It may not have been a house of cards. But after an exodus of off-season talent and significant clubhouse turnover, the Dodgers roster seemed built almost like a Jenga tower.
Strong and stable when built, but dangerously fragile with even a few missing pieces.
The first piece was pulled back on Tuesday when manager Dave Roberts announced that shortstop Gavin Lux would miss the season due to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
It was a blow to Lux, the 25-year-old former top prospect who solidified as a major leaguer last year and was looking forward to his first chance as a daily shortstop.
“That’s one of the hardest things,” he said Tuesday, leaning on crutches and fighting back tears. “Every baseball player’s dream is to play shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.”
It also creates tricky new hurdles for the Dodgers to clear, scrambling their plans over the course of just three games in spring training.
What the team does next is a mystery.
The Dodgers could explore the remaining players available in free agency. They could judge the trading market for a small addition or a big splash. They were able to bounce, shoving Miguel Rojas to shortstop while rearranging other pieces – like Chris Taylor and Mookie Betts – to create more depth in the field.
Roberts said the club is evaluating its options. Here are four:
Stick to internal replacements
The simplest and perhaps most likely option is to do nothing.
Rojas can play shortstop, where he is strong defensively, but may struggle at bat. And on days when Rojas, second baseman Miguel Vargas, or third baseman Max Muncy need a game, Taylor and Betts can spin in from the outfield.
It’s not ideal. The Dodgers would be without an established backup infielder. Their last position as a player would probably come down to Yonny Hernández or Luke Williams (acquired infielders after being designated for assignment this offseason), Michael Busch or James Outman (highly touted prospects but question marks), or Bradley Zimmer or Steven Duggar (experienced outfielders in camp on minor league contracts).
The Dodgers lineup would probably take a hit. Lux had the team’s fourth-highest batting average (.276) last season and was asked to help offset the loss of Trea Turner.
David Peralta, Trayce Thompson and maybe even Jason Heyward – outfielders who seemed to qualify for part-time platoon roles – would probably need more at bats to add some offense.
Still, it could be enough to see the Dodgers through the first half of the year, keep them at the top of the standings and in position for trade-dead activities.
“What we have will be more than enough,” Roberts said, “but we’re always trying to get better, whether internally or externally.”
Add the top remaining free-agent bat
When the Dodgers look out for help, Jurickson Prof beckons as perhaps the most prolific hitter left in free agency.
The former San Diego Padres switch-hitter wouldn’t be a perfect fit defensively. He has experience as a shortstop and second base, but is more suited as a corner outfielder.
However, if the team plays Taylor and Betts in the infield more often, Profar can play a part in the rotation in the outfield and contribute to the plate.
Last year, the 30-year-old Profar posted above-average numbers for the third time in the past five seasons, including a .723 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that placed fourth on the Padres team with 89 wins.
Profar would not be the cheapest option. He is still a free agent as no team has met his asking price. And the Dodgers already signed another veteran outfielder to Peralta for $6.5 million (plus incentives), a salary Profar could potentially exceed.
But if the Dodgers are looking for another bona fide big league bat, Profar may hold the most intriguing possibility.
Look for another depth piece
Profar isn’t the only free agent that might make sense.
As of Tuesday, veteran infielders were still on the market Josh Iglesias And Andrewton Simmons – players who have struggled offensively in recent seasons but have a track record of being strong defensive shortstops and would likely be relatively cheap.
By late spring, there could be more options as teams trim their rosters and minor league invitees reach their contract opt-out dates. Any player in this category probably wouldn’t see regular at bats with the Dodgers. But they could replace Rojas in a defensive support role, providing depth in case Vargas struggles to adjust to second base or other injuries plague the infield.
But finding a significant upgrade over Hernández or Williams, or the addition of another outfielder already in the camp, is not a certainty.
Try swinging a blockbuster trade
This probably makes more sense closer to the deadline. But if the Dodgers are looking to make a big move before the season, the trade market may provide the most impactful opportunity.
The Dodgers also have a lot of prospect capital and finished last season with the second highest farm system, according to MLB Pipeline.
However, to make a trade now, the Dodgers would almost certainly have to overpay, with all 29 other clubs well aware of their plight.
Chalk it up as another imperfect solution.
For now, the Dodgers are still a contender. Their Jenga tower is still standing.
But it’s already starting to look shaky. And they will spend the rest of the camp looking for the right cure.