One of the biggest problems the Dodgers had on defense (which was, overall, surprisingly solid) was turning double plays. They were woefully bad at doing that in 2016, finishing last in the majors among second basemen (68) and shortstops (70) when it came to turning double plays. We know Corey Seager isn’t going anywhere, and the front office is resistant to moving him off shortstop yet, so the logical improvement has to come at second base.
But not only does there need to be a defensive upgrade at second base, improved offense there is also a must.
Chase Utley did an admirable job in 2016, but he was just a little worse than league-average on offense and not exactly prime Joe Morgan on defense. Howie Kendrick played just 210 1/3 innings at second base as a result, but he wasn’t particularly good on offense or defense when he played there. Kendrick was given the option of playing left field or second base in Game 1 of the NLCS and he chose left field. That isn’t exactly inspiring for his chances of doing well at second base next season. Enrique Hernandez had a 5 1/2-month struggle in 2016, and the other guys who played second base might not even be back with the Dodgers next season (Austin Barnes, Charlie Culberson, Micah Johnson, Chris Taylor).
As such, it’s worth looking at potential replacements, and here are some players who could be available this winter to improve the Dodgers second base situation.
The worst defender of bunch, Dietrich is definitely the under-the-radar type guy this front office looks for in a trade acquisition. He has played a utility role in his first four MLB seasons (only 324 games), but he has played almost 55 percent of his games at second base. Despite being just a mediocre defender (-3 DRS, -2.1 UZR/150), Dietrich has been worth 1.5 wins per 162 games, thanks in large part to an above-average bat.
Dietrich, 27, hit .279/.374/.425 in 412 plate appearances in 2016. He played a lot of second base after Dee Gordon was suspended, but he also logged some time at both infield corners and left field. The only thing is, he doesn’t do much to help the Dodgers’ struggles against left-handed pitching. He hit just .200/.264/.292 with a 50 wRC+ against them in 2016 and owns just a .205/.264/.330, 64 wRC+ line against them in his career. He’s probably one of the least-desirable players on this list because of the average (at best) defense and struggles against lefties, but don’t count him out completely because of his versatility. It would also allow the Dodgers to play Kendrick and maybe Hernandez at second base in a platoon situation. Both of them are looking redemption in 2017.
Dietrich is arbitration-eligible for the first time and predicted to make $1.8 million. The Marlins don’t have a real reason to trade him, but the two organizations have recent history when it comes to swapping players.
Before the second half of 2016, this acquisition would have been a lot easier. Dozier, 30, hit .246/.335/.450 with a 110 wRC+ in the first half. That isn’t bad by any standard, but he completely exploded in the second half to the tune of a .291/.344/.646(!) triple slash and a 156 wRC+. He ended up with 42 home runs for the hapless Twins and was nearly a 6-win player. He was also the most productive hitter against left-handed pitching of any second baseman in baseball.
Defensively, he was perfectly average. He was adept at turning double plays, turning the third-most (111) of any second baseman in baseball behind Rougned Odor (120) and Jonathan Schoop (115), and Dozier had a 3 DRS and a 0.2 UZR/150.
Dozier might be the perfect fit in terms of high-upside offense, dominance against lefties and solid defense. The only problem is, he’s going to cost a ton in trade. He’s signed to an incredibly team-friendly deal ($6 million in 2017, $9 million in 2018) and is coming off a career year. The Twins were the worst team in baseball and would surely entertain trading him, but they aren’t just going to give him away.
Forsythe has long been an intriguing second base option because he would likely be included in a package for a big-time player (either Chris Archer or Evan Longoria). At least, that would make the most sense for the Dodgers, but even if Forsythe isn’t the main target, he would be a solid acquisition and a guy who would improve the offense at second base.
He posted a career-best 20 home runs in 2016 despite missing a month with a hairline fracture in his shoulder blade. His strikeout rate went up by 4.4 percent, but that also resulted in a little more power overall (.163 ISO in 2015, .180 in 2016). For his career, he’s a 102 wRC+ hitter but has been above-average the last two seasons. And against left-handed pitchers, he was solid: .270/.315/.461 with a 109 wRC+.
Defensively, Forsythe has played many positions (all but catcher and center field), but has settled in nicely at second base. He turned more double plays (69) as a second baseman than the Dodgers did as a team in 2016. Overall, he had a 1 DRS and a -5.0 UZR/150 this season. He grades out as basically average at second, which would be a nice upgrade over what the Dodgers have now.
Much like Dozier, Forsythe is signed to a team-friendly deal. He’ll be a free agent in two seasons, but he’s signed for $5.8 million in 2017 and $8.5 million in 2018 (with a $1 million buyout). His option could increase up to $2.5 million based on the number of plate appearances he receives in 2017. Still, $11 million for a 3-plus-win player at a position of weakness for the Dodgers would be well worth it.
Kinsler is going into his age-35 season, but he’s still productive. He had his best season since 2011 and was nearly a 6-win player in 2016, hitting .288/.348/.484 with a 123 wRC+. What was impressive was his 16.9 percent strikeout rate, especially since he had 679 plate appearances. He was also good on the base paths, as he ranked as a top 25 baserunner in the game. Comerica Park isn’t a big-time hitter’s haven, so the fact he did more damage there (129 wRC+) than on the road (118 wRC+) is encouraging going forward. Where he really excelled was against left-handed pitching, who he had the third-best production against among MLB second baseman with a 140 wRC+.
On defense, Kinsler tied for the MLB lead in DRS among second basemen (12) and had a top five UZR/150 (7.5). Despite his age, he’s still athletic enough to play a well above-average second base. He was also part of 109 double plays.
The Tigers may or may not be having a firesale, and if they do, you can bet Kinsler would be on of the first players dealt. Because he’s signed to an under-market deal ($11 million this season, $10 million next year with a $5 million buyout), that helps to increase his trade value.
Phillips, going into his age-36 season, has seemingly been on the trade market for the last five years. And in the last five years, he has been a below-average hitter and an above-average defender. Offensively, he’s coming off a .291/.320/.416 season with a 92 wRC+. The batting average looks solid, but it wasn’t supplemented with any power or walks. It’s just part of the disturbing downward trend with Phillips’ offense. He drew 15 unintentional walks this season, while Adrian Gonzalez (in a down season) had nine intentional walks this year.
At least his defensive skills haven’t eroded nearly as fast as his offense … before this season. He had -7 DRS and a -2.3 UZR/150 in 2016, the first time since 2006 he has been negative in either category. It’s to be somewhat expected, but it’s a bit of a steep drop off. He also was a part of 89 double plays on the season.
Phillips is signed for $14 million in 2017 before becoming a free agent, and he would be the definition of a stop-gap acquisition. In theory, he wouldn’t cost that much to acquire, but as a 10-5 player, he has to approve any trade. It’s the reason he wasn’t traded to the Nationals last offseason. The Dodgers can do better than Phillips.
The only free agent on this list, Walker (31) had a fantastic season with the Mets before it was cut short by a disc injury in his back. Before, he had a .282/.347/.476 triple slash with a 122 wRC+, and he also had hit a career-high-tying 23 home runs. What’s more amazing is the fact he had incredible success against left-handed pitching: .330/.391/.610 with a 168 wRC+. It might be an aberration because he posted just a .237/.284/.290 triple slash and 57 wRC+ against left-handed pitching prior to last season. Even with the great production this season, his career numbers against lefties are a bit below-average: .269/.327/.373, 93 wRC+. But for the Dodgers, a 93 wRC+ might as well be 150.
Where Walker impressed was on defense. The metrics said this was, by far, his best defensive season at second base as he had zero DRS, but a 11.1 UZR/150. He probably isn’t an above-average defender, but if he hits enough, his average (at best) second base defense would be acceptable. He also was involved in 65 double plays as a second baseman in 2016 (103 in 2015).
Walker is going to receive the $17.2 million qualifying offer from the Mets, which means any team that signs him would forfeit their first-round draft pick (if it’s a team with a top 10 draft pick, it’d be the next-highest selection). He could be in line for a 4-year deal worth $15 million annually — provided his back checks out. He’d be the easiest player for the Dodgers to acquire because all it would take is money, but the draft pick compensation might give the Dodgers pause.
No matter what happens this offseason, the Dodgers will need to upgrade at second base. There appear to be trade options (including some not mentioned here), but the free agent options are limited. Taking into consideration cost of acquisition, contract and production, this is how I’d rank the above players in terms of best to acquire:
- Literally Anyone Else
Kinsler edges Dozier, only because it’s going to cost a ton to get Dozier. Forsythe could be higher if he came as part of an Archer deal.
We’ll see what happens.