Roberts: 'Safe to say' Betts is everyday second baseman

December 4th, 2023

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- made a strong National League Most Valuable Player case in 2023 by ably making what had seemed a part-time and perhaps temporary move to the middle infield to accommodate others in the Dodgers’ outfield.

Turns out, it was an arrangement good enough to last.

Though the Dodgers had not made any major transactions at the Winter Meetings, manager Dave Roberts did make news Monday at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center by announcing -- first on MLB Network’s “High Heat” and then separately with reporters -- that Betts will be a full-time second baseman in 2024.

“It’s one of those things where he’s a Gold Glover out in right field,” Roberts said. “But I think when you’re talking about putting together a roster and someone who can be so offensive at second base, you can get more games out of him if he is playing second base. And obviously with the signing of Jason Heyward, to put him out there in right field to go out there and play right-handed pitching and to play a Gold Glove right field, it just makes our club better.”

Heyward agreed to a one-year deal with the Dodgers last week, though the club has not confirmed the deal.

Roberts went so far as to say this could be an arrangement well beyond 2024 for Betts.

“I could see him playing the rest of his career at second base,” Roberts said. “That excites me, and that excites him, most importantly.”

Betts has won six Gold Gloves for his work in the outfield in his career and was generally regarded as the best defensive right fielder in the game. But when the Dodgers dealt with a Spring Training knee injury to would-be starting shortstop Gavin Lux last year, Betts recalibrated. He wound up proving a capable defender at second, where he posted a minus-1 Outs Above Average mark in 70 games, including 62 starts.

Oh, and, meanwhile, Betts cranked out a .307/.408/.579 slash line with 39 homers and 40 doubles. In moving from the outfield to the middle infield -- a sort of Reverse Robin Yount role -- Betts put himself in rare territory. His 163 OPS+ was actually the highest by an AL/NL player to log at least 30% of his games played in both the outfield and at second base since Sammy Strang’s 164 mark with the 1906 New York Giants.

“Things like that,” Roberts said when presented with that bizarre nugget of information, “no one else in baseball could have done that.”

In 2024, it will be a different arrangement, Roberts said. Betts might still see occasional time in the outfield, but he’ll be much more locked in at the keystone. And considering Betts made the adjustment to second on the fly and had success, Roberts is excited to see what he is capable of with a full offseason to prepare.

“I don't think that that uncertainty [from 2023] is something that he wants to replicate,” Roberts said. “So now, if we have the opportunity to give him some clarity, I think that's very beneficial.”

Meanwhile, the Dodgers expect that Lux, recovering from a torn ACL and LCL in his right knee, will be ready to resume his intended role as the primary shortstop, with veteran Miguel Rojas serving as a utility type, filling in at short against tough left-handed pitchers.

“It's nice,” said Roberts, “having a 35-year-old shortstop [in Rojas] that can really catch it and then hopefully mentor Gavin on some little subtleties that Gavin's got to continue to get better at [defensively].”

So barring a Hot Stove shakeup, the Dodgers’ middle-infield plan appears set. Betts has expressed his preference for playing second base at this point, and the Dodgers are happy to accommodate him, given what it means to the lineup, at large.

“A happy Mookie Betts, a guy that can post and play 160 games, it makes the Dodgers much better,” Roberts said. “So it’s pretty much a no-brainer.”