Dodgers are making Mookie Betts a 'permanent' shortstop amid Gavin Lux's struggles

PHOENIX — The offseason for the billion-dollar Los Angeles Dodgers will be the story of the winter, but their most important move of the spring may be converting their Gold Glove right fielder to their new everyday shortstop.

As far as this club's winter plans were planned, there was very little, at least publicly, to suggest that the Dodgers had any idea they would write a lineup card featuring Mookie Betts at shortstop with 12 days remaining before their season opener. In Seoul, South Korea. Especially after general manager Brandon Gomez announced, just weeks ago, that Gavin Lux would “definitely” be the team's everyday player.

But for the second spring in a row, Lux's supposed ascent to the shortstop role didn't make it out of spring training. The 26-year-old former prospect, coming off a torn ACL he suffered last spring, has faced a recurrence of throwing issues that have caused the club's best plans to go awry.

So, Friday's lineup card had Betts at shortstop, and Lux ​​returning to second base, where he played every day for the club in his last healthy season in 2022. It's not a one-day experience.

“Permanent for now,” Dodgers manager Dave Roberts said.

The Dodgers' public comments surrounding Lux this winter were emphatic in their praise. After sitting behind shortstops worth over $300 million in Corey Seager and Trea Turner, Lux will finally emerge from the wings. However, the club is still monitoring the market for potential upgrades at the position this winter, and has remained interested in long-term target Willie Adams of the Brewers, as The athlete reported Thursday.

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Concerns over the club's left-sided defense only increased once Lux was cleared to return to action. The former first-round pick made errors in each of his first two chances this spring, airmailing his first throw to first baseman Kevin Padlo on Feb. 28, and seemingly bouncing every throw to first base that followed. Lux had previously had throwing issues in his prospect days that required the club to keep him in the backfield with special assistant Jose Vizcaino during the spring of 2019; The player has been open about his struggles with anxiety and the work the club has done with mental skills coach Brent Walker to return Lux to a productive level as a second baseman in 2022.

After a conversation with Lux and Betts on Thursday, Roberts announced that Lux will return there in 2024.

“He was feeling the effects of it,” Roberts said, referring to the mental side of Lux's throwing problems. Within six spring training games and just 10 defensive snaps, the team was out of action. With less than two weeks until the start of the season, Roberts said, they didn't have much of a choice.

“The calendar, where we are now, we have to make a decision,” Roberts said. “I think now this is what's best for the Dodgers.”

Roberts said Lux ​​is expected to move his entire job to second base, rather than continuing to work on immediate duty throwing issues at shortstop. Rather than option him outright, the Dodgers still want Lux's bat in their order, as the left-handed hitter has found his form with the best offensive season of his career in 2022 (109 OPS+).

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Friday's announcement reinforced a situation that has quickly and visibly worsened. But going to Betts, who himself had not played shortstop in nearly a decade before being pressured into 16 games (12 starts) last season, presents another potential challenge to baseball's most glamorous roster. The Dodgers had already announced this winter that the six-time Gold Glove right-hander would move to second base primarily full-time after opening the club's roster as the de facto utility man a year ago; Betts, of course, had a more established track record on the right side of the field after being drafted at the position.

“This is something I know he didn't expect, and we didn't expect it,” Roberts said.

Forced to the other side of the diamond last season after Lux suffered a knee injury and after Miguel Rojas suffered a hamstring injury, Betts saw just 46 balls hit his way. That he earned neutral grades there in such a small sample was a testament to his athleticism, but reflects the shaky foundation the club had at the position after Lux' injury.

Now, they're left in a similar situation. The rest of the shortstop depth chart besides Lux looks close to the same as it did a year ago. Rojas had an excellent defensive performance, but was coming off back-to-back offensive seasons that were well below average. Kiké Hernandez struggled mightily with the Red Sox full-time at the start of last season before addressing a two-year abdominal injury with double hernia surgery last winter. Chris Taylor has experience in the position but is needed on the field and dealt with a long-term knee problem last summer. Each could still log in at center with Betts remaining free to play second base, but the Dodgers have settled on their most likely alignment.

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The holiday that seemed to have it all still has one surprise up its sleeve.

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(Photo: Michael Reeves/Getty Images)

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