I almost named this article “How to Replace a Corey Seager for Dummies” — except that, well, Andrew Friedman and Co. aren’t dummies. We’re dummies, though, so let’s try to theoretically do it ourselves.
As you may have heard by now, Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager will undergo Tommy John surgery and miss the rest of the 2018 season. The Dodgers, with their season already not going the way they had planned (the team is below .500 and Clayton Kershaw just landed on the DL), need to replace that hole with far more urgency than a team in April coming off of an 104-win season normally should.
LA can either go with an internal or an external solution, but there’s more nuance to the situation.
Rarely do teams look to sell their starting shortstop this early in the season. Even if a team is aware that it’s in full tank-mode, they will almost never sell their pieces off before the All-Star break, whether it be because of ticket sales, tradition, “just in case”, or any number of other reasons.
On the buyer side, teams rarely look to buy this early in the year as well, as it’s not worth shipping future assets should the team completely fall apart. The Dodgers are probably the exception to this rule, as they finished just one win shy of a ring last year, and there isn’t really a realistic scenario in which they’re not at least in the hunt for the majority of the year and well past the trade deadline.
There are other considerations, as well. Tommy John surgery has an extremely high success rate, and Seager should return healthy for the 2019 season. He’s under team control for many seasons to come, so the Dodgers realistically are looking for a one-year fix at the position.
With all of these filters, you can imagine that finding a fit at this point of the season is quite difficult. But I bet everyone and their mothers has put together the obvious Manny Machado-to-LA fit. And not only does it pass every one of the previously mentioned restrictions, it’s really the only fit out there (unless both the Dodgers and the Rangers want to think about moving Elvis Andrus, but both teams have reasons why they wouldn’t).
The Orioles are pretty clearly in rebuild mode, and that was even before the Red Sox and Yankees decided to get off to the ridiculous starts as the two best teams in baseball, to date. The Os will move Manny Machado at some point this season, and the only question is when. By acting now, the Dodgers would maximize the time that they would have the services of a prized acquisition, while the Orioles would maximize the return by giving a team five months of Machado rather than two.
What would the cost be?
Well, Machado is due about $13.5 million for the last five months, and various projection systems have him projected at about 4.5-5 wins for the rest of the season. At $8 million/WAR, we’ll call his surplus value roughly $25 million. You might be inclined to include some type of “desperation tax” on the Dodgers, but keep in mind that holding Machado until the deadline would also slice his surplus value significantly.
Using Dave Cameron’s updated prospect valuations from 2014, Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo gets most of the way there. The Orioles probably want pitching as well, so they might ask for a couple young arms to complete the package. They could also go the quantity over quality route, asking for three or four out of the Andrew Toles/Brock Stewart/Mitchell White/Dustin May/DJ Peters/Yusniel Diaz/Yadier Alvarez/Gavin Lux pool. Either way, it would be a nice influx of talent for a system in desperate need of it.
The last thing worth mentioning is that the Dodgers are desperate to stay under the luxury tax this season, so they may need to move around some salaries to make it work, which isn’t a small task in itself. (I’m not going to delve into how the Dodgers would make the salaries work because payroll and how it pertains to the luxury tax is incredibly complicated and is information privy to only the league and the teams themselves. Any and all figures you see posted online are just estimates.)
The Dodgers could also fill the gap internally. Now, the Dodgers don’t have a single other shortstop in their organization that projects as a league-average option as a starter there. However, they can move Chris Taylor from CF to SS and fill in for Taylor in CF, which is an interesting internal solution.
The options in the outfield become a lot more plentiful, as Verdugo, Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, Andrew Toles (when healthy), and even Yasiel Puig (when healthy) can all imitate that of a centerfielder. Pederson has quietly cut his strikeout rate every season of his career and turned in as many walks as punchouts on this young season. Verdugo is interesting in his own right, as he’s probably been ready for full-time duty since midway through last season, but a logjam on the MLB roster hasn’t afforded him that opportunity. However, the main issue is that none of those players project to be even average defensively in center.
Unfortunately for the Dodgers, there aren’t any appealing options at CF that would be available on the trade market. Until a move is made, Taylor at SS and a fill-in at CF may very well be the best option (and it sounds like manager Dave Roberts plans on doing just that).
But in the long run, if the Dodgers hope to make another run at the World Series, they’re probably going to need a major upgrade. And usually, the obvious (re: Manny Machado) isn’t the best solution. But because of the combination of circumstances, in this case, the obvious may very well be the optimal choice of action.
That’s how to replace a Corey Seager.
Austin Yamada is a contributor at Beyond the Box Score.