While the baseball world is sitting back and waiting for the first big dominoes to fall this offseason, the Los Angeles Dodgers are positioned as one of the biggest threats to nab a marquee free agent.
Ownership has shown a willingness to spend the money for the right player. Combined with a track record of recent success and the perks that come with playing in sunny Southern California in a gigantic media market, the Dodgers always loom large as a viable free agency destination.
One of the biggest prizes this free agency period is DJ LeMahieu, and the Dodgers are among a handful of teams being linked to the infielder in various rumors.
Given that LeMahieu is one of the best contact hitters in baseball and the Dodgers could have some holes to fill in their infield this offseason, a potential LeMahieu signing makes sense.
Justin Turner is a free agent, and if he ends up leaving, LeMahieu can be brought in to replace Turner at third base. Even if the Dodgers retain Turner, though, it doesn’t necessarily preclude LeMahieu from being brought aboard by the Dodgers.
Enrique Hernandez is also a free agent, and if he were to depart, it would open up playing time at second base that could also easily be filled by LeMahieu.
Gavin Lux is currently being groomed as the team’s next primary second baseman, but a LeMahieu signing would at least temporarily push Lux into more of a utility role.
LeMahieu also brings his defensive versatility within the infield, so no matter the pieces that get retained this offseason, LeMahieu could fit into the Los Angeles lineup in various capacities.
With the possibility of the universal DH arriving after this upcoming season as well, the Dodgers could deploy any number of lineups featuring these players.
As with any potential signing, there are some serious risks to acquiring LeMahieu, and the Dodgers need to do their due diligence while exploring this possibility.
LeMahieu is tantalizing for a lot of reasons. However, some warning signs are present that acquiring him isn’t in the best interest of the Dodgers going forward.
LeMahieu led all of the Major Leagues in BA and the American League in OBP and OPS last season and has finished in the Top 4 in AL MVP voting in back-to-back seasons.
There’s no arguing that the production is impressive, but when looking deeper into statistical splits over his career, there are some important red flags.
Whether it has been at Coors Field or Yankee Stadium, LeMahieu has certainly benefited from spending much of his career playing at extremely hitter-friendly ballparks.
His career home/away splits illustrate the story of a player who has taken advantage of favorable hitting environments, as he is nowhere near as productive on the road as he has been at home.
His career .873 OPS at home dwarfs his career .699 OPS on the road, and that’s probably the biggest potential red flag with a LeMahieu signing.
Having spent so many years in the NL West with the Colorado Rockies, LeMahieu has more plate appearances at only five ballparks than he does at Dodger Stadium.
In 198 career plate appearances at Dodger Stadium, LeMahieu has an OPS of just .612, which is the lowest of any of the 11 ballparks in which he has at least 80 plate appearances.
He’s also going to be 33 years old next season, and there’s a real possibility that the Dodgers would want to go with someone younger.
However, these relatively lackluster stats could conceivably be overcome by putting LeMahieu in this dangerous Dodgers batting order.
Surrounded and protected by sluggers throughout that lineup, LeMahieu would always be put in a great position to do damage with the bat.
There’s no pitching around anyone in this lineup due to its tremendous depth, and LeMahieu could easily overcome those less-than-optimum career splits as a part of this batting order.
As the defending champions with a dynamic lineup and strong farm system, the Dodgers are not in a position to absolutely need to roll the dice on a LeMahieu signing.
However, if they do end up acquiring LeMahieu, this team has the type of talent that would conceivably put LeMahieu in as good of a position to succeed as he’d find anywhere else in the league, even with a ballpark far less hitter-friendly than he’s accustomed to.
The front office will gauge the developing market for LeMahieu, and make a judgment call on whether it’s something they should pursue.
LeMahieu has developed a well-deserved reputation as perhaps the best contact hitter in baseball, and his stats are impressive.
However, there are a few crucial details attached to those stats that in hindsight could easily be viewed as a powerful warning sign as to why the Dodgers should have always steered clear.
They’re in a good position, though, in the sense that there’s no reason why they should feel pressured into a LeMahieu deal.
Lux is an intriguing option at second base for next season, and they could always still explore other options around the league.
The infield could look a lot different next season, and these rumors are at the very least indications that the front office is keeping an open mind as to how to improve.
It’s difficult to feel completely confident in any sense of complacency, but this team is the defending World Series champion, and no other team around the league has made a case as to why the Dodgers shouldn’t be favored to repeat as champions next year.
LeMahieu would be yet another versatile piece that Dave Roberts would be able to utilize in a lineup that’s already overwhelming for opposing pitchers.
This team doesn’t need to bring in LeMahieu, though, and perhaps the red flags regarding his splits are enough to make the Dodgers not exert undue effort to acquire him.
It might ultimately come down to what decisions they make on the left side of the infield regarding Turner coming back or not.
It wouldn’t cost the team multiple prospects to acquire LeMahieu as it would for another star infielder via trade, but since LeMahieu rejected the qualifying offer from the New York Yankees, another team that signs him would be subject to the loss of a draft pick.
Conceivably the team could bring back Turner to play third base, and if they also believe that Lux is ready to take the next step, it makes a LeMahieu signing less likely.
It seems like a decision regarding Turner is going to be the catalyst for these other potential offseason moves from the Dodgers.
If Turner comes back, it would probably be in their best interest to see what Lux could do with more plate appearances next season.
If Turner leaves, though, it opens up multiple routes the Dodgers could take to ultimately shore up their infield for next season.
Those decisions include whether to trade multiple prospects for a star third baseman or shortstop, forfeit a draft pick to sign the versatile LeMahieu, or give both Lux and Edwin Rios more playing time next season.
The LeMahieu option is intriguing but comes with some risks. Lux starting next season as the primary second baseman is probably the “safer” route, but acquiring a guy who has won multiple batting titles in his career is hard not to pursue if the opportunity presents itself.