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Winter Meetings Preview: The Dodgers’ Infield

The Los Angeles Dodgers have unsurprisingly been asked about the availability of Gavin Lux, the Dodgers’ minor league player of the year for 2019. Thus far, understandably, suitors have been turned away, per MLB Network Insider Jon Heyman. Granted, this isn’t shocking news in and of itself, but it is telling of the Dodgers’ mindset on the eve of the winter meetings.

Lux, 22, is coming off a monster season that saw him hulk out for a .347/.421/.607 line in 113 games across Double-A and Triple-A (which included a monstrous-even-for-the-PCL .719 SLG and 188 wRC+ in 49 games in Triple-A). He didn’t disappoint in a cup of coffee with the big league club, holding his own at .240/.305/.400 in 23 games of uneven playing time. He proved capable enough to make the playoff roster and earn the start in games 2 and 4 in the NLDS versus the Nationals.

It’s not surprising that the Dodgers would make a point to hang onto the young star, but doing so doesn’t exactly jive with their rumored interest in free agent Anthony Rendon. Justin Turner has made clear his openness to moving around the diamond, and while it’s certainly nice to be reminded that chivalry is not yet dead, it’s not obvious where Turner would move if the Dodgers are indeed intent on making Lux a part of their core moving forward.

A Corey Seager trade could open a spot with Lux taking over at short, Max Muncy taking full-time duties at second and Turner moving to first. Chris Taylor, Enrique Hernandez, and NL MVP Cody Bellinger are capable of filling in around the infield as needed. But as good as Rendon is, Seager himself was a 4.0 bWAR player in 2019, and it would seem that the Seager/Lux/Muncy/Bellinger/Taylor/Hernandez/Turner septet already provides the perfect amount of wholesale injury coverage and star power. Swapping in Rendon for Seager cuts their shortstop options by one, and while they’d still probably be two injuries away from any real panic, it’s still a little hard to fathom why swapping in Rendon and his presumably monstrous contract makes sense – unless the goal is simply to keep the development train moving by restocking the lower levels via trade.

They could certainly sign Rendon – or Josh Donaldson, for that matter – and shop one of their other infielders, but there’s not a natural fit on that front either. Turner and Muncy have been central figures to the culture and success of the Dodgers in recent seasons, and it’s frankly jarring to imagine either one suiting up elsewhere. Moving Taylor or Hernandez neither frees up at-bats nor brings back a significant prospect haul.

The logical conclusion is that the Dodgers’ interest in Rendon is probably more smoke than fire. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman has made a point of avoiding lavish and reactionary spending, and a Rendon signing would appear to qualify as both. Luxury tax estimates (per Roster Resource) peg the Dodgers at around $176MM for the upcoming season, which would make it difficult to fit Rendon under the tax line. Their longer-term financial picture is more flexible, however, with only ~$93MM on the books for 2021 and ~$33MM the year after.

The Dodgers did suffer a particularly tough playoff defeat in 2019, and after seven years of making the playoffs and coming home without a ring, it’s fair to wonder if the disciplined roster building that’s become the brand of these Los Angeles Dodgers might finally break under the strain of those playoff defeats. Andrew Friedman is also one of the more creative thinkers in the game and if there’s a way to make this work, he’s sure to find it. But it’s also not hard to see why they’d keep on keeping on with business as usual.

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