The Dodgers are annually mentioned as possible suitors for the best players available on the open market, and they’re likely to be in the mix for the upcoming offseason’s No. 1 free agent. MLB.com’s Mark Feinsand reports that L.A. could make a run at Aaron Judge, which he suggests could be tied to a willingness to move star right fielder Mookie Betts to second base more regularly to accommodate Judge.
Judge is coming off a historic, likely MVP campaign in 2022 where he set the AL record for home runs and slashed a comical .311/.425/.686 (207 wRC+) after rejecting a seven year, $213.5MM extension offer from the Yankees this spring. The Yankees figure to prioritize retaining Judge this offseason, but if there’s any team that can play in the same financial stratosphere as New York, it’s the Dodgers, who posted a luxury tax payroll just under $290MM in 2022 and will see significant salary come off the books this season thanks to possible impending free agencies of players such as David Price, Trea Turner, Justin Turner (whose contract has a $16MM club option for next season) and Craig Kimbrel.
Per RosterResource, the Dodgers have an estimated luxury tax payroll of around $176MM headed into 2023, though this doesn’t include contracts for their arbitration-eligible players. Still, that should leave them with plenty of space before they even get to the level they hit this year. Looking ahead to 2024 and beyond, the Dodgers have just under $74MM locked up for 2024, a hair above $70MM for 2025, and just over $61MM committed for 2026. This payroll flexibility in the future should give them plenty of room to offer free agents multi-year contracts this offseason.
Judge played quite a bit of center field in 2022, where the Dodgers currently have potential non-tender candidate Cody Bellinger and utilityman Chris Taylor as their primary options. However, Judge is widely not seen as a long-term center fielder and considered a better fit in right field, where he’s spent the majority of his career and rates out as among the best defenders at the position in the sport. The Dodgers, of course, have their own elite right field glove in Betts, a five time Gold Glove award winner at the position.
Betts, however, came up as a second baseman and initially only moved to the outfield to accommodate then-Red Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia. Betts has continued to play second base sporadically throughout his career following the position change, even logging 46 innings (five starts) at the position in 2022. Both Betts and Dodgers manager Dave Roberts have spoken positively of the possibility of Betts playing more second base in the future, and accommodating a player of Judge’s caliber could be just the reason the Dodgers need to make the switch full time. Feinsand reports that Betts is open to moving to the infield regularly at some point in his career, although it’s not clear whether that’d be conditional on the team signing Judge.
Any pursuit of Judge would surely complicate whatever attempts the Dodgers may make this offseason to retain Trea Turner, another top free agent on the market this offseason. Signing Judge and retaining Turner may be more of a financial commitment than even the Dodgers can stomach, with both likely to seek average annual values well over $30MM on contracts of eight-plus years this offseason. Furthermore, with at least some possibility of Betts moving to the infield more regularly, the Dodgers may be content to simply plug Gavin Lux in at shortstop and use leftover money from a potential Judge signing to focus on other areas, such as fortifying a rotation that will have to retain or replace impending free agents Clayton Kershaw, Andrew Heaney, and Tyler Anderson.