It’s been a fairly quiet offseason by Dodgers’ standards, as they have shied away from the top-of-the-market commitments they’ve embraced in prior years. Los Angeles re-signed Clayton Kershaw, brought in J.D. Martinez, Noah Syndergaard and Shelby Miller on one-year free agent pacts, and acquired Miguel Rojas from the Marlins to bolster their middle infield depth. They watched Trea Turner, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney and Cody Bellinger depart.
While it’s still one of the sport’s strongest rosters top to bottom, the Dodgers have a few more question marks than they’ve had in recent years. That’s especially true in the outfield. Mookie Betts is a superstar; the two other positions are more up in the air. Bellinger was cut loose after two straight dismal offensive seasons, leaving a center field vacancy the organization hasn’t subsequently addressed.
Their relatively restrained winter was seemingly tied to a desire to dip under the $233MM luxury tax threshold. That would have reset their payor status and avoid the associated escalating penalties if/when they went back above that mark next offseason. The reduction of Trevor Bauer’s suspension put more than $22MM back onto the books and pushed them narrowly back above the threshold, which they doubled down on with the Rojas trade. Fabian Ardaya of the Athletic suggested as part of a reader mailbag last week the team no longer seems likely to try to limbo underneath the tax line.
That theoretically opens the potential for further spending, since the Dodgers’ projected $238MM CBT figure is quite a bit lower than those of their previous two seasons. There hasn’t been much indication Los Angeles plans to make any meaningful additions between now and Opening Day though. The Dodgers monitored the center field market earlier in the winter but have come up empty. That’s now virtually barren, aside from a potential trade for Minnesota’s Max Kepler (who’s more familiar with right field) or a long shot deal involving Pittsburgh’s Bryan Reynolds. The corner outfield market still has Jurickson Profar and depth types like Ben Gamel and David Peralta available in free agency and perhaps trade possibilities like Anthony Santander or Seth Brown. The Dodgers haven’t been publicly linked to anyone in that group.
If this is the outfield, the team will go into the season with more notable questions than they’ve had in the past couple years. Betts is still one of the top five players in the sport. His projected outfield mates all have talent but come with easy to spot downside. Let’s run through the group who could join Betts on the Dodger Stadium grass.
Taylor’s equally capable of playing the infield but seems ticketed for outfield work, particularly in the wake of the Rojas pickup. President of baseball operations Andrew Friedman told MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM over the weekend that was the plan. Freddie Freeman, rookie Miguel Vargas, Gavin Lux, Max Muncy and Rojas figure to cover the infield if everyone’s healthy, with J.D. Martinez manning designated hitter.
A year ago, Taylor playing everyday in left or center field would’ve been a perfectly comfortable solution. While it might play out that way, it’s no longer as safe a bet 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 posted a below-average slash line. He hit .221/.304/.373 with 10 home runs across 454 plate appearances, missing around a month midseason with a foot fracture.
Taylor still drew a decent number of walks with a slightly above-average hard contact percentage, but his contact rate cratered. He struck out in 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 made contact on only 62.1% of his swings, again the worst mark among hitters who logged as much playing time as he did.
One poor season doesn’t entirely negate the .265/.343/.461 line he managed between 2017-21. He’s certainly talented enough to play better than he did in 2022. Yet given last year’s struggles, the Dodgers may need a contingency plan in the event he again battles significant swing-and-miss concerns. That’s particularly true given the Dodgers’ questionable center field composition.
Thompson is probably going to get the first crack at that job with the team not making any additions. In one regard, the 31-year-old is in the opposite boat as Taylor. He had an incredible 2022 season that belied his lack of an established MLB track record before last year. That said, the main concern with Thompson is the same as it for L.A.’s presumptive left fielder: strikeouts.
Acquired from the Tigers in a seemingly minor June trade, Thompson got into 80 games for L.A. down the stretch. He was given 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 home runs. Thompson made hard contact on a massive 47% of his batted balls while walking at an excellent 12.7% clip. That kind of power and plate discipline are intriguing, though his 36.5% strikeout percentage was even higher than Taylor’s.
It wouldn’t matter that Thompson’s striking out at that rate if he’s reaching base and driving the ball the way he did last season. Whether he can maintain that kind of form over a full schedule is unclear. Thompson has never played more than 80 MLB games in a year and carried a career .208/.283/.405 line into last season. He’s shown the physical tools to impact a lineup at his best and enough swing-and-miss to result in an unplayable on-base percentage at his worst.
The 25-year-old Outman is probably the first man up in the event of an injury or performance struggles from Thompson. He played in four big league games last year but spent most of the season in the upper minors. It was a breakout year for the former 7th-round draftee. Between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, Outman connected on 31 home runs and doubles apiece while posting a cumulative .294/.393/.586 slash in 559 plate appearances. He walked at a 12.5% clip while striking out 27.2% of the time.
Again, it’s an offensive profile driven by power and walks with concerning whiff totals. Outman is a good prospect, checking in 10th on Baseball America’s offseason write-up of a strong Dodgers’ system. The outlet praises Outman’s power and suggests he’s athletic enough to be an above-average center fielder. There’s a chance he’s an everyday player, though BA suggests he might be better suited in a role-playing or platoon capacity given his propensity for whiffs on breaking pitches. Even the latter outcome would be a great return on a 7th-round pick and a testament to Outman’s excellent minor league résumé but it raises concerns about his viability as an everyday player on a team with championship aspirations.
There are things to like about each of Taylor, Thompson and Outman. It’s certainly not an outfield devoid of upside. Yet it’s not as stable as the rest of the Dodgers’ roster or the outfields L.A. has run out in previous years. That’s reflective of Bellinger’s unexpected offensive collapse that led to his non-tender and the club’s comparatively modest offseason overall.
Barring a late-winter pickup, the onus may fall on skipper Dave Roberts to patch things together more than he’s needed in the past. A platoon of the lefty-swinging Outman and right-handed Thompson might suffice in center field. Vargas can play some left field on days when he’s not in the infield, and perhaps Martinez will log a little corner outfield work in addition to his DH reps.
Andy Pages is a quality power-hitting prospect who is already on the 40-man roster. He may still be a year away after a fine but unexceptional showing in Double-A. Michael Busch is another highly-regarded offensive player whose defensive questions at second base could push him to left field, but he’s barely played there as a professional. Jonny DeLuca is on the 40-man roster as a potential depth player. Veteran Bradley Zimmer will be in camp as a non-roster invitee and another minor league deal or two seems plausible.
There are plenty of players who could work their way into consideration. Outman, Pages, Busch and Vargas are highly-regarded prospects and highlight the kind of farm depth the Dodgers could leverage in trade midseason if the current group doesn’t pan out. While things are far from dire, the Dodgers look prepared to take more of a gamble in the outfield than they have in years past.
CT3 will be fine. CF is the big question mark. Whether Thompson reverts back to a journeyman or can stay anything close to his 2022 is the key.
He was impressive last season but it didn’t appear to be a fluke. Hopefully their confidence in him pays off and it just clicked a bit later for him.
As long as Thompson keeps hitting lefties at a halfway productive level, they should be fine.
Sean Casey's Leg Kick
This article doesn’t mention Jason Heyward, but he should also be in the mix.
No he shouldn’t.
There is absolutely no reason not to mention him in an article that does mention Bradley Zimmer and fringy (though intriguing) prospect DeLuca. And separate from that, Heyward may actually surprise a lot of people in the work he puts in with the Dodgers staff and for a team that may have an opening. It’s a pretty glaring omission, as weird as that may sound to those who watch him drop off with the Cubs.
@underdog: True, he may surprise people. Unless, of course, he doesn’t.
He’ll be on the bench, sure. Maybe late-innging replacement.
Heyward I doubt will make team unless we are talking OKC
Anthony: Did I miss the discussion of Jason Heyward here? If so, was his omission purposeful, he certainly has as good a chance as Zimmer.
When I posted my message, there were no other visible posts of Heyward, probably just seconds apart from Sean Casey.
Not the only oversight. The other was not picking up on another player the Dodgers allowed to walk. You know, that other one named Turner.
Well there was no reason to pay Trea and I thought that was settled when they signed Freddie.
I was glad they cut Bauer.
I would have preferred to keep Justin Turner and Tyler Anderson at the salaries they got elsewhere. I am unsure about JD and Thor as their replacements.
I was glad they cut Belli and I know we disagree on that.
Happy that Kershaw is back, looking forward to win 200 in 2023 and predict his last season will be 2024 when he’ll also reach 3000 strikeouts.
Happy the we still have Cartaya, Vargas, Stone and Miller. Open to trading from the other prospects, but not those four.
They had good reason to pay T. Turner if the roster was the primary consideration. Obviously it isn’t as good without him, but money was the more primary consideration. Just yesterday Kasten and Friedman finally responded to questions about the Bauer release, but predictably they didn’t say a whole lot. The only takeaway was the Dodgers were obviously annoyed by his publicizing a private meeting between them in Arizona, further suggesting that he misrepresented what they discussed.
We’ll see about Bellinger, but one thing we know already is the argument that his arbitration salary was a big overpay was proven wrong. As I thought it would be.
Which Turner? The only way they could have kept Trea was to move the whole team east – because east was where he was determined to go.
The one who wasn’t mentioned in the article.
Could you give me Trea’s phone number?
And don’t forget Jayson Heyward!
I would have stayed under the tax. Pick up a 2 month rental at deadline. Maybe they get under before season is over.
They might be under now for all we know.
They’ll be fine. Maybe you can argue the current Atlanta regime, but the Dodgers are still probably the best front office in baseball. When you combine the best POBO/GM in Andrew Friedman with the Dodgers payroll and funds, you’re bound to be successful.
A 111-win team that’s made the playoffs every year since 2013 and has seven current top 100 prospects according to MLB pipeline.
Taylor will be the same high strikeout player with pop he’s always been. Even if Thompson regressed he’d still be useful to deploy against lefties. Outman probably gets shuttled back and forth all year.
Sign Profar! LA needs a PED suspect to be this year’s controversy.
Profar trained last winter under Fernando Ringworm Sr.
How obsessed with Tatis do you have to be to bring him up in the comments to a totally unrelated article? He’s living rent free in your head
I like MLBTR, but even they are on the false narrative that all the Dodgers do is sign high price free agents. After Freddie, who is there? They aren’t the Padres, Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Phillies… Stop with the lazy journalism. They develop well, make shrewd trades, turn nobodies into somebodies, then extend them when it’s time. Again, like every baseball fan outside of LA, stop lying to yourselves.
Yeah, just Freddie and Trevor.
But Mookie was almost like a free agent in taking Price’s salary.
Since they traded prospects for Betts, no, he wasn’t like signing a free agent, Price or no Price.
deGrom Texas Ranger
Recently, Greinke and Bauer
They did extend Betts, Kemp, Kershaw, and a few others. They also took on Price, Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford that I can think of. They have paid the luxury tax and been one of the highest salary teams in baseball. It’s not bad to spend, but don’t lie to yourself that they don’t spend by cherry-picking “free agent signings.”
Crawford, Beckett and Gonzalez were a decade ago and 3 years prior to Friedman coming on board in 2015. Price was the cost of getting Betts. The Dodgers have a combination of player development, reclamation project development, trade acquisition and Free agent signings that is about as good as there is. The richest guy in baseball has come right out and said he wants to copy what the Dodgers do.
A decade ago is fair game, because the article ties LA’s success beginning a DECADE ago.
Where in the article is the reference to success beginning a decade ago? I see recent years and couple of years referenced.
The article was apparently edited since my response. It referenced how successful LA has been since 2013.
There’s no doubting that the Dodgers are a complete organization that invests fully in player development, especially homegrown prospects. But I don’t get the defensiveness towards mlbtr, nor the rip on those other teams. No team has spent more on payroll in the last decade than the Dodgers. Signing FA Freddie vs Padres TRADING for Soto demonstrates the same: teams willing to spend $ are the ones who compete.
J-Hey in L.A. might be the surprise story for the Dodgers Outfield.
He can play all three positions, but the major issue is his bat!
If by some miracle he can find a way to hit again then you will see J-Hey in the outfield but that is a big if and I might have a better chance with Ana de Armas than J-Hey hitting!
Backup Catcher to the Backup Catcher
Agree that Heyward is a scratch off lottery ticket who could pay dividends. Still a GG caliber OF and tremendous clubhouse guy. Have no idea what caused his batting downfall after he signed with the Cubs.
But if there is one organization who might be able to figure that out, it’s the Dodgers. Feel the same way about them signing Thor. LA coaching will find a way for Thor to get most of his velo back.
I’m a Phillies fan but have long admired the Dodgers for their player development within their system and taking someone else’s mold and turning it into gold.
To be fair, the Phillies are starting to become a solid player development team as well under DD. Caleb Cotham and Co. are doing a very nice job with the pitchers in the past couple of years, and prospects that had been derailed or not accomplished much in the past started to show something as well.
Thor-lite even said that he liked what they did with him in the short time that he was there. The reality with Thor is that he was still recovering arm strength last year. This season they should see what he has left.
Outman wins the CF job in Spring Training. Thompson becomes the 4th OF.
Bobby Miller and Michael Busch for Brian Reynolds?
Motor City Beach Bum
From what everyone is saying you’d have to add two more of your best prospects to get their attention on Reynolds!
But the Pirates thought process of getting a “Soto” like haul for Reynolds is misguided. A pipe dream. Reynolds is a solid ball player, but he isn’t a potential franchise cornerstone. Two top prospects and two lesser prospects is the most they will get. Not a Soto haul.
Motor City Beach Bum
I agree with you 100%. They are nuts to think they can ask for “Soto prices”. I would gave been good with my Tigers selling the farm to get Soto, but not Reynolds. I like Reynolds but not that much.
I’d rather just roll the dice on prospects, given the Dodgers’ history of development.
Motor City Beach Bum
Hey have I got a deal for you! The Tigers send you the Meadows brothers and Eduardo Rodriguez. I like Thompson but he will regress to 4th outfielder status. Young Parker fills your long-term CF needs, Bro Austin plays another season in the OF then his to DH. Your SP depth is not what it was last year. LA ships Cartaya, Miller and Vargas back to the Tigers (or sub in Busch for one if you think Vargas and Miller is too much). You have players on the roster blocking all of them or others in the minirs who can replace them. Three for three trade. Tigers get prospects…we all know there’s no guarantees with them. LA gets 2 proven veterans (yes I know last year was not either of their best years). In baseball it always seems to be “what have you done for me lately”. LA is more willing to look at “what can you do for me” and consider a players previous history andvtheir ability to turn them around. You traded a great SP prospect for Joey Gallo when he was hitting under the Mendiza line. You don’t bat 1000 in baseball so if you want to be back in the world series take some chances. It’ll cost you more at the trade deadline!
Clayton Beeder is a likely reliever, certainly not a great SP prospect.
Motor City Beach Bum
I would take him. He certainly shot up draft boards the year he was picked and played well for the Yankees in the minors after they picked him up.
Gamble it up, not sure who would want to play for Los Karens anyways.
anytime Trayce has gotten over 200 ab’s in a season he’s been pretty good.
Motor City Beach Bum
Agree. I was a little pissed the Tigers gave him away for nothing. They should gave let him play.
I would like to think Hayward would surprise everyone and miraculously find his missing bat again! Crossing my fingers on that but not holding my breath! His defense is Gold Glove but if he can’t find the bat then he’s just Belli part deux! My guess is Outman/ Thompson platoon is what’s going to happen! Would love Bryan Reynolds but don’t see that happening unless price drops significantly!
On paper Padres look much stronger than LAD now.
Dodgers still team to beat in that division but Sadres definitely going to give them a battle! Friedman will make a trade deadline blockbuster like he normally does! This race will go down to the wire most likely!
In case anyone didn’t know, Trea’s brother is Clay Thompson of the Warriors and his father is former Laker Mychal Thompson who does commentary on Lakers radio broadcast.
I’m surprised Tyler Naquin wasn’t mentioned as an available OF who could vie for the CF job. Haven’t heard any team connected to him this winter