Without question, the Dodgers still boast one of the most talented rosters in baseball heading into the 2021 campaign, even though there is still work to do regarding player personnel.
The infield is one area that certainly needs to be addressed. If healthy, Corey Seager and Max Muncy will anchor the crew as two of the most potent offensive contributors in the National League. However, the way the remainder of the infield shapes up will probably depend on how several different situations pan out.
Here are five big questions that might ultimately determine which infielders suit up for the Dodgers on Opening Day.
Will Justin Turner Return?
Whether Justin Turner comes back to the Dodgers is undoubtedly one of the most popular conversations among fans so far this winter. Last weekend, we outlined how Turner is reportedly seeking a three-year deal and how a long-term contract might prevent the Dodgers from securing his services. However, there are still some indications that both sides might be able to reach an agreement. Regardless, Turner’s ultimate decision will definitely be the primary factor on how the left side of the infield looks next year.
Without Turner, the team could look to award the lion’s share of playing time to Edwin Rios or even create a platoon scenario with Rios and utility man Chris Taylor. Still, if Turner does indeed return for an unspecified period, it gives the organization more time to let players like Kody Hoese mature in the minors. Either way, this is one of the most significant questions looming.
Should Dodgers Offer Enrique Hernandez a Deal?
No doubt, losing Enrique Hernandez would be a blow to the club’s active roster, especially with regards to defensive flexibility. But, with Taylor signed through the 2021 campaign, it does create a bit of redundancy as far as utility players go. According to most reports, Hernandez is willing to settle for a one-year deal for the upcoming season to seemingly garner a bigger payday for 2022. His thinking here is that clubs might not be as financially strained a full year removed from the pandemic. The problem is that Hernandez is requesting 500 AB from his new team, a commitment that probably doesn’t suit the Dodgers well, unless they somehow envision Kiké as the everyday second baseman. That said, the prospects for Hernandez returning to Los Angeles are not overwhelmingly good, opening the door for players like Gavin Lux, Zach McKinstry or even the newly acquired Carlos Asuaje to secure spots on the active roster.
Is Lux Ready for a Full-Time Role?
Whether it was factors surrounding the pandemic or some other unknown reason, Lux, who was initially viewed as one of the favorite 2020 NL Rookie of the Year candidates, never even made the Los Angeles Opening Day roster. Even during Lux’s early days at the alternate training site, he struggled with his mechanics and timing both offensively and defensively, preventing him from seeing playing time at the big league level. Finally, the 23-year-old Wisconsin native was recalled at the end of August, but he was still only selected to one of the team’s four rounds of postseason rosters.
Nevertheless, if you’re a believer in predictors, Steamer has Lux playing 99 games in 2021, garnering 399 PA with a .259/.325/.431 slash line and 13 long balls next year. Indeed, if Lux proves that he’s ready for a full-time role, it will give the club the flexibility it needs in other positions.
Is Taylor a Legit, Everyday Contributor?
In 2017, Taylor emerged as one of the team’s biggest surprises, tallying a .288/.354/.496 slash line with 21 homers over 568 PA in 140 games. In 2018, he appeared in 155 games, despite an early-season slump that saw him struggle for the first few months of the year. During his career with the Dodgers, he has proven valuable as one of the team’s best producers in clutch situations time in and time out.
While Taylor is probably more comfortable as a shortstop or second baseman, he has shown in the past that he has the tools to handle third base, at least in a stopgap situation. If Turner does not return and things don’t necessarily go well for Rios, Taylor could be a viable solution at the hot corner. Nevertheless, with Taylor locked into an everyday role, it handcuffs the club as far as moving players around the diamond goes. Accordingly, with CT3 in the lineup every night, it could theoretically minimize the amount of time players like Rios, Lux or McKinstry see on the field. Consequently, keeping Taylor in his current super-utility role may even see the team pursue somebody like free-agent infielder DJ LaMahieu, especially if management feels that Lux isn’t the immediate answer at the keystone.
Will Dodgers Lock Up Seager?
Whether the team views Seager as its long-term shortstop may also indicate how the roster shapes up over the course of next season. Due to become a free agent at the end of 2021, there has been plenty of speculation surrounding a potential long-term deal for the 26-year-old Charlotte native. Even if the Dodgers do secure his services, there’s still the theory that he might eventually move to third base, creating yet another vacancy in the infield. Such questions have led to rumors surrounding players like Francisco Lindor, and recently, free agent shortstop Marcus Semien.
Seager might very well have been the team’s offensive MVP in 2020, having hit .307/.358/.585 during the regular season and .328/.425/.746 in the playoffs. He combined for 23 long balls over 70 games, eventually securing the MVP awards of both the NLCS and World Series. Imagining a 2022 infield without both Turner and Seager is definitely a difficult picture to digest.