Earlier this offseason the Dodgers handled most of their major business by re-signing three of their own players: Rich Hill, Justin Turner, and Kenley Jansen. Just like that, the rotation and bullpen were solidified, and third base was addressed.
The biggest remaining need for Los Angeles is second base, and by a mile too. Howie Kendrick was traded to the Phillies earlier this winter because he was unhappy with his playing time, and Chase Utley is currently a free agent, so the club's second base depth chart looks something like this at the moment:
- Enrique Hernandez
- Chris Taylor
- Charlie Culberson (not on 40-man roster)
- Jose Miguel Fernandez (recently signed Cuban player has not seen game action since 2014)
Not great! It's no secret why the Dodgers have been talking to the Twins about slugging second baseman Brian Dozier all offseason. Dozier smacked 42 home runs last season, most ever by an AL second baseman, and he's signed dirt cheap through 2018. Plus his righty might would help solve their struggles against lefties.
Last week we heard the Dodgers and Twins are at an impasse in Dozier trade talks, however. Los Angeles is willing to include top pitching prospect Jose De Leon in the trade, but the disagreement comes over the rest of the package. Minnesota reportedly wants another top prospect and the Dodgers are unwilling to do that.
Clearly Dozier is the best option at second base for the Dodgers. Andrew Friedman and the rest of the front office need backup plans, however. The might not be able to come to an agreement with the Twins, and with all due respect to Hernandez and Taylor, the Dodgers really need a second base upgrade. Here are some candidates should things not work out with the Twins and Dozier.
The Best Option: Ian Kinsler, Tigers
The Dodgers and Tigers reportedly discussed Kinsler earlier this offseason, but there is one small problem: Kinsler has a no-trade clause and wants an extension to approve a trade to Los Angeles. As great as Kinsler is -- he's easily one of the most underrated players of his generation -- he is 34 and already signed through 2018. You can understand why the Dodgers would be reluctant to commit big dollars to Kinsler for his age 36 season and beyond.
On paper though, Kinsler is a perfect fit for Los Angeles as a right-handed batter with power and above-average defense. He's the closest thing to Dozier out there. Unfortunately to the Dodgers, it's difficult to see this one coming together as long as Kinsler sticks to his guns about wanting an extension to waive his no-trade clause. He's the best non-Dozier option on the market.
The Most Sensible Option: Logan Forsythe, Rays
Three years ago Friedman acquired Forsythe from the Padres when he was still calling the shots for Tampa Bay. Since then Forsythe has blossomed into a solid two-way second baseman, hitting .264/.333/.444 (113 OPS+) with 20 home runs in only 127 games in 2016. That includes a 109 OPS+ against southpaws as a right-handed hitter.
On top of that, Forsythe is signed affordably through 2018 (owed $15.5 million), and he's flexible. He has experience at third base and the two corner outfield positions. So, if top prospect Willie Calhoun forces the issue at second base at some point soon, it'll be easy to move Forsythe around to get both him and Calhoun in the lineup. The Rays are always open to moving any player. I'm sure they'd be more than willing to send Forsythe to the Dodgers for a package of young players. Are the Dodgers willing to pay up?
The High-Upside Option: Jurickson Profar, Rangers
A few years ago Profar, who is still only 23, was the best prospect in all of baseball. Shoulder woes caused him to miss the entire 2014 and 2015 seasons, and when he returned in 2016, he hit only .239/.321/.338 (75 OPS+) with five home runs in 90 games. Texas is hoping Profar's performance rebounds as he gets further away from his shoulder problems.
The Rangers are set at second (Rougned Odor), short (Elvis Andrus), and third (Adrian Beltre), so there's no easy way to get Profar in the lineup. They could play him at first base and DH, which they did last year, but that's not ideal. I imagine Texas is definitely open to trading Profar -- why wouldn't they at least listen? -- especially since their rotation is a wee bit thin. Here is their starting pitching depth chart:
- Cole Hamels
- Yu Darvish
- Martin Perez
- Andrew Cashner
- A.J. Griffin
- Mike Hauschild (Rule 5 Draft pick)
- Nick Martinez
- Chi Chi Gonzalez
The Dodgers have plenty of pitching to offer, like De Leon and Brock Stewart, so there appears to be a trade match, at least on paper. My surplus infielder for your surplus starter. Profar would give Los Angeles a young and exciting option at second going forward. At worst, he's a nice utility guy.
The Square Peg, Round Hole Option: Zack Cozart, Reds
The Reds are in the middle of a rebuild and Cozart, their longtime starting shortstop, is very much on the trade block. He was connected to the Mariners at the trade deadline, for example. Cozart is a passable hitter (97 OPS+ the last two years) and an outstanding defender. He'd improve the Dodgers' infield defense considerably.
One problem though: Cozart has never played a position other than shortstop in his big league career. That's why he's the square peg, round hole second base candidate. The Dodgers sure as heck aren't moving Corey Seager off short, so they'd be asking Cozart to play a position he hasn't played since a four-game stint in the Arizona Fall League in 2009. Moving to the other side of the bag is a not easy. It feels like everything is happening in reverse. Cozart is very much available. He's just an imperfect fit for Los Angeles.
The WAR Friendly Option: Tyler Saladino, White Sox
Thanks to his extraordinary defense, Saladino has been worth 1.3 WAR and 1.8 WAR the last two seasons while playing only 68 and 93 games, respectively. The White Sox are in the middle of a full blown rebuild and could trade veteran infielders Todd Frazier and/or Brett Lawrie, creating an opening to regular playing time for Saladino. That said, I'm sure ChiSox GM Rich Hahn is willing to discuss anyone on his roster.
Saladino is a shortstop by trade but he has played plenty of second base over the years, not to mention third and even a little outfield. Also, he's a right-handed hitter with a career .277/.333/.401 (120 OPS+) line against lefties, which is something the Dodgers could really use. They were the worst hitting team in baseball against southpaws last season. Saladino is a stat-head fave (I say that as a stat-head) and would be the kind of smart, under-the-radar pickup we've become accustomed to seeing from Friedman over the years.
The Incumbent Option: Chase Utley, Free Agent
Utley played second base for the Dodgers last season and did an okay job, hitting .252/.319/.396 (95 OPS+) overall. And, if nothing else, manager Dave Roberts love him:
Dave Roberts calls Chase Utley, who is in attendance at the baseball scouts foundation dinner, "my favorite player of all time."— Dodger Insider (@DodgerInsider) January 15, 2017
The problems with bringing Utley back are obvious. He turned 38 in December and is clearly in decline, so it's fair to wonder whether he'll be able to repeat his modest 2016 output. Also, Utley is a left-handed hitter with a massive platoon split -- he authored a .154/.206/.264 (28 OPS+) line against lefties in 2016, so yeah -- who would do nothing to improve the club's woes against southpaws.
Still, Utley is available, and if the Dodgers are unable to come up with a better second baseman, be it Dozier or Kinsler or whoever, bringing him back to platoon with Hernandez is a viable option. Just not the sexiest one.