The Dodgers have one of the best outfielders in the game in Mookie Betts. But after him, suddenly, the outfield situation in LA looks a bit — unsettled, to put it lightly.
The non-tendering of Cody Bellinger put a dent in the outfield depth, even if he isn’t the player he once was (and he still could come back). After Betts, the outfield depth chart is as follows:
And you could throw Miguel Vargas and his limited time in left field in the mix. That’s … not great. Sure, there’s some potential with Outman and Pages, but Taylor is coming off an injury-plagued season, Thompson isn’t a sure bet to be the guy he was in 2022 going forward, Lux is probably better suited at second base and DeLuca is mostly an unknown at this point.
Long story short, the Dodgers are going to need to address the outfield situation. Here are some guys who should be on the radar.
Obviously, Aaron Judge is the biggest name available among outfielders this offseason. The reigning AL MVP is coming off a 62 home run season and is going to get paid. There has been some scuttlebutt about the Dodgers being interested in Judge — and even that Mookie Betts, according to some, would consider a move to second base to make room for him — but I still don’t see it. Judge is going to command a mammoth deal and is entering his age-31 season. Sure, the Dodgers last spring gave Freddie Freeman a large contract ahead of his age-32 season, but Freeman had been a much more consistent performer than Judge over his career and was much healthier. Still, if the Dodgers felt comfortable enough giving Judge the contract he has earned, then it’d be kind of hard not to be on board with it.
Others corner outfielders on the free-agent market who could make some sense include Andrew Benintendi, Michael Brantley, Adam Duvall, Mitch Haniger (to whom the Dodgers have been connected), Joey Gallo, Andrew McCutchen, Tyler Naquin, David Peralta, AJ Pollock, and Jurickson Profar. I’m not sure how much guys like Duvall, McCutchen, Naquin and Peralta are real upgrades over what the Dodgers have internally, so there might not be much there. The Gallo experiment didn’t exactly return the results (.671 OPS) the Dodgers were expecting. A Pollock reunion might not be the worst idea, but he is limited to just left field. Profar is basically a different version of Taylor — versatile with offensive flaws. Benintendi seems destined for a second-division team to be a full-timer, while Brantley — despite being the best hitter of this bunch — is probably only a designated hitter at this point. Of the free-agents, Haniger makes the most sense, but he also figures to have a lot of interest. If only Joc Pederson hadn’t received (and accepted) the qualifying offer, which is wild to think about.
Because of the subpar non-Judge options, the trade market might make more sense. We’ve already seen Teoscar Hernandez, Kyle Lewis and Hunter Renfroe traded this offseason, so there will be movement on that front. Other names who could be on the market include Ian Happ, Austin Hays, Aaron Hicks, Max Kepler, Bryan Reynolds, Anthony Santander, Jorge Soler and Jesse Winker.
Reynolds would be ideal, as they could put him in left field and, in theory, get good offense and improved defense because Reynolds isn’t a great center fielder. However, he’d have the highest acquisition cost since he’s not a free agent until after the 2025 season. Happ is a strong defender in left with good power who is a free agent after the 2023 season, so he could probably be had. Hays would be an interesting buy-low candidate, but the Orioles aren’t exactly looking to trade young talent at this point. The rest all have some kind of other flaw in their respective game. Kepler has two above-average seasons (by wRC+) in his career, and one was the COVID-shortened 2020 season. Santander is in the same boat of inconsistency, while Soler and Winker are better suited to be designated hitters. Hicks is quite injury-prone, but he does have some talent (even if he hasn’t been good the last two seasons).
Center field is a bit of a different situation. Sure, the Dodgers could go with an Outman/Taylor/Thompson amalgom, but they could probably do better.
Non-Bellinger free-agent center fielders include Kevin Kiermaier (reported interest in him), Brandon Nimmo and … that’s about it. Kiermaier would be be at least on par, if not better, defensively than Bellinger, and Nimmo would be a massive upgrade over the current version of Bellinger, while being somewhat serviceable-ish in center. As for Judge, wherever he ends up signing, he’s probably going to play in a corner and not center field, despite spending more than 600 innings there in 2022.
Teams aren’t exactly lining up to trade their controllable center fielders, so the market for a trade may not be there. Seriously, I’m having a hard time even coming up with any names who could be available and would be upgrades over what the Dodgers have right now. I guess Cedric Mullins is the most likely, and that’s not even likely. Maybe Ramon Laureano is the guy, even if he has been inconsistent on both sides of the ball.
Factoring in what it would take to land said outfielders — either money or trade — here are my Top 5 non-Bellinger and Judge corner and center fielder choices from the players mentioned above, ranked:
Happ’s trade acquisition cost shouldn’t be prohibitive and Haniger’s free-agent deal shouldn’t be too costly. However, Hangier’s health is a bit of a concern. Reynolds would take a lot to acquire from Pittsburgh, but it might ultimately be worth it. Pollock and McCutchen are interchangeable, really, and maybe there’d be some Albert Pujols-like late-career resurgence for a guy like McCutchen.
Kiermaier is the best defender of the lot, so it’d be like having Bellinger of the last few years out there with probably better offense for a lower price. Lauerano would be a medium-risk, medium-reward guy. Hays is probably better in a corner and I’d actually like to see what LA could do with him. Nimmo is going to get paid handsomely and I don’t think the Dodgers are the one who will do it. Mullins probably isn’t going anywhere.
You know what? Screw it. Just trade for Mike Trout.