Early Dodgers lineup projection: Damage potential from top to bottom

January 9th, 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, the Dodgers continued to upgrade their offense, coming to an agreement with former All-Star outfielder  on a one-year, $23.5 million deal. The contract is still pending a physical and will not be made official until next week.

But with Hernández fully expected to be with the Dodgers this season -- paired with deals with ,  and the trade for  -- Los Angeles is now likely done adding position players this offseason, barring an offseason or Spring Training injury.

The 13 position players projected to be with the Dodgers on Opening Day match up with just about any other group in the Majors. Though manager Dave Roberts will have some time to figure it out before the team heads to Seoul, South Korea, to open its season against the Padres on March 20, let’s try to project what the lineup could look like against left-handed and right-handed pitching.

Lineup vs. RHP

1. Mookie Betts, 2B
2. Shohei Ohtani, DH
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Will Smith, C
5. Max Muncy, 3B
6. Jason Heyward, RF
7. Teoscar Hernández/Chris Taylor, LF
8. James Outman, CF
9. Gavin Lux, SS

How the Dodgers design the top of their lineup will be interesting. Betts will surely be the team’s leadoff hitter again, as he has made clear that's his preference. Freeman, who has hit in the No. 2 spot in the past few seasons, would likely need to slide down to the three-hole to allow Ohtani to hit second in the order. What a good problem to have, huh?

Behind the three superstars, Smith could stay as the cleanup hitter in order to have a right-handed bat to split up the left-handed hitters. Muncy and Heyward were much better against right-handed pitching last season, and in Heyward’s case, he isn’t expected to see many at-bats against lefties this year. But with Betts likely to be the team’s everyday second baseman, Heyward should get most of his starts in right field against righties.

Left field is another fun puzzle. The Dodgers are hopeful that Hernández can hold his own against right-handed pitching, while also mashing lefties. Taylor will, once again, fall into the super-utility role but could get some run against righties, especially if he proves to be healthy early in the season.

On paper, this appears to be the Dodgers’ strongest lineup heading into the season.

Lineup vs. LHP

1. Mookie Betts, 2B
2. Shohei Ohtani, DH
3. Freddie Freeman, 1B
4. Will Smith, C
5. Teoscar Hernández, RF
6. Max Muncy, 3B
7. Manuel Margot, CF
8. Chris Taylor, LF
9. Miguel Rojas/Gavin Lux, SS

Obviously, the top four stay the same here. They’re the group that’s going to drive the engine this season. Against left-handers, however, expect Muncy to slide down to sixth. There are two reasons for that: His own struggles against lefties (he batted .155 against them last season) and Hernández’s ability to mash southpaws (career .887 OPS).

Taylor could also get some run at third base if Muncy’s struggles against lefties continue into the 2024 season, but the Dodgers’ starting third baseman has earned the ability to start most of the team’s games.

The last three spots in the order are a little bit more interesting, and they’ll be something to watch during Spring Training. Outman more than held his own against left-handed pitching in limited time during his rookie season. But the Dodgers do show a preference to play the handedness matchup more often than not. Unless Outman shows even more improvement against lefties early in the season, Margot -- who is a solid defender -- could get the majority of starts in center field. Taylor would then slide over to left field with the ability to also play center if Margot and/or Outman struggle at the plate.

In the nine-hole, Lux is preparing to be the team’s everyday shortstop this season. The Dodgers should give him most of the opportunities, even against left-handed pitching, but Rojas’ elite defense at shortstop might be too good for the club to keep on the bench for extended periods of time. Expect Rojas to get some starts all over the diamond, but especially giving Lux -- who is coming off major right knee surgery -- a break whenever he needs it.

Things can -- and will -- change from now until Opening Day, but it looks like the Dodgers have already locked up the 13 position players they’ll roll with this season.