Gavin Lux injury: Miguel Rojas, other options for Dodgers shortly after Lux’s season-ending ACL tear

The defending NL West champion Los Angeles Dodgers suffered a catastrophic injury on Monday afternoon. Starting shortstop Gavin Lux tore the ACL in his right knee after tripping on the base paths, the team announced Tuesday. He will miss the entire 2023 season, coach Dave Roberts said.

Here is Lux’s injury. He ducked mid-throw, tripped, and his right knee buckled.

Lux, 25, was the Dodgers’ second baseman last season and was slated to fall to shortstop, his natural position, to replace Trea Turner this year. Turner of course signed with the Philadelphia Phillies as a free agent. With Lux injured, LA’s depth chart now looks like this:

  1. LHB Gavin Lux (out of season with knee injury)
  2. RHB Miguel Rojas
  3. RHB Chris Taylor (expected to see most of his time in the outfield)
  4. SHB Yonny Hernandez (career .198/.293/.228 hitter in 55 MLB games)

As far as Plan B goes, you could do a lot worse than Rojas and Taylor at shortstop. However, it is a step below Lux and a significant step below Turner. Even before Lux’s injuries, FanGraphs projections had the Dodgers about five games behind the San Diego Padres in the NL West. That gap is a bit wider now.

What could the Dodgers do to replace Lux at shortstop? Here’s an overview of their options, which are pretty limited at this point in the baseball calendar.

Stay at home

That’s almost certainly what the Dodgers will do. Rojas was brought in to provide depth behind Lux ​​and is a viable everyday arm thanks to his glove: 15 defensive runs and 10 strikeouts above average in 2022. The bat leaves something to be desired, but Rojas can play it short and play it well. Plugging it in as a Lux replacement is the easy, simple move.

“It’s unfortunate what happened to Luxy” Rojas said Los Angeles Times on Tuesday. “But if that means I’m going to play shortstop, that’s what I have to do. I’ve prepared for this opportunity. I’ve got to be ready for it.”

Taylor had a down season in 2022, his worst season since joining the Dodgers in 2017, and struck out an alarming 35.2 percent of his plate appearances. Still, he remains an option in the bullpen if Los Angeles needs him. Hernandez is more of a second baseman than a shortstop with good contact skills and basically zero power. It is an emergency option.

Top prospect Miguel Vargas was already slated to take over at second base with Lux shifting to shortstop. He has never played shortstop in his career and is actually a natural third baseman with less than 30 career games at second. Also touted prospect Michael Busch is an inexperienced second baseman and left fielder. Both have MLB-ready bats, but neither is a shortstop candidate.

The Dodgers acquired Rojas over the winter, especially because he can play shortstop and pitch well, and with Lux now sidelined long-term, Rojas will almost certainly step into the lineup to play the position. It’s the obvious move. Taylor will be the backup plan and Hernandez is now third on the depth chart in case of another injury.

Sign a free agent

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The best player left in free agency is Jurickson Profar, who came up through the minors as a shortstop, but hasn’t played the left side of the infield since 2018. A pair of shoulder surgeries earlier in his career sapped Profar of arm strength, and he’s now a full-time left fielder. I suppose the Dodgers could sign him with an eye toward giving Taylor more time in the infield, though it seems unlikely. Profar doesn’t fit the roster because of his current skill set.

Jose Iglesias was once one of the game’s great defensive shortstops, but his glove has slipped significantly in recent years (minus 26 defensive runs saved over the last two years) and he is no longer an everyday option at the position. Rojas provides better defense and a similar high-contact, low-power bat. Others like Andrelton Simmons and Jonathan Villar don’t move the needle. Free agency offers essentially zero shortstop solutions at this point.

Make a transaction

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One name immediately comes to mind: Isiah Kiner-Falefa. The New York Yankees are holding a shortstop competition this spring, and Kiner-Falefa, the incumbent, is battling top contenders Oswald Peraza and Anthony Volpe for the job. Peraza impressed during his September call-up last year and even made some starts over Kiner-Falefa in the postseason.

The Yankees passed on all these great free agent shortstops the last two offseasons because they believe in Peraza and Volpe so much. Kiner-Falefa was brought in to be a stopgap until the guys are ready and Peraza certainly looks ready. That doesn’t mean the Yankees will deal Kiner-Falefa — he’s still a useful piece of depth — but I’m sure he’s available.

Other potential shortstop trade candidates include Paul DeJong (St. Louis Cardinals), Josh Smith (Texas Rangers) and Taylor Walls (Tampa Bay Rays). Keep in mind that the teams are well aware that Lux suffered a serious injury. If the Dodgers make calls to trade shortstop, they can expect big asking prices. Teams won’t help LA out of the goodness of their hearts.

It would be surprising if the Dodgers did anything other than hand the shortstop reins to Rojas right after Lux’s injury. He’s a capable everyday arm thanks to his glove, and if they don’t start him now, what was the point of giving up a solid prospect (Jacob Amaya) to get him? That’s exactly why the Dodgers brought in Rojas.

Now, if Rojas sees his game slip at 34, then the Dodgers can reevaluate and perhaps make a change at the position during the season. There’s no reason to do it yet. Free agent options are non-existent and there is nothing terribly attractive on the trade market. Rojas will be the guy at short, and the Dodgers won’t make a trade until they’re sure it’s necessary.

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