Monday was a pretty bad day for the Los Angeles Dodgers. They lost arguably their best hitter and best pitcher to free agency, as Corey Seager agreed to a 10-year deal with the Rangers and Max Scherzer took a three-year deal with a record salary from the Mets. And to make matters worse, Max Muncy revealed the ligament tear in his elbow isn't healing as quickly as he'd like.
"I'm not recovering as quick as I would like, but that's what happens when you do some serious damage to your body," Muncy said during an MLB Network interview. "A torn UCL is a slow process."
So that makes for a pretty bad day, huh? The Dodgers did win 106 games this past season, and you could do a heck of a lot worse than starting your team with Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Walker Buehler, et al, but yeah, the Dodgers suffered multiple significant losses on Monday, and could suffer more seeing how Clayton Kershaw, Kenley Jansen, and Chris Taylor remain free agents.
There is no way to replace Scherzer, still one of the game's great pitchers, and the only way to fully replace Seager is signing Carlos Correa, which doesn't seem all that likely. Even beyond the sign-stealing animosity, if the Dodgers are willing to spend what it'll take to sign Correa, they would have just re-signed Seager. I think Correa is persona non grata.
Here, for posterity, is what the Dodgers' current starting lineup looks like (focus on the names, not necessarily the batting order):
- RF Mookie Betts
- SS Trea Turner
- 1B Max Muncy
- 3B Justin Turner
- C Will Smith
- LF AJ Pollock
- CF Cody Bellinger (boy do they need him to have a big rebound season now)
- 2B Gavin Lux
- Pitcher's spot
Should the elbow force Muncy to begin 2022 on the injured list, the Dodgers would have Matt Beaty and Sheldon Neuse as their top first base options. They could move Bellinger back to first, though that just moves the lineup problem from first base to center field, and it's a heck of a lot easier to find a productive first baseman than a productive center fielder.
Also, the upcoming collective bargaining agreement is expected to make the universal DH permanent, and as deep as they are, the Dodgers don't have an obvious DH candidate at the moment. Adding a first baseman to protect against Muncy's elbow and also to fill that DH spot when he's healthy seems like a clear need, and an easy way to upgrade the lineup.
Two names immediately jump to mind: Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson. Freeman grew up in Southern California and it will only cost money (and a draft pick) to sign him. Will the Dodgers give a 32-year-old first baseman a big-money long-term deal after declining to give one to the 27-year-old Seager? Maybe! I still feel like Freeman is destined to return to the Braves though.
Olson is a really splendid fit. Chris Bassitt or Frankie Montas (or Sean Manaea) to step into the rotation, Tony Kemp and/or Chad Pinder to upgrade the bench, on and one we could go. The fits are numerous., and heck, Oakland could be a one-stop shop for all the Dodgers' needs. Olson to play first base or DH,
Would the Dodgers sign Trevor Story? They know him well after watching him with the division rival Rockies the last six years, and he won't require a massive contract like Correa and Seager. His market fits more in the Javier Báez () and Marcus Semien ( ) range. Sign Story, move Turner to second, put Lux in a super utility role? It's doable.
The rotation post-Scherzer is a more pressing issue than the lineup post-Seager. The current lineup is plenty good enough to contend and I trust Los Angeles to figure out the bullpen with or without Jansen. The rotation though? Eh, it worries me. This past postseason was one giant pitching war of attrition, so depth is very important, and this is the Dodgers' current rotation:
In all likelihood Trevor Bauer will have to serve a suspension under MLB's domestic violence policy next season, so don't count on him returning. Price made 11 starts in 2021, most on limited pitch counts, and he fits best as a one- or two-inning guy at this point in his career. His days of being a 200-inning workhorse are over. Buehler and Urías are great! The rotation behind them is sketchy.
Re-signing Kershaw would alleviate some rotation depth concerns but only a little bit, because he finished this past season injured and his current status is unclear. It's another forearm issue, his second of the year, and forearm issues are a common precursor to Tommy John surgery. Not always, but often enough that elbow reconstruction is a legitimate concern.
Free agency offers only one reliable innings-eater at this point (Marcus Stroman). Beyond Stroman, there are a few high risk/high reward types like Carlos Rodón and Yusei Kikuchi (and Kershaw). Los Angeles already brought in one reclamation project type in Heaney. Do they really want more than one of those guys in the rotation at a time? That's awfully risky.
As noted earlier, the A's have three arbitration-eligible starters to peddle (Bassitt, Manaea, Montas), plus the Reds are said to open to trading Sonny Gray. Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle less so, but you have to at least ask. The Marlins are worth a call too. They have arms to spare and needs in the lineup. How about Lux for Pablo López, then re-signing Taylor to play second? Just an idea.
The Dodgers are still good -- very good -- though they have more roster questions right now than maybe at any point in the last 5-6 years. They went from having too many starters in spring training to badly needing starters now, and Muncy's injury creates a lot of uncertainty at first base and in the middle of the lineup. That was some really bad under-the-radar news Monday.
The good news is the offseason is still relatively young, and the Dodgers have weeks to come up with solutions. The bad news is a lockout is looming, which will halt all major-league activity. The Dodgers can come up with solutions but won't be able to act on them until a new collective bargaining agreement is in place. They will be stuck in limbo like everyone else.
There's no way to sugarcoat it: Scherzer and Seager leaving as free agents is a devastating blow to the Dodgers. They are close to impossible to replace, and the news Muncy's elbow is not healing as quickly as hoped is salt in the wound. The Dodgers are good and smart, and I would never underestimate them. Right now though, they've suffered big losses, and face the uncertainty of a lockout when trying to pick up the pieces.