Justin Turner remains unsigned. DJ LeMahieu went back to the Yankees — as expected — last week. The easy path is for the Dodgers to re-sign Turner, maybe add a Brad Hand or Kirby Yates and call it an offseason.
Of course, the easy path isn’t always the most entertaining path. That’s where Marcell Ozuna comes in.
Ozuna, 30, is one of the best free-agent hitters available, and he’s still unsigned at this point. He’s expected to land a multi-year deal worth lots of money. Experts have estimated somewhere in the 4-year, $70-plus million range. He hit .338/.431/.636 with a 179 wRC+. It was, rate-stat-wise, the best season of his career. He’s also a Statcast darling.
He has spent his entire 8-year career in the National League. Still, some think he’s best suited to be, primarily, designated hitter. With the universal DH still undecided at this point, it has hurt some players’ market and has made Ozuna’s future a little unclear.
Sure, he could go out in left field for the Dodgers and occupy some space and not be a total liability, but he doesn’t project to have a ton of defensive value as he gets into his 30s. Lest we forget this gem from 2019 (ironically, against the Dodgers):
Still, he has some solid defensive numbers in his career as a left fielder. In 4,063 1/3 innings, he has a +15 defensive runs saved. Over the last two seasons (1,257 innings), he’s at +1 DRS, which is partially why some he fits best as a DH going forward.
The Dodgers’ reported interest in Ozuna is a bit curious if there’s no DH. It could just be an ultimately fruitless rumor (as many turn out to be), but maybe that means the DH will be back in ’21. If that’s the case, I’d almost rather the Dodgers sign Nelson Cruz for that role, but that’s another discussion for another time.
Even with the DH, adding Ozuna would make AJ Pollock a bit redundant. Chris Taylor could fill the role in the field (which would give Gavin Lux a chance to start every day at second base) on the days Ozuna is the DH and when Turner (assuming he’s back) needs a day off in field, Ozuna could go out to left field. Taylor is a better defender in left than Pollock and is probably a better overall hitter. Pollock’s bounce-back 2020 season could make him a little more tradeable, but the Dodgers would probably have to eat some of the money left on his affordable contract. There are a lot of moving pieces in this scenario, but if the Dodgers are intent on adding a middle-of-the-order, right-handed hitter not named Turner, Ozuna might be the guy.
They, reportedly, offered LeMahieu 4 years and $60 million. I could see them offering the same deal to Ozuna, while also retaining Turner. They’re at about $205 million right now and the luxury tax threshold is $210 million, so there’s almost no way they stay under the tax for 2021 (which is totally fine). If they’re going to go over, they may as well make it worth it. Then again, they might opt for Ozuna over Turner and just play Edwin Rios and friends at third base, but that seems unlikely since they’re going over the tax number anyway.
If the DH returns to the NL, Ozuna would be a great fit. If it doesn’t, it’s hard to see the Dodgers seriously being interested in him. It almost feels like a lot depends on the status of Turner. Hopefully there’s some resolution — one way or another — on that in the next week or two.