Dodgers right-fielder Mookie Betts has won six Gold Gloves in the last seven years. By all accounts, he’s the best defensive right-fielder in baseball, especially when he’s healthy (which he wasn’t in 2021, the only year in the 2016-22 range in which he didn’t win the Gold Glove).
Betts also loves playing second base, his original position. And he played 27 games in center in 2021, when Cody Bellinger missed much of the season with a variety of injuries. Coincidentally, second base and center field are two positions where the Dodgers have question marks.
So the question is, would Los Angeles consider turning Betts into a semi-utility player, a guy who mostly plays right field but also plays some second base and center field as the situation calls for it?
The first question, I suppose, is when the situation would call for it. LA manager Dave Roberts has talked about using second base as a semi-rest day for Betts, a way to “keep him on the dirt” and play a position with less running than right field requires. With the shift being banned, second base won’t be quite the vacation it used to be, but it would still be less running than right field.
So when would the situation call for Betts to play center field? JD Martinez is likely to be the designated hitter most of the time, but Roberts has often used Will Smith as the DH to get him a break from the physical demands of catching. On days when Smith is at DH, they might want to get Martinez in the outfield. In those situations, right field might make the most sense for Martinez, especially if they were going against a lineup of right-handed pull hitters. So Betts could slot into center on days when Martinez plays right.
Of course, center field is kind of the opposite of second base as far as physical demands, as it’s probably actually more running than right field. And it might not be a coincidence that the season in which Mookie played more center field than he had since 2015 was also the year he was constantly nagged by a hip issue.
So Mookie in center might be a non-starter for health reasons. But if the team doctors and trainers believe the hip issue was unrelated to playing center field, a lot of other aspects of the idea make sense.
Los Angeles already has Chris Taylor, Max Muncy, Miguel Rojas, Gavin Lux, and Miguel Vargas who can play multiple positions, so they might not need Betts to be yet another utility player. But it could be a useful way to keep him engaged and entertained over the course of a long season, giving him defensive variety and letting him help the team in multiple ways.
What do you think? Is it a crazy idea? Or just crazy enough to work?
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