MLB hot stove: 10 third base options for Dodgers if Justin Turner leaves in free agency

With less than a week to go until pitchers and catchers report for spring training, there’s still one top-10 free agent who hasn’t found a home: third baseman Justin Turner. On Monday, our Mike Axisa examined potential landing spots for Turner if, for whatever reason, he were to leave the “obvious and perfect fit” offered to him by returning to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Today, we want to examine the flip side of a possible Turner departure: where it would leave the Dodgers.

As the Dodgers roster stands, manager Dave Roberts would likely turn over the hot corner to some combination of Chris Taylor, Gavin Lux, and Edwin Rios. (The other of Lux and Taylor would likely be stationed over at second base.) Say the Dodgers aren’t satisfied with that arrangement, and say they’re willing to go outside the organization to find an upgrade. Whom might they pursue, and what players would realistically fit into their budget and their plans?

Allow us to consider 10 notable options, beginning with the trade market and concluding with the free-agent market. Do note that the players are listed in alphabetical order in both sections, and that this exercise is more for entertainment purposes than anything at this stage in the offseason — the most likely outcome would, seemingly, still see Turner re-up with the Dodgers.

Trade targets

1. Kris Bryant, Cubs

The players may be presented in alphabetical order, but it’s fitting that we start with Kris Bryant, who has served as a walking trade rumor for two consecutive winters. In theory, his right-handed stick and defensive versatility would make him a good fit for the Dodgers. In practice, Andrew Friedman might be under ownership orders to avoid the red zone — that is, going $40 million-plus over the tax line, which in turn leads to a steeper fine and a worse draft pick. The Dodgers have less than $13 million separating them from that area, meaning that it’s tough to see how Friedman could easily fit Bryant’s $19.5 million into his payroll.

2. Eduardo Escobar, D-Backs

If financial limitation is on the menu, then Eduardo Escobar is an attractive option. He counts for just $7 million in the luxury-tax calculations, meaning the Dodgers would have some additional wiggle room to take advantage of. Escobar is coming off a disappointing season in the desert, but he’d hit for a 110 OPS+ in the three years prior. He’s also been a more productive hitter against lefties throughout his career, making him a fit in a platoon with either Lux or Rios.

3. Evan Longoria, Giants

Last winter, Friedman acquired former Rays ace David Price as part of the Mookie Betts trade, keep that in mind as we propose the following: what if Friedman reunited with Evan Longoria? The two defined the most successful era in Tampa Bay baseball, and Longoria has shown he has a little left in the tank. Longoria’s extension (negotiated by Friedman) calls for an $11 million AAV that would fit under the luxury-tax line, too. It makes sense … except the Giants have no reason to help out their National League rivals, and the Dodgers would probably rather not have to pay Longoria his remaining $40-plus million.

4. Luis Rengifo, Angels

We wrestled with the idea of including Kyle Seager, but his capsule would have read the way a lot of the others in this section did — namely that he was probably a touch too rich for the Dodgers’ CBT purposes. Instead, we’re opting to include Luis Rengifo, whom the Dodgers nearly acquired last winter as part of the Joc Pederson-Ross Stripling trade. Rengifo is a switch hitter who hasn’t yet established himself at the big-league level, but who should be able to provide league-average production heading forward. It’s possible the Dodgers would prefer to play him at second base; it’s also possible they’d rather not deal with the Angels again after last time.

5. Eugenio Suarez, Reds

Finally, there’s Eugenio Suarez. The Reds have been trying to unload money all winter, and moving Suarez’s contract (more than $40 million remaining through the 2024 season) would qualify as accomplishing that. He’s coming off a down season, yet he’s on the right side of 30 and he’s proven in the past that he’s a high-quality hitter. Suarez’s $9.43 million AAV would just fit while keeping the Dodgers under the highest luxury-tax threshold. If the Dodgers have to replace Turner, and want a biggish name to do it, then Suarez would appear to be the most likely candidate. 

Free-agent targets

6. Marwin Gonzalez

Marwin Gonzalez entered the winter ranked as the 50th-best free agent based on the strength of his defensive versatility, exit velocity, and walk rate. While he’s a switch hitter, he’s done better work against lefties than righties in recent years, making him a fit in a platoon with Lux or Rios. The catch is that Gonzalez should have enough suitors to drive up his price, perhaps beyond what Friedman and the Dodgers are willing to pay for a player they view as a situational piece.

7. Jedd Gyorko

The Brewers received a surprisingly effective season from Jedd Gyorko last year, as he batted for a career-best 121 OPS+. Milwaukee then said thank you very much, but we’re not taking our chances on you repeating that, declining an affordable club option in lieu of a buyout. The Dodgers have already employed Gyorko once, suggesting they liked something about him. Perhaps they’d be willing to go back to the well, assuming the cost is low enough.

8. Jake Lamb

Rios and Lux are both left-handed hitters, meaning it’ll be tough for the Dodgers to make another fit on their roster. That probably takes Jake Lamb out of the running. He ought to land a deal with someone, though, for reasons that we expanded upon earlier this winter. Namely: “Lamb hit the ball 95 mph or harder on more than half of his batted balls, putting him 23rd in the majors among qualified hitters — just ahead of Bryce Harper, Jorge Soler, and Gary Sanchez, among others. He did that while hitting the ball in the “sweet spot” launch angle range (10 to 30 degrees) as frequently as the likes of Francisco Lindor, Andrew McCutchen, and Aaron Judge.”

9. Brad Miller

Brad Miller has quietly posted a 123 OPS+ in 341 trips to the plate over the last two seasons, making him a sneaky-solid candidate for at least a bench role. Friedman should know all about Miller’s offensive ability from their shared time in St. Pete. Alas, that also means Friedman has had a primo seat from which to experience Miller’s defensive shortcomings for himself. Add in how Miller is a left-handed bat, and it seems unlikely that he’s going to land with the Dodgers.

10. Travis Shaw

Travis Shaw is yet another lefty, making it doubtful that the Dodgers pursue him. Still, he’s coming off a one-year semi-rebound with the Blue Jays. Shaw posted a 95 OPS+ and a career-high exit velocity. His swollen strikeout and swing-and-miss rates appear here to stay, and your mileage may vary on the defensive value he offers (or doesn’t offer) at the hot corner. Some team will eventually invite him to camp, you’d think. It just probably won’t be L.A.

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