As fans continue to try to process the abrupt end to the Dodgers 2022 season, the front office must put the early exit behind them and look forward to ensuring history doesn’t repeat itself in 2023. Unfortunately, the excitement of loading up for next year comes with the price of the loss of many key contributors from last year. The Dodgers are set to see over $100 million come off the books once the baseball season officially ends. With rumors already swirling about Los Angeles potentially being in on some of the game’s biggest names, it appears that many of the players coming off the payroll will not be donning Dodger Blue next year.
One of those names who could be a part of the exodus is Justin Turner. Turner is one of the most intriguing names of the Dodgers with uncertain futures. His 2022 season included some of the highest of highs and lowest of lows. The first two months of the season were some of the worst of Turner’s stellar career, through April and May Turner slashed a minuscule .222/.285/.383/.668. Fans were clamoring for him to be taken out of the lineup believing that he was old and washed up. Turner responded in a big way with a slash line of .309/.384/.468/.853, while leading the MLB in batting average down the stretch. His power numbers still were not what they used to be, but he figured something out and became arguably the best 5th or 6th hitter in any lineup in baseball.
Like the majority of the Dodger lineup, Turner struggled in the playoffs to the tune of a 2-for-13 performance with three walks to go along with three strikeouts. At times, Turner just looked overmatched by Padres pitching. He had multiple strikeouts in critical situations and failed to hit balls hard consistently. With his performance down the stretch, it is hard to say that he has officially lost a step, but his playoff at bats certainly make you think about his possible regression after another year of baseball. The Dodgers themselves have admitted that they are at least having to think hard about it.
Turner, who will turn 38 in November, signed a two-year, $34 million deal in 2021 with a team option for the upcoming 2023 season. The club option is worth $16 million if the Dodgers decide to exercise it, and a $2 million buyout if they decide not to. Assuming Turner doesn’t decide to retire, conventional thinking would say the Dodgers would likely exercise his option and keep him in a similar role to the one he had this year. With the Dodgers seemingly unlimited payroll and Turner’s importance to the clubhouse and the Los Angeles community, it is hard imagine seeing him in another uniform. However, there are many other factors that come into play this offseason that the Dodgers have not dealt with in the past.
Aside from his age and potential regression, the main factor is the Dodgers organizational depth. Miguel Vargas is someone the Dodgers are extremely high on, as evident by his presence on the NLDS active roster despite struggles in his debut. Vargas, who will be 23 in November, is a talented infielder who needs more experience at the big league level. In his first year of AAA ball this year, Vargas slashed .304/.404/.511/.915 with 17 home runs and 82 RBI in 520 plate appearances. He struggled in his limited time with the Dodgers going just 8-for-47 with two extra base hits. However, most rookies have struggles with their first taste of big league pitching, especially those who only get at-bats sporadically, and Vargas has generally needed time to adjust to level changes.
Even if the Dodgers wanted to keep both Turner and Vargas, they may run into another issue. Vargas is not the only young prospect the Dodgers have in the pipeline. With one of the best farm systems in baseball, there are plenty of guys chomping at the bit to be called up and showcase themselves in a big league setting. Not only that, but guys like James Outman, Diego Cartaya, Bobby Miller, Michael Busch, and others will need to be placed on the 40-man roster to avoid losing them to the Rule 5 draft. This factor will weigh heavily on the front office because they are going to have to evaluate not only their confidence in the player, but also how they might fit into next year’s lineup.
Obviously with guys like Mookie Betts and Freddie Freeman on the roster, the Dodgers expect this team to compete for a World Series next year. However, if the Dodgers elect to keep a bevy of prospects, it’s fair to wonder how competitive the team will actually be toward that goal. So I think the most likely scenario we see play out this offseason is that Andrew Friedman and Co. will have to show their hand and pick out a few prospects that they believe will help the team the most in 2023. The rest could be shopped for established veterans which would free up 40-man roster space while helping the team reload for another playoff run.
JT could see himself as the odd man out in this scenario. With Lux seemingly set to occupy 2nd, Trea Turner (or a free agent/trade acquisition) penciled in at short, and a potential Muncy/Vargas platoon at third, the Dodgers may not have a spot for him. If they don’t end up trading Vargas, it seems likely that JT could find his option declined or that if he comes back it’ll be in a similar bench role going back to when he first arrived in Los Angeles.
Ultimately, a lot of it could comes down to how highly the organization feels about the 23-year-old Vargas. If they see him as a potential Corey Seager-like homegrown talent, Turner will be gone. If not, we may see Vargas included in a massive prospect package that nets stud in return and allows Turner to return to the team he has seen the majority of his career with. Whatever the case, it looks like the decision will come down to youth vs. experience and it should tell us a lot about the confidence level the front office have in Vargas breaking out.