In five seasons under Andrew Friedman, the Dodgers’ thriving homegrown core has been supplemented by half-season rentals and targeted free-agent signings -- but generally not blockbuster moves with multiyear ramifications.
That could change this winter.
Sources say the Dodgers are expected to pursue a trade for Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor as one possible addition to an offense that managed only a .303 on-base percentage during this month’s National League Division Series loss to the Nationals.
The Dodgers’ 2020 planning remains in the early stages, but the team is said to be more open-minded to a shakeup than in recent offseasons. Lindor, coming off a fourth consecutive All-Star selection, would bring star power, on-field energy and consistent production at shortstop.
Incumbent shortstop Corey Seager would become a trade candidate -- though perhaps not to Cleveland -- if talks between the Dodgers and Indians gain momentum. Seager, 25, has yet to replicate the offensive numbers from his NL Rookie of the Year Award season in 2016, partially due to injuries. Seager spent nearly one month on the injured list this season with a strained left hamstring after missing almost all of '18 after Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow.
The Dodgers also could add Lindor while keeping Seager, if they shift Seager to third base while moving Justin Turner across the diamond to first base. (Turner has declined defensively relative to his career-best 2016, according to advanced metrics.) However, that strategy would complicate the efforts of manager Dave Roberts to ensure Max Muncy and Gavin Lux receive enough starts on the right side of the infield.
Seager ranked eighth in adjusted OPS this year among Major League shortstops but was an outlier in a Dodgers lineup that prizes plate discipline. He swung at 51.1 percent of pitches he saw in 2019, according to FanGraphs.com. That was the highest percentage of any Dodgers hitter with at least 100 plate appearances.
Both Lindor and Seager will be eligible for free agency after the 2021 season. According to projections at MLB Trade Rumors, Lindor will likely make in the neighborhood of $16 million via arbitration this season, and Seager somewhere in the $7 million range. The Indians have made no apparent progress on a long-term extension for Lindor, and many in the industry believe there is a good chance he will be dealt before next Opening Day.
In that case, the Dodgers are a natural suitor. Lindor, a switch-hitter, would help the Dodgers achieve coveted platoon advantages, and the Dodgers’ farm system -- viewed as one of the best in baseball -- should give Friedman the prospect capital to put together a compelling offer.
Lindor, one of the game’s most charismatic personalities, surely would embrace the chance to play in Los Angeles, and his omnipresent ebullience could help the Dodgers move beyond their latest postseason disappointment.
While the Dodgers’ system is not as deep as it once was, there are still plenty of good trade chips that could entice Cleveland. L.A.’s top two prospects -- Lux and right-hander Dustin May -- might be tough to pry away given that they already became key contributors in the final weeks of the 2019 season, but with the emergence of rookie catcher Will Smith, it would be easy to foresee fellow backstop Keibert Ruiz (the Dodgers’ No. 3 prospect, per MLB Pipeline) as a centerpiece in any deal. Right-hander Josiah Gray (No. 4 prospect) and shortstop Jeter Downs (No. 5) -- both acquired from the Reds in last December's blockbuster that sent Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Matt Kemp to Cincinnati -- are among other possible trade pieces.
The Dodgers have won seven consecutive division titles and finished the decade with the most regular-season wins in the National League. Yet the quest for their first World Series championship since 1988 has become increasingly urgent, and a splurge for Lindor suddenly appears sensible.