Dodgers Seemingly Scrap Spending Plans, Acquire Miguel Rojas

Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

Over the past decade, some storied names have manned shortstop for the Dodgers: Hanley Ramirez, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, heck, even an aging Jimmy Rollins was captain of the infield in LA in 2015 (though that move was ill-conceived). And now, after two years of historic free agent shortstop classes that saw the departures of both Seager and Turner, the big-money Dodgers will be adding to that list… Miguel Rojas?

At first glance, this is surprising. But by some measures, it makes sense: The Dodgers spread their money around and are less top-heavy than their wealthy counterparts. Even as they head into 2023 with an estimated $41 million less on the books than in ’22, the Dodgers will still be doling out $20 million or more to three players (four if you include Trevor Bauer). However, compared to the five other members of the $200 million payroll club, this mark is either tied for the lowest or at least below average depending on if we count Bauer: The Yankees are handing $20 million to six players, the Padres and Phillies five, and the Mets four. While the Angels only have three such players in that category, all are taking home at least $30 million and no Dodger is. In fact, of the $200 million club, the Dodgers and Phillies are the only teams without a $30 million payout for 2023.

So, it stands to reason that of these teams, the Dodgers might be best equipped to reset their hefty consecutive-years luxury tax penalty this offseason. Yet here’s where the Rojas trade doesn’t make sense all over again: adding him seems to put the Dodgers over the first luxury tax threshold.

Perhaps this trade will mark the first in a flurry that includes the Dodgers both upgrading at shortstop and finding themselves beneath the first threshold again. A major reason the latter has been so difficult is that the Dodgers were hoping Bauer’s suspension would continue through the 2023 season. Instead, the suspension was reduced on December 22, which left the Dodgers on the hook for his 2023 salary and exceedingly close to the first threshold (though still below). But the next move the Dodgers make likely won’t be a Bauer trade; part of the reason they took every bit of the two weeks following his reinstatement to DFA him was because they were probably waiting to see if another team would express interest in a trade, but no one did. Additionally, they likely didn’t release him outright because DFAing him has given them another seven days to seek a trade; those seven days are up January 13.

Barring a last-minute suitor for Bauer, there are other ways the Dodgers can free up payroll. They could throw in a prospect in order to dump Blake Treinen’s salary; after missing most of 2022 with shoulder issues and ultimately undergoing surgery, the righty appears set to miss most (if not all) of ’23. Or, now that they have some additional middle infield help in the form of Rojas, they could deal one of Chris Taylor or Max Muncy.

This scenario is the most plausible. Both players would be attractive to win-now teams and neither comes with a particularly daunting financial burden. Taylor, who has three years and $41 million left on his contract (plus a $12 million club option for 2026), is coming off of his worst offensive showing since 2016. But he dealt with a bevy of injuries including a fractured foot and still managed to hold his own defensively at multiple positions. In fact, his utility is what might make the Dodgers hold onto him; currently, he sits atop their depth chart in left field and figures to factor into the mix everywhere but first base and catcher.

Muncy is also coming off of a down year offensively, though he has a better track record with the bat than Taylor and a higher offensive floor due to his batting eye. Further, an elbow injury in the spring messed with his mechanics; a tweak brought about a second-half rebound. He’s also marginally cheaper than Taylor and comes with less of a commitment, as he’ll be making $13.5 million this year with a $10 million club option for 2024. However, he’s less versatile: he sits atop the depth chart at third, where he’s historically graded out worst according to Outs Above Average (OAA), though he figures to factor in at first and second as well.

To me, Muncy seems like the more obvious trade candidate. While both him and Taylor are buy-lows, he’s shown more tangible signs of returning to form and comes with a smaller and shorter commitment; he’d have more suitors. Plus, the Dodgers would be largely relegating him to an unnatural position at third. On the other hand, OAA has typically liked Taylor’s work in left. Plus, Miguel Vargas would stand to gain from a deal involving either Muncy or Taylor, and Vargas has played the most at third in recent years in the minors, making him a more natural successor to Muncy.

Luxury tax considerations aside, it’s easy to see how Rojas fits into the Dodgers’ plans even alongside Muncy and Taylor. This offseason, the club lost an excellent defender in Cody Bellinger and a solid one in Trea Turner. To replace Turner at short, they were poised to shift over Gavin Lux and Taylor. OAA likes Lux much more at second, though his work at short in the majors consists of just a 500-inning sample; he’ll still have opportunities to spell Rojas at short against righties, but with less pressure, so the Dodgers will get another chance to see if he’s viable there long-term. Rojas is only under contract for one year, at a cool $5 million, but his sure-handedness will hold down the fort during that time. Since 2017, the year he began playing short full-time, he ranks 14th in shortstop OAA among the 87 players with at least 250 attempts. Turner, who incidentally began playing short simultaneously, ties for 16th; Rojas is an upgrade even over him.

There are a couple of other side effects of the Rojas acquisition. Let’s assume for now that the Dodgers will hold onto all of Taylor, Muncy, and Rojas — yes, even Rojas could be flipped. The advent of Rojas will free Taylor up to spend more time improving the club’s sans-Bellinger outfield defense. Additionally, with Lux moving back to second, Muncy primarily at third, and Taylor primarily in left, Vargas will be without a clear role. Yet, this may actually be a positive: Though Vargas has played more third than outfield in the minors, our Eric Longenhagen noted recently that Vargas’s below-average glove has looked okay in left, which is to say superior to his play at third. Given that the team is still likely to utilize Taylor and Muncy’s versatility, there will be ample opportunity for the Dodgers to cycle Vargas between his two more-obvious fits and continue assessing where his ultimate landing spot will be.

After all of this postulating, the Rojas move still doesn’t sit quite right with me. It’s probably because, despite the positives he brings to the team, I can’t wrap my head around why the Dodgers chose to deal their 15th-best prospect in exchange for him. Yes, they have a deep system. But Jacob Amaya was their highest-ranked shortstop, and a major-league ready one at that. Eric pegged him for a utility role in the near future and described him as the “best defensive infielder on Los Angeles’ 40-man.” ZiPS projected 1.2 WAR for Amaya, assuming he receives sufficient playing time. That WAR mark is actually equivalent to what Rojas posted last year; both are glove-first, though Amaya’s 14% walk-rate at Double- and Triple-A last season bodes well for his offensive floor. Giving Amaya the starting job at short still would have come with more risk than rolling out Rojas, sure, but also the same amount of roster flexibility and added luxury tax flexibility. I look forward to seeing him get a chance in Miami; though Joey Wendle is currently blocking him there, Wendle’s been on the trade block too. For Miami, this deal seems like a no-brainer.

But we won’t know exactly what the Dodgers were thinking for at least another day or two. Maybe a last-minute Bauer trade partner emerged. Maybe a deal for Muncy and/or Taylor is already in the works. Maybe the club even has an agreement to flip Rojas for a player better than Amaya. Because otherwise it just doesn’t check out that the Dodgers are so high on Rojas that they’re not only willing to set aside major luxury tax benefits for him, they’re also willing to part with a solid major-league ready prospect. Mike DiGiovanna reported that the Dodgers were already over the threshold, but if that were the case, why did they make it harder to get back under it for Rojas? The next luxury tax threshold is at $253 million; currently, we estimate the Dodgers’ taxable expenses at just over $237 million. Elvis Andrus could have been had on the free agent market at no prospect cost, and inking him for a bit more than Rojas’ $5 million would have had the exact same tax repercussions. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see, but this head-scratcher can’t be the last move of the offseason for baseball’s model franchise. Can it?

Alex is a FanGraphs contributor. His work has also appeared at Pinstripe Alley, Pitcher List, and Sports Info Solutions. He is especially interested in how and why players make decisions, something he struggles with in daily life. You can find him on Twitter @Mind_OverBatter.

Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
1 year ago

Let me see: Miguel Rojas might need to undergo another wrist procedure, he’s coming off a terrible offensive season, and they just dealt the one guy on the roster who could play shortstop to get him. And he puts the Dodgers clear over the luxury tax if they don’t have a deal in place to dump Bauer’s contract on some team (who will also DFA him).

What is the point of all this? They don’t reset the tax, shortstop is potentially still a mess, the backup option is gone…they could have signed Elvis Andrus instead, or traded for a better and/or cheaper shortstop (Jorge Mateo or Nico Hoerner being possibilities), or just roll with Amaya at short. All of those would have actually made some sense because it would have been a logically consistent direction, but somehow they have a decent shot of failing at all of their goals.

It’s one of those things that is probably not a big deal but it’s a whole lot of very small deals.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

I understand that you don’t get it, but I don’t understand the thought that the Dodgers are doing something stupid here. I don’t mean that they are above reproach but they generally have a process that is very successful. We’ll see what happens. It could be as simple as they need someone else who can play short at times, don’t believe very much in Amaya (I agree with them there), and they have accepted that they will be over the luxury tax this year.
By the way I don’t think Rojas is now the shortstop. I think he is much closer to what Hanser Alberto was last year than the full time or even longer half of a platoon shortstop.

1 year ago
Reply to  jtrichey

It’s ridiculous because somehow they’ve managed to make moves that probably move them further away from every single possible goal. You know how hard it is to do that? Maybe if he didn’t have to go under the knife again it would work because you could hope he bounces back to a barely acceptable hitter but his availability and hitting capability is in serious question. And it’s even worse if he’s not at least a half-time shortstop.

I really object to this “their process is successful” argument. The Dodgers got a whole lot worse this offseason and are going to have nothing to show for it.

1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

The Dodgers may have gotten worse this offseason, but that is hardly any argument against “their process is successful.” No team can ever sustain an endless upward climb where each season is better than the last. That is impossible. There are going to be individual seasons where the team takes a step back. It’s inevitable. This is one of them.

Acknowledging that their process is successful is looking at the past decade of Dodgers baseball (especially since Friedman arrived) and saying that, on the whole, I trust that they know what they’re doing.

I guess I’d say that the Dodgers’ FO has earned the benefit of the doubt on this.

1 year ago
Reply to  JakeDubois

Or, they misjudged what would happen this offseason enough that they are going to take a big step back in terms of wins, not get anyone to help them in future years, and not meet their financial goals. It’s a testament to the FOs overall performance over the past 5+ years that they are still somehow World Series contenders. It doesn’t mean they didn’t mess up, because they did; it’s just that they have a lot of wiggle room because the FO made a ton of good decisions in the past.

Jolly Good Show
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

They’ve got quite a few prospects banging on the door. It sounds like they might give some of them a go. It worked last time and many (or may not) work this time.

Smiling Politelymember
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Yeah, I think Friedman went into the offseason thinking he could bag someone for a high AAV and low years and found out too late that the market shifted to years. But moves like this…they really do make you wonder if we need to ask a variation of the Joe Maddon question: Is he a genius, or is it just [the money]?

1 year ago

Genius might be a bit much but he’s still on of the top 5 front office execs in the game. The development system is great, both in the minors and for veterans alike. That counts for a lot. He typically makes good trades and spends money wisely. But it’s a good reminder that even people who are good at their jobs misjudge things.

Bless You Boys
1 year ago
Reply to  sadtrombone

Rojas may prove to be wrong, but this FA market was packed with overpriced guys. There are bigger prizes coming down the road. LAD plays the long game until the AS break, when they pounce. The way not to run a franchise is down the 5 in San Diego.

Last edited 1 year ago by Bless You Boys