Just the day before hoping to cajole another 90 feet from a roster proving to be either listless or in over its head, the Los Angeles Dodgers on Monday revealed their shortstop, Corey Seager, would require Tommy John surgery. And so it is not necessarily the distance they’ll need to cover after their jagged first month, but that it will be ever more uphill, too.
All eyes, then, rise to the windows of a front office that has partially built and wholly maintained a ballclub that for five years has made the NL West its own, that carried at least that expectation into this season, and has watched as that club instead performed poorly. A decent portion of the plan to play itself back to the top of the division involved Seager, the 24-year-old who hit 50 home runs over the past two-plus seasons, batted .299 and played an exceptional shortstop.
Seager will not play again until next season. Behind him, he leaves a team that is 12-15, that has pitched inadequately, that has failed to hold leads, that in Justin Turner’s absence has been only slightly above average offensively, and that on Sunday afternoon had its reigning Rookie of the Year, Cody Bellinger, benched for what manager Dave Roberts took for a lack of hustle.
As Seager explained Monday to reporters in Arizona, where the team was preparing to play a four-game series against the first-place Diamondbacks, “One bad throw changes everything.”
The immediate response was to turn to Chris Taylor, a shortstop the Dodgers made a regular outfielder just last season. He’s played 26 games in center field this season. They’ll spread his outfield innings and at-bats between Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, Alex Verdugo and Andrew Toles. They went to a World Series just six months ago in some part because of their depth and flexibility, and they’ll have to stretch that to include covering for their shortstop.
So … Manny Machado.
He’s the Baltimore Orioles’ shortstop. He has been available in a trade for going on a year and will be a free agent at season’s end. While he is again among the league’s better players, the Orioles are again among the league’s worst teams. They seem certain to trade him by the mid-summer deadline. The Dodgers’ wealth, in all ways, including major league-ready prospects, and now their need for a shortstop, kindled immediate speculation that one and one would equal superstar-shortstop relief in Los Angeles.
Ah, but it’s complicated. Along with their reluctance for chasing large free-agent contracts, team president Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi have been reticent to deal high-level prospects. Also, and not insignificantly, they have endeavored for years to position themselves under the game’s luxury tax threshold. They have achieved that, though not by much. It is among the reasons the rotation has played thin, the bullpen lacks depth, and Matt Kemp is in left field.
Machado, due $16 million in his final season in Baltimore, would wreck those payroll visions, unless the Orioles kicked in money, or took on a decent salary from the Dodgers, which would seem to defeat the purpose of trading Machado.
Either way, it would seem the next decision – a new shortstop, a new outfielder, more pitching, faith in the next men up, whatever it may be – will go a long way toward determining how the season ends for the Dodgers. Turner appears to be in the final stages of recovery from a fractured wrist. Rich Hill is on the disabled list. So is Logan Forsythe and Yasiel Puig and Julio Urias. Then, Walker Buehler and Verdugo are among those next men up, just as Seager once was, as Bellinger once was.
Friedman and Zaidi appear willing, in the short term, to allow that to play out. There is plenty of season still out there. They are, generally, the team that won 102 games last season, then 10 more after that. They also haven’t looked anything like that for a month, and a little extra hustle’s probably not going to solve this one.
As Seager observed Monday, “It obviously sucks,” and maybe, just maybe, it ain’t gonna fix itself.
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