The defending NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers suffered a devastating injury Monday afternoon. Starting shortstop Gavin Lux tore the ACL in his right knee after stumbling on the basepaths, the team announced Tuesday. He'll miss the entire 2023 season, manager Dave Roberts said.
Here is Lux's injury. He ducked out of the way of a throw, stumbled, and his right knee buckled.
Lux, 25, was the Dodgers' primary second baseman last season and he was slated to slide over to shortstop, his natural position, to replace Trea Turner this year. Turner of course signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent. With Lux injured, Los Angeles' shortstop depth chart now looks something like this:
LHB Gavin Lux(out entire season with knee injury)
- RHB Miguel Rojas
- RHB Chris Taylor (expected to see most of his time in the outfield)
- SHB Yonny Hernandez (career .198/.293/.228 hitter in 55 MLB games)
As far as Plan Bs go, you could do a lot worse than Rojas and Taylor at shortstop. They are a step down from Lux though, and a significant step down from Turner. Even before Lux's injuries, FanGraphs projections had the Dodgers about five games behind the San Diego Padres in the NL West. That gap is a little wider now.
What could the Dodgers do to replace Lux at shortstop? Here's an overview of their options, which are fairly limited at this point in the baseball calendar.
This is almost certainly what the Dodgers will do. Rojas was brought in to provide depth behind Lux and he's a viable everyday shortstop thanks to his glovework: 15 defensive runs saved and 10 outs above average in 2022. The bat leaves something to be desired, but Rojas can play short and play it well. Plugging him in as Lux's replacement is the easy, straightforward move.
"It's unfortunate what happened to Luxy," Rojas told the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. "But if that means me playing shortstop, that's what I need to do. I prepared for this opportunity. I need to be ready for it."
Taylor had a down season in 2022, his worst season since joining the Dodgers in 2017, and he struck out in an alarming 35.2 percent of his plate appearances. Still, he remains an option at shortstop should Los Angeles need him. Hernandez is a second baseman more than a shortstop with good contact skills and basically zero power. He's an emergency option.
Top prospect Miguel Vargas was already slated to take over second base with Lux shifting to short. He has never played shortstop in his career and in fact he's a natural third baseman with fewer than 30 career games at second. Fellow touted prospect Michael Busch is a second baseman and left fielder with no shortstop experience. Both have MLB-ready bats, but neither is a shortstop candidate.
The Dodgers acquired Rojas over the winter specifically because he can play shortstop and play it well, and with Lux now sidelined long-term, Rojas will almost definitely step into the lineup to play the position. It's the obvious move. Taylor will be the backup plan and Hernandez is now third on the depth chart in the event of another injury.
Sign a free agent
The best player remaining in free agency is Jurickson Profar, who came up through the minors as a shortstop, but has not played the left side of the infield since 2018. A pair of shoulder surgeries earlier in his career have sapped Profar's arm strength and he's a full-time left fielder now. I suppose the Dodgers could sign him with an eye on giving Taylor more time on the infield, though it seems unlikely. Profar is a poor fit for the roster given his current skills.
José Iglesias was once of the game's great defensive shortstops, but his glove has slipped significantly the last few years (minus-26 defensive runs saved the last two years), and he's no longer an everyday option at the position. Rojas provides better defense and a similar high contact, low power bat. Others like Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Villar don't move the needle. Free agency offers basically zero shortstop solutions at this point.
Make a trade
One name immediately jumps to mind: Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The New York Yankees are holding a shortstop competition this spring and Kiner-Falefa, the incumbent, is battling top prospects Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe for the job. Peraza impressed during his September call up last year and even got some starts over Kiner-Falefa in the postseason.
The Yankees passed on all those great free agent shortstops the last two offseasons because they believe in Peraza and Volpe so much. Kiner-Falefa was brought in to be a stopgap until the kids are ready and Peraza sure seems ready. That doesn't mean the Yankees will give Kiner-Falefa away -- he's still a useful depth piece -- but I'm sure he's available.
Other potential shortstop trade candidates include Paul DeJong (St. Louis Cardinals), Josh Smith (Texas Rangers), and Taylor Walls (Tampa Bay Rays). Keep in mind teams are very aware Lux suffered a major injury. If the Dodgers makes calls about a shortstop trade, they can expect big asking prices. Teams won't help Los Angeles out of the kindness of their hearts.
It would be a surprise if the Dodgers did anything other than hand the shortstop reins over to Rojas in the immediate aftermath of Lux's injury. He is a capable everyday shortstop thanks to his glove, and if they're not gonna start him now, what was the point of giving up a solid prospect (Jacob Amaya) to acquire him? This is exactly why the Dodgers brought Rojas in.
Now, should Rojas see his game slip at age 34, then the Dodgers can reevaluate and maybe make a change at the position during the season. There's no reason to do that yet. Free agent options are nonexistent and there's nothing terribly appealing on the trade market. Rojas will be the guy at short and the Dodgers won't make a change until they're certain it's necessary.