean Betts seeing more time in the infield. But there’s also the matter getting Vargas on the right track.

“If it comes down to that, it’s always healthy to have that conversation for young players that are struggling,” Roberts said. “It would be for the benefit of him, short-term and long-term.”

The runway for Vargas is getting shorter. If he doesn’t take off soon, he could get grounded.