Decisions loom for Dodgers as Heyward nears return

May 7th, 2024

This story was excerpted from Juan Toribio's Dodgers Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

LOS ANGELES -- Over the weekend, Jason Heyward was sprinting around the bases at Dodger Stadium. He then took part in batting practice on the field for the first time since suffering a back injury that has held him out of action much longer than anyone anticipated.

The fact that Heyward is taking part in those drills only means he’s getting closer to a return. In fact, it could happen as soon as the upcoming trip to San Diego and San Francisco, given that Heyward won’t need a lengthy rehab assignment.

Getting Heyward back will be a significant addition to the bottom of the Dodgers’ lineup. Heyward got off to a slow start this season (a .414 OPS in the first four games), but he had a career resurgence last season in his first year in Los Angeles, posting a .813 OPS, his highest in a full season since 2012.

But as helpful as getting Heyward back will be for the Dodgers, it does set up a tough conversation. Who will go from the active roster to make room for him?

When Heyward went on the injured list on April 3, the Dodgers were hoping it was a minimum 10-day stint. Once Heyward suffered a first setback, however, the Dodgers turned to 23-year-old Cuban rookie Andy Pages -- ranked by MLB Pipeline as their No. 3 prospect -- to give them a boost.

Since then, Pages has run with the opportunity. He’s coming off a 10-game hitting streak and has shown every bit of why he’s considered one of the best prospects in the organization and in baseball. While a slump is inevitable for a young player, Pages hasn’t shown any signs of one coming anytime soon. Through 18 games, Pages has a .319 average and has hit four homers.

Had Pages struggled out of the gate, sending him back down to Triple-A Oklahoma City would’ve been the easy choice to make room for Heyward. But with his play, it’s nearly impossible to have him go back to the Minors. Pages' production at the bottom of the order has directly correlated with the Dodgers’ improved play over the last two weeks. He has served as the perfect gap in the order.

With Pages here to stay, the Dodgers now have a decision to make with James Outman. Last season, it was Outman who burst onto the scene with a hot April (.966 OPS) before cooling off the rest of the season. This year, Outman has really struggled offensively, with a .169 batting average and three homers. On Monday, the Dodgers had Outman hit ninth for the first time all season. To his credit, the 26-year-old responded by hitting a two-run homer and putting together some of the best at-bats in weeks. Still, Outman striking out in more than one-third of his at-bats is concerning.

"Last year when [Outman] was struggling -- at some points it was similar in terms of the indecisiveness, and then at other points it’s just the swing and miss,” said Dodgers manager Dave Roberts before Monday’s game against the Marlins. “Then he started barreling some balls and really got going. Right now, it’s just more the former where I see a lot of indecision.”

If not Outman who makes way for Heyward, which would be understandable given his defense in center, the Dodgers could look to give Chris Taylor a blow of sorts. Taylor has been a key part of the Dodgers over the last few seasons, but his struggles at the plate have become impossible to ignore. Taylor is 4-for-54 (.074) this season, striking out 26 times. Taylor, however, is under contract until the end of the ‘25 season, which makes everything more complicated.

In the end, the Dodgers are in a good situation. They have a lot of good players to pick from. But they might be forced to make some difficult decisions as their outfield gets healthier soon.