By Declan Krogman
In a matter of moments, the opportunity of a lifetime slipped away from Gavin Lux. On February 27, the 25-year-old Dodgers shortstop was avoiding a throw from Padres third baseman Jantzen Witte when he stumbled and his knee twisted in the Arizona dirt. The Dodgers training staff feared the worst, and it was confirmed hours later by Dodgers manager Dave Roberts that Gavin Lux would miss the 2023 season with a torn ACL and sprained LCL.
The injury is a huge blow for both the Dodgers and Lux, as this spring marked the first chance for Lux to earn the starting spot at his natural position. The Kenosha native’s bid at the starting shortstop position is well documented, as he’s spent a majority of the last three years at second base, with occasional stints in the outfield and pinch hitting off the bench, logging a career high 129 games last season. Now that Trea Turner departed Los Angeles for the Philadelphia Phillies on a 13 year, $300M contract, the spot on the left side of the infield once filled by Turner and Corey Seager over the last three years was his to fill.
The 25-year-old fought back tears as he talked to reporters about the opportunity, saying “I think every baseball player’s dream is to play shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.” Ready for the opportunity, Lux added 20 pounds of muscle and spent extra time this offseason sharpening up his defensive skills at his natural position in his native Wisconsin. The hype for the reigning National League triples leader was real coming into camp at Camelback Ranch and his teammates believed it, so much so that the Dodgers All-Star first baseman Freddie Freeman had him picked as his breakout player of the year.
Now that the Dodgers announced Lux underwent surgery on March 7, they will have pivot to an internal and potential external option at a position once manned over the last four years by superstars with the likes of Manny Machado, Corey Seager and Trea Turner. In four years, those three shortstops went on to sign four contracts worth just over $1 billion for 36 years combined. While the boys in blue don’t have another star in the driver’s seat to captain their infield, they feel comfortable enough to turn the keys over to veteran Miguel Rojas, who was traded back to the team after eight seasons with the Miami Marlins. The 34-year-old, known mainly for his defense, is coming off the worst season of his career where he posted career lows across the board slashing a measly .236 batting average along with 6 home runs and only 36 runs batted in.
While the Dodgers view Rojas as the guy at shortstop for now, Chris Taylor will see approximately 25-30% of the starts at the position, taking him out of left field when he’s fulfilling his role as backup shortstop. In addition, Dave Roberts told reporters that he expects All-Star right fielder Mookie Betts to see increased action at second base this season. Betts, originally drafted as a second baseman by the Red Sox, has been one of the league’s premier outfielders but is expected to play roughly 40 games at second as a result of Lux’s injury.
For the past five seasons, the Dodgers have been a National League powerhouse, and the depth of the roster was on full display both over the course of the season and at the negotiating table, with the Dodgers seemingly always having a plan in place for nearly any superstar that walks out the door. However, the Dodgers obviously did not foresee Lux getting hurt in the first week of March, and their middle infield depth is thin, leading to them the potential star studded middle infield combo of Taylor and Betts. Despite Betts’ ability to man second base, the Dodgers are not paying the perennial MVP candidate $380 million to make the shortest throw on the field. And while Chris Taylor’s versatility is useful especially when October rolls around, left field is a good place for him to get comfortable and settle into becoming the best version of himself as a ballplayer.
The good news for the Dodgers is that there are still a few solid options available via free agency. At this juncture, there’s four realistic options on the market: Andrelton Simmons, Didi Gregorius, Jurickson Profar and Jose Iglesias. The latter two are certainly better options for the boys in blue, as Profar and Iglesias both played in the NL West last season and can handle the intensity of the heated division rivalry between the Dodgers and Padres. In 152 games with San Diego, Profar hit .243 with 15 home runs and runs batted in with a 3.1 WAR. For Iglesias’ part, the eleven-year vet is known for his defense, but managed to hit .292, with a slash line of .328/.380/.708 with only 3 home runs and drove in 47 runs. While the Dodgers would be benefit from adding either of the two shortstops to split time with Rojas, it would be within their best interest to stay away from Andrelton Simmons. The former Braves defensive wizard was always just that, but at this point in his career the Dodgers would not benefit from his defense with him hitting below the Mendoza line and posting a negative WAR. Unlike Simmons, the case can be made for Didi Gregorius, a veteran left handed bat with postseason experience for the New York Yankees, to potentially get an opportunity in Los Angeles.
Another shortstop with some postseason experience for the Yankees whowill potentially be on the Dodgers radar yet again is Isiah Kiner-Falefa. While IKF is a reasonable option for the Dodgers as a placeholder for Lux until he returns in 2024, the Dodgers would likely have to give up more than desired for a player coming off a rough first year in front of the New York media. With time as the season progresses, the better options at the position become available via trade. One guy the Dodgers need to have their eye on is Brewers shortstop Willy Adames, who is far apart with the Brewers on extension talks down the line because he wants big money. If the Brew Crew are out of contention by the deadline, Adames is certainly a name we could see on the move.
Another premier shortstop the Dodgers should be ringing the phone off the hook for is Cleveland Guardians shortstop Amed Rosario. The former Mets prospect has found a home and made a name for himself in Cleveland after arriving in 2021 as one of the return pieces in the trade that sent Francisco Lindor to Queens. While Rosario would be a great fit and would provide a jolt to an already supercharged lineup, Cleveland’s asking price for Rosario would likely be too high to elevate talks off of the ground floor. All signs point to the Guardians looking to extend Rosario on the left side of the infield since extending one of the best third baseman and players in the game, Jose Ramirez.
With the hole created by Gavin Lux’s injury, the Dodgers feel confident with the veteran Miguel Rojas to step up and play lock down defense in his absence. But to truly compete in October with the Padres and the powerhouses in the National League, the Dodgers need to follow the winning formula that has helped make them successful in the first place: depth.