September 22, 2023

Dodgers option collapsing rookie Miguel Vargas. So who’s playing second base now?

Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Miguel Vargas (17) participates in batting practice for a baseball game.

Miguel Vargas participates in hitting practice for a game in June. (Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

What felt more and more like an inevitability in recent weeks became a reality on Sunday.

The Dodgers selected struggling rookie Miguel Vargas for a triple-A Oklahoma City, after he entered the All-Star break with .195 and in the middle of a five-for-63 slump.

Now they must reevaluate exactly who should play second base in his absence, with a major roster question coming less than a month from Major League Baseball’s Aug. 1 trade deadline.

Vargas’ relegation was not much of a surprise.

Despite arriving in the big leagues as a highly rated prospect last year, and standing on the club’s opening day this season as their starting second baseman, the 23-year-old never found his footing as an everyday player.

He hit just .202 in his first 46 games. He recovered somewhat in May, posting a .257 average with 16 extra-base hits during an encouraging 30-game stretch. But recently he started spiraling again.

Since June 9, his batting average had dropped nearly 40 points. His on-base-plus-slugging percentage dropped to .672, well below the league average. And leading up to the All-Star break, the Dodgers began to cut back on his playing time, starting just seven times in the last 13 games.

Read more: Mookie Betts starts in the infield and crushes two home runs as Miguel Vargas struggles

“I think [he adds to the team]manager Dave Roberts said last week. “But at what point do you decide that [his struggles] could be harmful?”

The answer is apparently now.

And with Vargas gone, a new list of questions has been created for a Dodgers team virtually tied for first place in the National League West.

The two most likely candidates to take over second base are Mookie Betts and Chris Taylor.

Betts has been dividing his time between right field, second base and shortstop all season, noticeably enhanced by the opportunity to return to the infield positions he primarily played growing up.

Betts has been a fine defender at second base, posting a plus-three in defensive runs saved in 22 games. He has also delivered his best offensive numbers on his second-ranked days, hitting .347 with a 1,171 OPS in such games.

In the short term, it’s reasonable to expect Betts to play second when the Dodgers face a right-handed pitcher, allowing them to start all three of their left-handed outfielders in Jason Heyward, David Peralta, and James Outman (something they had in recent weeks already done).

On days when they face a lefty starter, Taylor could enter the picture, as he is expected back from a knee injury once the team enters the second half of its schedule on Friday (the Dodgers did not announce a corresponding move for Vargas on Sunday, but a roster spot is now open for Taylor’s return).

Read more: Miguel Vargas advances to second base for Dodgers, but at what cost to the plate?

Even before getting injured, Taylor battled his inconsistencies at the plate, hitting 11 home runs but batting only .206.

The Dodgers hope that upon his return he will be more like the former All-Star player who earned a four-year, $60 million contract two offseasons ago, not the one who has been out in more than a third of his career. record appearances since then.

In terms of organizational depth, the Dodgers have Michael Busch and Devin Mann in triple A, where both have hit better than .300 with double-digit home runs this season.

They could always bring Vargas back later in the year too, if he can fix the myriad problems plaguing his swing (Vargas had a low hitting percentage of just 20.1%, but ranks among the worst hitters in the majors for average run-out speed and hard success rate).

Vargas’s demotion makes something else abundantly clear: The team will be looking for another batter at trade deadline, likely a right-handed batter in the infield or outfield, thanks to the defensive versatility of Betts and Taylor.

Roberts expressed such a need last week, even as the team finished fifth in MLB in OPS against left-handed throwing.

The trading market could offer plenty of options, from Tommy Pham and Mark Canha of the New York Mets, to Paul DeJong and Tyler O’Neill of the St. Louis Cardinals, to Lane Thomas and Jeimer Candelario of the Washington Nationals.

The Dodgers also have veteran outfielder Trayce Thompson on the injured list, though his return is unclear and he was already struggling before suffering an oblique injury last month.

Read more: How Dodgers’ James Outman and Miguel Vargas got through the growing pains of the rookie season

All those names are useful, but far from spectacular.

And while replacing Vargas offers an opportunity for improvement, it seems unlikely that the Dodgers will find a significant upgrade in his absence – both internally and externally.

That’s the risk of relying on a rookie hitter to fill an important spot in the lineup, hoping that Vargas could become the latest low-cost, high-ceiling prospect to make their big league roster. strengthen.

His failure didn’t ruin their season. They go into the second half with plenty of ways to replace him.

Still, the best draft of this year’s Dodgers team would feature Vargas as a key contributor.

Sunday’s decision confirmed the fact that an opposite has played out instead.

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This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.

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