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Aaron Judge, the American League's Most Valuable Player Award recipient and CBS Sports' top available free agent, remains on the open market just days ahead of the start of the winter meetings, which open on Sunday, Dec. 4. Although Judge would still seem most likely to return to the New York Yankees when all is said and done, other teams are hardly treating that outcome as a fait accompli. As such, CBS Sports is making the case for various teams to sign Judge throughout this week, like with the Giants here. Below, you'll find our argument for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The lineup

One of the staples of Andrew Friedman's management style is that he likes building versatile rosters equipped with moving parts. That way, the Dodgers have options if and when they suffer an injury or an underperformance. To an extent, Judge would fit in. While he's traditionally a right fielder, he spent most of last season playing center, showing off his above-average athleticism (especially relative to his size).

The Dodgers recently non-tendered their incumbent center fielder, former MVP Cody Bellinger, creating an opening that Judge could slide into. Conversely, the Dodgers could try playing Mookie Betts (or someone else entirely) in center, allowing Judge to take a corner-outfield position as his own. 

It's not easy to clock what the Dodgers starting nine might look like because of their versatility, and because they have some other pressing questions to address this offseason -- like, who plays shortstop, and what about third base? Predictably, the Dodgers have been linked to the top free-agent shortstops, including Carlos Correa, and have even been rumored to have interest in Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers, who was acquired by the Rays in 2014 when they were still under Friedman's reign. It seems like a matter of "who" not "if" they'll add from the outside there.

Anyway, here's our conservative estimate of what the lineup would look like with Judge in tow. Keep in mind, a fair amount of this is subject to change over the coming weeks to months:

  1. Mookie Betts, RF
  2. Freddie Freeman, 1B
  3. Aaron Judge, CF
  4. Max Muncy, DH
  5. Will Smith, C
  6. Gavin Lux, SS
  7. Chris Taylor, 2B
  8. Miguel Vargas, 3B
  9. Trayce Thompson, LF

However the winter works out for the Dodgers, it's clear they're once again going to have a good lineup -- and potentially a very good one, should they land Judge as well as another top star.

The money

The Dodgers are one of the few teams who have shown a willingness to hand out the kind of contracts required to shop at the top of the market on a consistent basis. They absolutely have the financial flexibility to do so this offseason, too, after allowing Trea Turner to enter free agency without an extension and declining Justin Turner's option.

Indeed, the Dodgers' current Opening Day payroll projection is around $140 million, according to Cot's Contracts. For reference, their Opening Day payroll figures the past two seasons have been $280 million and $247 million, suggesting the Dodgers have the means to upscale by at least $100 million upon their current base.

The Dodgers do have other aspects to address, as we hinted above, but they're the rare team who can give Judge a massive contract while retaining significant wiggle room this offseason. That sets them up to be a pivotal part of this winter's narrative.

The opportunity

By "opportunity" we mean two things. One, it's not every winter that a player of Judge's standing becomes a free agent. That's obvious enough. Two, baseball is ultimately a zero-sum game. If the Dodgers sign Judge, that means other teams cannot, including the San Francisco Giants, one of L.A.'s National League West foes.

The Giants have been one of the other teams most commonly linked to Judge dating back to the summer months. One signing isn't going to close the gap between the Dodgers and the Giants, mind you, but it would help San Francisco both on and off the field. You should never make a move just because your rival is considering doing the same, but let's face it: taking away a star player from a rival's clutches is pretty sweet.

The legacy

These Dodgers have been a fixture in the playoffs since 2013, making each of the last 10 postseasons. During that run, they've appeared in at least the League Championship Series six times, and have played in the World Series three times. Alas, they've won only one of those Fall Classics, with that victory coming against the Tampa Bay Rays at a neutral site during the pandemic-altered 2020 postseason. 

It's fair to write that this Dodgers organization is one of the best operations we've ever seen in professional sports. They've demonstrated their savvy for player evaluation and their skill with player development time and again. Yet modern American sports teams are often judged for their championship yield, and in that respect, the Dodgers are and will continue to be found lacking.

If you ask us, it's an outdated model of thinking -- constant playoff expansion has made it more difficult than ever to win a World Series ring -- but the Dodgers have conquered every other aspect of being an all-time dominant team. What they need now to complete the puzzle is at least one more World Series victory. 

Signing a player of Judge's caliber would, in our estimation, be the easiest and most obvious way to move in that direction.