If things hadn’t been going bad enough for the Dodgers so far this season, news broke yesterday that Corey Seager‘s 2018 season is over, as the 24-year-old shortstop will undergo Tommy John surgery later this week to repair his right UCL.
The Dodgers already spelled out what they plan to do with the loss of Seager. They did it last night, with Chris Taylor moving from center field to shortstop and Enrique Hernandez manning center. That’s one option, and if Enrique Hernandez continues to punish right-handed pitching (like I wrote about in March), it isn’t a terrible option to have. Entering last night’s game, Hernandez has a .258/.294/.548 triple slash line against righties. His averages are nearly equal against righties and lefties and while Hernandez’s plate discipline has been better against lefties, he’s hit for a little more power against righties so far.
There are other options, however. If Taylor struggles defensively at short or if Hernandez stops producing offensively, the Dodgers aren’t really in a position to be able to afford a huge hit at what was a position of strength.
The Dodgers do have the depth and flexibility to stay afloat in Seager’s absence.
If Kiké struggles in center, the Dodgers’ outfield depth could come into play. Yasiel Puig is currently on the disabled list, which opens the door for Alex Verdugo to get playing time. If Verdugo succeeds, he has the ability to play center. Andrew Toles is currently on the minor-league DL with a hamstring strain, but he was off to a hot start at Triple-A with a .462/.500/.731 triple slash line in 28 plate appearances. Joc Pederson has quietly been extremely good this season, as his 140 wRC+ is the third-highest on the team and his 13.4 percent strikeout rate is the second-lowest among Dodgers with more than 10 plate appearances. Once Puig returns, the Dodgers could have four quality options in center not including Taylor or Enrique.
Another option, one that I’m not a fan of, would involve moving Cody Bellinger to center. He’s athletic enough to play passable defense there, but I hate the idea of taking his plus-plus glove away from first base. Some combination of Max Muncy and Chase Utley would be tasked with first base every day, which doesn’t seem like a great situation.
There are fewer options if the issue is with Taylor at short. If the struggles are purely defensive, moving Hernandez to short and keeping Taylor in center might be the best play.
A quick look on the minor league side of things isn’t super promising. Tim Locastro might be the most intriguing option at short. He’s on the 40-man roster and has played well this season, with a .318/.423/.470 triple slash in 79 Triple-A plate appearances this season. He’s primarily a second baseman but played 250 innings at shortstop for Double-A Tulsa last season and made 12 errors. Other than Toles, the outfield options at Triple-A aren’t great. Henry Ramos has played 45 innings in center this season and has a .312/.369/.506 triple slash line. Spring Training hero DJ Peters has a .306/.394/.506 triple slash and has played every inning in center this season, but this is his first look at Double-A, so a promotion to the bigs seems aggressive.
Trade For Manny Machado
This was one of the first pieces of speculation that came following the news yesterday. Machado is probably the second-best defensive shortstop in baseball, is young, and is very good. His contract is not good for the Dodgers, as Machado and the Orioles avoided arbitration and agreed to a one-year, $16 million contract in his last year of arbitration. He will be part of the mega-free-agent class of next offseason and is producing like it, as he currently owns a .361/.448/.676 triple slash line with nine home runs in 125 plate appearances. Machado’s already been worth 1.9 fWAR, which is tied with Mike Trout for the second-highest in baseball. That’s also 0.9 higher than Yasmani Grandal, who leads the Dodgers in fWAR.
Even with a healthy Seager, Machado would be a huge boost to the Dodgers. The Orioles are currently 8-20, a start that prompted FanGraphs to write about an inevitable Machado trade last week. Holding on to Machado through the season would allow the Orioles to throw a qualifying offer on him and recoup a draft pick when he signs elsewhere.
Machado’s contract presents an obstacle for the Dodgers, who managed to get under the luxury tax cap to reset the penalties prior to next offseason. I highly doubt they’d be willing to go over it at this point, so it would take some creativity to make it work. According to Spotrac, the Orioles are sitting at a $143.6 million payroll, well short of the $197 million luxury threshold. If they took on Matt Kemp‘s contract, the money would be in the Dodgers’ favor on the swap. Obviously, the Dodgers would have to part with much higher-rated prospects than they normally would for an offensive rental, but they seem set on resetting the luxury tax. Waiting further into the season would lessen the amount of contract the Dodgers would be on the hook for, but this still seems unlikely.
Just for fun, this trade should happen in the next three days. Machado and the Orioles are in “Los Angeles” as they start a three-game series against the Angels tonight.
Trade For Not Manny Machado
For this exercise, I’ll assume the Dodgers stop sucking and are actually in buy-mode. Here’s the teams with worse records than the Dodgers (before last night) and their shortstops:
- Orioles: Machado
- Twins: Eduardo Escobar
- White Sox: Tim Anderson
- Royals: Alcides Escobar
- Rangers: Jurickson Profar (Elvis Andrus broke his elbow)
- Nationals: Trea Turner
- Marlins: Miguel Rojas (JT Riddle is hurt)
- Reds: Jose Peraza
- Padres: Freddy Galvis
That depressingly short list of teams with lower winning percentages than the Dodgers isn’t great. I already talked about Machado. Much like the Dodgers, the Nationals have under-performed to start the season but there’s no reason to think they’d be in sell mode. The White Sox and Reds are rebuilding, so trading young talent at a premium position doesn’t make a lick of sense for them. A one-armed Seager is probably a better option than Escobar. If the Taylor/Hernandez combo is worse than Galvis, Profar or Rojas, the Dodgers probably won’t be in buy mode. Escobar makes a bit of sense. He’s off to a good start this season, is cheap and his contract is expiring. I’m just not really sure he moves the needle enough.
The Dodgers often boast about their depth and versatility, and ultimately it’s probably the best way to survive the 2018 season without Seager. Unless they can get creative and add Machado, some combination of Taylor, Hernandez, Verdugo, Toles and Pederson is the best option for the Dodgers.