Following the mega-trade that shipped away three right-handed hitters, many believed the Dodgers were clearing room to land the prized free agent of this off-season, Bryce Harper. There are still some (stupid) luxury tax concerns that make his signing far from a shoe-in, but reports have stated there may be another hurdle to overcome for Harper.
It’s always important to consider the source, so this should be taken with a grain of salt. More moves will undoubtably be made, but as it shapes out right now, the Dodgers seem to be depending on five left-handed hitters in their everyday lineup. Max Muncy seems to be the likely first baseman. Corey Seager will hopefully return healthy and hold down shortstop in 2019. The outfield could feature three lefties, with CodyBellinger, Joc Pederson and Alex Verdugo as logical outfield options. As is, one of Chris Taylor or Enrique Hernandez would likely be starting at second, leaving one of them as a right-handed outfield option.
The Dodgers aren’t shy about using platoons, and losing two right-handed outfielders in one trade does slightly impact their ability to platoon in the outfield. Yasiel Puig lost playing time against lefties, with OPS’s of .592 and .628 against southpaws in the last two seasons. Matt Kemp posted an .828 OPS against lefties, making his loss a bit tougher from this perspective. If the Dodgers want to throw an all right-handed lineup at opposing left-handed pitchers, losing Kemp stings a bit. However, platooning shouldn’t be necessary, and it seems like the Dodgers aren’t committing to strict platoons.
Bellinger will, at least to begin the season, be an everyday player. Last season, Bellinger began the season as an everyday player but struggled and lost playing time against lefties. His OPS against righties was nearly .200 points higher than against lefties (.880 vs RHP, .681 vs LHP) and his strikeout rates and walk rates were both worse against southpaws. Bellinger being platooned made sense last year, and it’s good that the Dodgers will likely him another chance this season.
The more egregious platoon involved Muncy, who broke out and became an impact player in 2018. Muncy had some platoon splits, but was excellent at the plate regardless of pitcher handedness. Muncy’s 169 wRC+ against right-handed pitching would have been the fourth-highest overall wRC+ among qualified hitters in baseball. His 144 wRC+ against lefties would have only been the ninth-highest. Muncy has some defensive shortcomings and did strike out more than 30 percent of the time against lefties, but if the Dodgers are truly seeking “impact bats”, an easy fix would be to keep Muncy as a fixture in the lineup.
The rumored platoon concerns have dampened the excitement of a potential Harper signing. However, Harper is another player that doesn’t really need to be platooned. Like most left-handed batters, he has more success against righties than lefties. Last season, Harper had a seven point wRC+ difference (137 vs righties, 130 vs lefties) and a 47 point difference in OPS (.904 vs righties, .857 vs lefties). He actually struck out less frequently against lefties (22.9 percent) than righties (24.9 percent), so concern about platoons facing left-handed pitching shouldn’t prevent the Dodgers from pursuing one of the best free agents in recent baseball history.
A couple days ago, Dustin wrote about potential right-handed bats the Dodgers could pursue. Of the five remaining true impact bats, two would require a king’s ransom in a trade package, two would require someone to play a new position, and one can’t stay healthy. But really adding any impact bat should be the priority, and it shouldn’t really matter what side of the plate the bat comes from.
There’s one free agent out there that would provide a huge upgrade and truly change the Dodger lineup. A middle-of-the-order containing Seager, Turner and Harper would undoubtedly be one of the best in baseball and would be dangerous against righties or lefties. There’s always risk in signing a guy to what could be the biggest contract in baseball history, but the Dodgers reset the luxury tax and should be willing to go over it to sign a 26-year-old superstar.
If all the Dodgers do for the rest of the offseason is sign Harper (there will be more moves), they could still throw out a solid lineup against left-handed pitching. David Freese could move Muncy to second, and the Dodgers could throw Taylor and Hernandez in the outfield alongside Harper (or Bellinger, if they pass on Harper).
Despite trading away two right-handed outfielders that combined to take 950 plate appearances last year, the Dodgers still have the talent and depth to field a championship-contending team next year. They’ve been in search of the piece to take them over the hump, and a guy like Harper could exactly be that. There’s reasons to be concerned about signing him (inconsistency at time, defense, hundreds of millions of dollars), but his handedness shouldn’t scare off the Dodgers.