It just got very real very fast for the Los Angeles Dodgers and their big shortstop question barely two months after letting a second big-time shortstop in as many offseasons depart via free agency.
The Dodgers won 217 games the last MLB two seasons with All-Stars Corey Seager and then Trea Turner playing significant roles in their success at the marquee infield position — before the Texas Rangers and Philadelphia Phillies, respectively, nabbed the pair for $625 million combined.
Few expected Gavin Lux to extend that shortstop lineage at the same All-Star level, especially with the extreme infield shifts now banned. But he was the next man up — until going down with a season-ending knee injury running the bases Monday.
What now for the juggernaut Dodgers?
If any MLB team has the resources to consider multiple viable options, it’s the Dodgers. And they have a month to work on it before the games start to count.
Whatever the solution, the Dodgers’ big question is a reminder of the same question each of the four teams that lost marquee shortstops from the historic class of free agents at that position this winter now face.
How will the teams that Turner, Dansby Swanson, Xander Bogaerts and Carlos Correa* left behind answer their common question? Some of the answers might surprise you.
A look at how those teams are coping with those sizable deficits as each tries to compete this year:
Los Angeles Dodgers (111-51 in 2022): The Insurance Policy
Before the Dodgers headed to spring training and told anyone who asked that Lux was the choice to replace Turner, they sent a minor-league infielder to the Marlins for 34-year-old Miguel Rojas, the good-fielding, suboptimal-hitting shortstop with years of starting experience.
The plan was for Rojas to serve a utility role and as backup insurance for Lux. Now he’s the starter, with the versatile Chris Taylor forced into the backup job.
The Dodgers take a streak of 10 consecutive playoff seasons into this year, including four 100-win seasons in the last five full seasons and three World Series appearances in the last six seasons overall.
“I’ve been playing shortstop every day for the last four or five years of my career,” Rojas told reporters in Glendale, Arizona, after the Lux diagnosis was announced. “I know what I have to do to be part of a winning team.”
If he falls short of those expectations, it’s not hard to guess what will be on the Dodgers’ trade-deadline wish list. Meantime, keep an eye on the White Sox if they get off to a slow start and haven’t addressed an extension beyond next year for Tim Anderson.
Atlanta Braves (101-61): The Kid
The Braves have six of their eight position players in their projected Opening Day lineup under long-term contracts ranging from six to 10 years each.
The only infielder among them without one plays the same position as the only one who finished last year without one — the reason why Swanson is now a Cub (along with 177 million other reasons the Cubs provided).
Will Vaughn Grissom, who just misses rookie qualifications because of his 41-game debut last year, be the next young player to sign a long-term deal with the Braves? Part of the answer to that might be found in how he answers the question of how ready he is to replace Swanson, an All-Star and Gold Glove winner last year.
Gordon Wittenmyer, MLB expert and former beat writer for NBC Sports Chicago and the Chicago Sun-Times. Get Gordon’s latest Sportsnaut Exclusive today!
“I’ve liked what I’ve see so far and how he’s gone about things,” manager Brian Snitker told reporters in North Port, Florida, early in camp. “But that’s why we’re going to play all these games and see where we’re at.”
The fallback plan is veteran Orlando Arcia, who was the Brewers’ starting shortstop early in his career.
Either way, the Braves, with their embarrassment of young talent, might be the best equipped of all the teams losing a big shortstop over the winter to figure it out as they go and still win a division.
But if Grissom — who started last season in high-A ball — becomes the next big breakout youngster in Atlanta this year? Would almost seem unfair, wouldn’t it?
Boston Red Sox (78-84): The Misfit
Soon after letting fan favorite, popular teammate and big-hitting Bogaerts go to the Padres without seriously challenging San Diego’s $280 million winning offer, the Red Sox discovered that last year’s big free agent — $140 million shortstop Trevor Story — needed elbow surgery that might sideline him all season.
It’s a steep drop to Plan B (C?) from there — all the way past the guys most people might actually consider shortstops.
The Red Sox tabbed versatile veteran Kiké Hernandez as their starter in lieu of Story, despite the fact Hernandez has played just 100 of his 917 career games at the position (64 starts) and was originally supposed to be the everyday guy in center field, where he started 77 games last year.
Hernandez at least seems confident. He told Chris Rose on the sportscaster’s podcast that he was more “worried” about the ground he would have to cover in center field, “considering my speed.”
He’s more confident in the jump he gets with his quick first step. And how he’ll handle shortstop — no matter what any multitude of doubters might think.
“We’ll talk in October,” he told Rose. “We’ll talk in November. Watch me. That’s it. If there’s something they can expect, it’s I won’t be scared.”
San Francisco Giants* (81-81): Old Reliable
OK, everybody knows by now that Correa wound up back with last year’s team, in Minnesota, on a six-year, $200 million deal, after two failed physicals and three different contracts negotiated with three different teams.
All of which makes the Giants — the team that had Correa locked into a $350 million offer sheet before the first failed physical — the team that lost Correa. (And for anyone who’d like to pile on, they’re actually two-time losers because they finished second in their pursuit of Aaron Judge before pivoting to Correa).
The Mets’ doctors also failed Correa after conducting their physical, after New York followed the Giants with a $315 million agreement.
But the Giants’ loss was the more significant because it changed the entire complexion of their offseason, if not their expectations for 2023.
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At least their decision at shortstop was the easiest among this four-pack: They’ll keep 36-year-old veteran Brandon Crawford — a four-time Gold Glove winner and three-time All-Star — at the position for another year instead of moving him to third to accommodate Correa.
Now they just have to figure out how to handle the Dodgers and Padres.
Gordon Wittenmyer covers Major League Baseball for Sportsnaut. You can follow him on Twitter at @GDubCub.