Earlier in the offseason we discussed the Dodgers’ potential pursuit of Tesocar Hernández, and how it was tied to the potential departure of J.D. Martínez and the arrival of Shohei Ohtani, both of which came to fruition.
As loaded as the offense was in 2023, the front office went out there and acquired major pieces. With that in mind, it’s as good a time as any, to project the biggest winners and losers, in terms of the current bottom end of the lineups, assessing players that may see diminished roles by the arrival of Hernández.
First off, in a very crude exercise of trying to figure out how this lineup will look, here’s a basic idea of the Dodgers offense in 2024:
Mookie Betts 2B
Freddie Freeman 1B
Shohei Ohtani DH
Will Smith C
Max Muncy 3B
Teoscar Hernández LF
James Outman CF
Jason Heyward/Chris Taylor/Manuel Margot RF
Gavin Lux/Miguel Rojas SS
The first takeaway to be had here, and it’s an obvious one, but even though he was brought on primarily for his ability to mash lefties, his overall track record means that Teoscar Hernández will play essentially every day. And that will take a good bit of at-bats away from some the current group.
As if the tendencies of last season, or even if Dave Roberts’ statement at the winter meetings wasn’t enough, signing Hernández makes it that much clearer that Betts will be pretty close to an everyday second baseman in 2024.
Understanding those two things, it’s difficult to escape the fact that Chris Taylor might be the odd man out here.
Taylor’s flexibility ensures that throughout an entire season, he’s still likely to get a good chunk of work, being able to be the next player up at almost any position of need. However, with a healthy roster, the veteran utility man is left to fight with Manuel Margot for the role as the light side of a platoon with Jason Heyward in right field.
Taylor has more upside than Margot as a hitter. However, the latter has shown much better numbers away from Tampa (.770+ OPS in each of the past two years), and we’ve seen other hitters (Willy Adames) find more success leaving Tropicana Field.
Margot is also the superior option defensively, and that’s more significant, understanding the loss of Betts’ all-world work in right field.
It’s more than plausible to foresee either of the options getting the majority of looks against southpaws. However, as long as Heyward maintains anything close to the hitting line he had last year (with his outstanding defensive work), both Margot and Taylor are left to fight for a short number of at-bats.
On top of a diminished role for Taylor, Hernández signing basically closes the door on a return for David Peralta and Kiké Hernandez, both of whom even in their current stages will demand and receive bigger roles elsewhere, even after elbow surgery for Peralta in October.
Is it impossible that one of them returns? Probably not, but you’d be talking about a major compromise with no assurances of consistent at-bats.
There are extenuating circumstances that end up playing a role in every season. Virtually any injury to a non-catcher bumps Taylor into a higher role. Say even Freddie Freeman misses some time, the team could just move Muncy to first, and who’s there as one of the primary options with third base experience, if not Taylor?
We’re also assuming Gavin Lux picks up right where he left off, and in case the youngster struggles coming off a major injury, Taylor could see time at shortstop too. Looking at his numbers across the last two seasons, it makes sense that the Dodgers would avoid relying on Taylor as a regular starter, but even with the current lineup, he remains an invaluable piece with all that versatility.
The signing of Hernández will give the Dodgers 12 position players under contract in 2024, in addition to James Outman coming off of a stellar rookie season. That’s a full position-player set for the active roster, making Miguel Vargas the odd man out for now, though Vargas could play his way into a major league role with a strong performance in Triple-A. Michael Busch was in that position as well before getting traded to the Cubs on Thursday.
One more note before wrapping things up. Hernández has historically played mostly in right field, but given the symmetric dimensions of Dodger Stadium, I could see him moving to left, allowing Heyward to maintain his comfort level and elite work out in right.
Either way, it doesn’t matter a whole lot which corner outfield spot Hernández will fill. The former Mariner came over for what he can do with the bat in his hands.