It’s been a fairly quiet off-season by Dodgers’ standards, as they’ve pulled back from the top-of-the-market commitments they’ve had for years past. Los Angeles has re-signed Clayton Kershawbrought in JD Martinez, Noah Syndergard and Shelby Miller on year-long free agent packages and purchased Miguel Rojas by the Marlins to reinforce their middle infield depth. They’re obvserving Trea Turner, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heney and Cody Bellinger depart.
While still one of the strongest rosters in the sport from top to bottom, the Dodgers have a few more question marks than they have in recent years. This is especially true in the outfield. Mookie Betts is a superstar; the other two positions are more in the air. Bellinger was fired after two dismal offensive seasons in a row, leaving a vacancy in midfield that the organization later failed to address.
Her relatively dovish winter was apparently coupled with a desire to dip below the $233 million luxury tax threshold. That would have reset their payer status and avoided the associated escalating penalties if they went above that mark again in the next offseason. The reduction of Trevor Bauers The suspension put more than $22 million back on the books, pushing them just above the threshold they doubled with the Rojas trade. Athletic’s Fabian Ardaya suggested in a readers’ mailbag last week that the team is unlikely to try to get below the tax limit again.
That theoretically opens up the potential for more spending, given that the Dodgers’ projected CBT total of $238 million is quite a bit lower than the previous two seasons. However, there wasn’t much evidence that Los Angeles plans to make any meaningful additions until opening day. The Dodgers monitored Center Field Market earlier in the winter but got nothing. That is now virtually barren, save for a potential trade for Minnesota Max Kepler (who knows better about right field) or a long-shot deal with Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds. The corner of the outfield market still has Jurickson Prof and deep guys like Ben Gamel and David Peralta available in free agency and maybe trading opportunities like Anthony Santander or Seth Brown. The Dodgers have not been publicly linked to anyone in this group.
If this is the outfield, the team will go into the season with more notable questions than they have in recent years. Betts is still one of the top five players in the sport. His projected outfield mates all have talent but come with easily spotted downsides. Let’s go through the group that could join Betts on the Dodger Stadium lawn.
Taylor is equally capable of playing in infield but seems destined to work in the outfield, especially after Rojas’ pickup. Baseball Operations President Andrew Friedman said MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM That was the plan for the weekend. Freddie Freemannewbie Miguel Varga, Gavin Lux, Max Muncy and Roja’s piece to cover the infield when everyone is healthy, with JD Martinez Manning designated hitter.
A year ago, it would have been perfectly convenient if Taylor played left or center field every day. While it could turn out that way, it’s no longer so certain after he struggled in the first season of a new four-year deal. For the first time in his six seasons in Southern California, Taylor recorded an underperforming slash line. He hit .221/.304/.373 with 10 home runs in 454 plate appearances and missed about a month midseason with a broken foot.
Taylor still recorded a decent number of walks with a slightly above average percentage of hard contact, but his contact rate took a tumble. He hit over 35% of his plate appearances, the highest rate of any player with 450+ trips. It was a similar story on a per pitch basis. Taylor only hit on 62.1% of his swings, again the worst among clubs with as much play time as he did.
A bad season doesn’t completely negate the .265/.343/.461 line he managed between 2017-21. He’s certainly talented enough to play better than he did in 2022. However, given last year’s troubles, the Dodgers may need a contingency plan in case he faces significant swing-and-miss concerns again. This is especially true given the questionable composition of the Dodgers’ midfield.
Thompson will likely make the first leap into this job if the team doesn’t make additions. In one respect, the 31-year-old is in a different boat from Taylor. He had an incredible 2022 season that belied his lack of an established MLB track record prior to last year. The main concern with Thompson, however, is the same as with LA’s suspected left fielder: strikeouts.
Thompson was acquired by the Tigers in a seemingly insignificant June trade and came by the wayside in 80 games for LA. He received 255 plate appearances, his most in a big league campaign since 2016, and was one of the team’s most effective hitters. He put up a .256/.353/.507 line with 13 homers. Thompson made hard contact on a massive 47% of his batted balls while going with an excellent 12.7% clip. This type of power and plate discipline is fascinating, although his strikeout percentage of 36.5% was even higher than Taylor’s.
It wouldn’t matter that Thompson hits out at that rate when he gets to base and drives the ball like he did last season. Whether he can maintain this form over a busy schedule is unclear. Thompson never played more than 80 MLB games in a year and carried a career streak of .208/.283/.405 last season. He’s displayed the physical tools to influence a lineup at its best and enough swing-and-miss to lead to an unplayable percentage on base at worst.
Outman, 25, is likely the first man on his feet in the event of an injury or Thompson’s performance dip. He played in four big league games last year but spent most of the season in the Upper Minors. It was a breakthrough year for the former Round 7 draftee. Between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Outman tied at 31 homers and doubles apiece while hitting a .294/.393/.586 cumulative slash in 559 plate appearances. He walked with a 12.5% clip while lashing out 27.2% of the time.
Again, this is an offensive profile, driven by power and running at troubling amounts of money. Outman is a good prospect, checking in at #10 in Baseball America’s offseason report on a strong Dodgers system. The outlet praises Outman’s strength and suggests he is athletic enough to be an above-average midfielder. There’s a chance he’s an everyday player, although BA suggests that his tendency to breathe on breaking pitches makes him better suited for role-playing or train roles. Even the latter result would be a great return on a 7th round pick and a testament to Outman’s excellent minor league record, but it raises concerns about his viability as an everyday player on a team with championship ambitions.
There are things to like about Taylor, Thompson and Outman. It’s certainly not an outfield without upside potential. However, it’s not as stable as the rest of the Dodgers’ roster or LA’s outfields in years past. This mirrors Bellinger’s unexpected offensive collapse which led to his non-address and the club’s overall comparatively modest off-season.
Aside from a late winter pickup, the onus could fall on skipper Dave Roberts to patch things up more than he’s needed in the past. A move by the left-swinging Outman and the right-handed Thompson might do the trick in midfield. Vargas can play some left field on days when he’s not in infield and perhaps Martinez will log some outfield work on the corner in addition to his DH representatives.
Andy Pages is a top-notch power-hit prospect already on the 40-man roster. After a good but not exceptional performance in Double-A, he may still be a year away. Michael Bush is another highly regarded offensive player whose defensive questions at second base could push him to left field, but he’s rarely played there as a pro. Johnny DeLuca is on the 40-man roster as a potential depth player. veteran Bradley room will be in camp as a non-squad invitee and another minor league deal or two seems plausible.
There are many players who could consider themselves. Outman, Pages, Busch and Vargas are highly regarded prospects and underscore the kind of farm depth the Dodgers could capitalize on midseason if the current group doesn’t come off. While things are far from dire, the Dodgers seem willing to take more risks in the outfield than they have in years past.