Dodgers: What Does the Best Infield Construction Look Like for LA?
The Dodgers have more questions than they usually do at this point in the offseason. Not holes, necessarily, just uncertainty over who will fill which holes and how often.
The headline of this article asks what the best infield construction looks like for Los Angeles, and because ¯\_(?)_/¯ isn’t long enough for a full article, we’re going to try to answer that question. Of course, the big caveat is that no one — including the LA decision-makers, most likely — can really say they’re confident they know the answer to this question. The answer exists, but it’s probably going to take quite a bit of spring training to find it.
Let’s go position-by-position through the infield, from easiest to hardest.
First Base: Freddie Freeman
You heard it here first, folks: Freeman will start at first base! It might not be quite that straightforward — I personally believe they might give Freddie a little time at DH this season, just to keep him fresh while keeping his bat in the dugout. JD Martinez is a very good hitter, but the Dodgers might try to give him some time off against tough righties, and a handful of those DH games could go to Freddie. Max Muncy and Miguel Vargas are both options to fill in at first base, and even Miguel Rojas has played there a little bit.
Shortstop: Gavin Lux
I don’t think this one’s as much in question as some people think. Lux will be given every opportunity to hold onto the starting shortstop job. Yes, LA acquired Rojas, but unless the veteran has a major offensive breakout or things go very wrong for Lux, Miggy’s not going to be the starting shortstop for a team trying to win the World Series.
Third Base: Muncy, Vargas, Rojas
Third base is where it starts to get interesting. Muncy was the team’s primary third baseman last year, and he did better than a lot of people give him credit for. Rojas would likely be better defensively, and Vargas might be worse. The big question is probably Vargas’s defense, really. I think LA’s dream situation would be for Vargas to earn the starting role at third with solid defense, and they’ll likely go into the spring with that as the goal. Whether that’s realistic or not remains to be seen, and the answer to that question could have ramifications on our next position.
Second Base: Michael Busch, Muncy, Vargas, Rojas, Chris Taylor, Lux, Mookie Betts (?)
The banning of the shift is a huge factor on this decision. There are conflicting reports on whether Busch has the athleticism to handle second base without the shift, and answering that question will be a very high priority for Los Angeles this spring. (LA certainly has opinions because they know their prospects well, but Busch’s entire second-base career has come with the shift.) Busch’s bat is probably as ready as it’s gonna get for the big leagues, so if there’s not a spot for him in LA, he could be a trade possibilty.
Vargas is extremely athletic, but the questions about his ability to handle second are similar (albeit not identical) to the Busch questions. Muncy was a very good defensive second baseman with the shift, but he also seems less likely to excel there without it. Rojas would clearly be solid there defensively, but then there’s that pesky offense thing again. Lux will hopefully be starting at short, and Taylor will hopefully be providing value as a utility player. And I don’t know enough about anything to know how seriously I should consider the Mookie option.
When we do the math, it really boils down to Vargas, Muncy, and Busch battling for two spots in the lineup. Vargas clearly gets one of the spots. If they go with Busch at second, they could still get Muncy plenty of starts at third, second, first, and DH, but all of those ABs would come at the expense of others.
Right now, it looks like Busch is going to have to force his way into the lineup with an outstanding spring. So in the end, our pick for the starting infield for LA to kick off the season would be Freeman at 1B, Muncy at 2B, Lux at SS, and Vargas at 3B, with Taylor and Rojas backing them up. Plan B would be the same thing but with Muncy and Vargas flip-flopped.
What do you think? How badly did we mess this up?
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In a nutshell, Vargas is probably over rated as a second baseman because his main infield defensive issue is footwork. While Busch is probably a bit underrated at 2b because he is an excellent athlete (former quarterback and hockey player) with a ton of grit. Busch’s future might well come down to the final roster position being a competition between him and Heyward. We have musical chairs with organizational favorites and contracts influencing the music. I see a whole bunch of guys who’s best position is first base or batter’s box.
We’ll see how it plays out as the season moves along, but opening day I think we see:
1B – Freddie
2B – Lux
SS – Rojas
3B – Muncy
Vargas will be in left. Obviously some flexibility at 3B with Muncy probably DH’ing against righties. I don’t think Rojas ends up playing SS too deep into the season either.
Time to let the kids play.