Dodgers Notes: Martinez, Ohtani, Burnes, Heyward, Betts

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Perhaps one of the most interesting dilemmas facing the Dodgers as they turn toward the coming offseason is the pending free agency of veteran slugger J.D. Martinez. After signing with the club on a one-year, $10MM deal this past offseason, Martinez posted his best offensive season since 2019. In 479 trips to the plate with the Dodgers, Martinez slashed a fantastic .271/.321/.572, good for a 135 wRC+ that ranked 16th among all hitters with 450 plate appearances this season.

That sort of offensive production would normally make extending Martinez a qualifying offer something of a no-brainer for Andrew Friedman and his front office; after all, both Fabian Ardaya of The Athletic and Jack Harris of the Los Angeles Times suggest that multi-year offers could be on the table for Martinez in free agency, with Ardaya in particular suggesting that Martinez is likely to receive more than the approximate one-year, $20.5MM deal a QO would provide. That being said, the situation is more complicated than it might seem on the surface. As MLBTR's Darragh McDonald and Anthony Franco spoke about on last week's episode of the MLB Trade Rumors Podcast, the possibility of Martinez accepting the QO could complicate matters for LA.

After all, it's no secret that the Dodgers are expected to pursue top free agent and two-way star Shohei Ohtani this offseason. After undergoing elbow surgery, Ohtani will be relegated to DH-exclusive duties in 2024. That means that if the club rosters both Martinez and Ohtani next year, the Dodgers would either have to play him in the outfield, where he's played just 12 innings the past two seasons and last played regularly in 2017, or else utilize him as a $20.5MM bench bat, an exorbitant cost for even a high-payroll LA club. What's more, there's reason to believe Martinez could accept the offer. After all, the veteran slugger is entering his age-36 season in 2024 and missed time in August due to a nagging groin injury. Given his age and health issues this season, it's at least conceivable that his market may not wind up being as robust as his fantastic offensive numbers would otherwise suggest.

Speaking of Ohtani, Harris notes that signing the winter's No. 1 free agent will be a “top priority” for the Dodgers. Since the three-time All-Star will not take the mound next season, he cannot satisfy the team's need for starting pitching in 2024. Still, the Dodgers seem like an excellent fit for perhaps the most singular talent in MLB history. According to Harris, the club is “cautiously optimistic” about its chances of landing the superstar, although he quickly adds that it's “anyone's guess” what factors Ohtani will value the most as he looks for his next contract; even members of the Dodgers front office are unsure what it will take to land the presumptive AL MVP. LA can offer a high salary and the chance to contend for a title, but Ohtani will have no shortage of suitors, and he can certainly afford to be choosy.

On the topic of starting pitching, Harris also mentions that the Dodgers are expected to target Corbin Burnes should the Brewers look to trade the former Cy Young winner. Not long ago, Burnes seemed like a probable trade candidate, given the sizeable raise he's likely to earn in arbitration and his forthcoming free agency following the 2024 campaign. However, with the news that Brandon Woodruff is likely to miss most (if not all) of the upcoming season, the Brewers might be more hesitant to part with Burnes. Nevertheless, if the star right-hander is, in fact, on the trading block, the Dodgers could be a good match.

Turning back to position players, it comes as little surprise that there is mutual interest between the Dodgers and veteran outfielder Jason Heyward. About a month ago, Harris reported on the reciprocal admiration betwixt Heyward and his Dodgers teammates, and today he notes, “there is believed to be mutual interest” between the former All-Star and the team that helped spark his late-career turnaround. What is slightly more surprising is the fact that superstar Mookie Betts is expected to play a significant amount of second base again next year, potentially freeing up playing time for Heyward in the outfield.

Betts came up as a second baseman, but he became a full-time outfielder during his sophomore season in 2015. He has since won six Gold Gloves for his work in right field, compiling 148 Defensive Runs Saved and 56 Outs Above Average in ten seasons as an outfielder. The versatile athlete that he is, Betts was more than capable of filling in at second base (and shortstop) in 2023, despite not having played more than ten games a year in the infield since his rookie campaign. However, the advanced defensive metrics were mixed on his performance at second, and his powerful arm is undoubtedly a stronger asset in the outfield. While his flexibility is valuable, it's hard to imagine his best position is anything but right field.

The Dodgers could still pursue some infield help this winter, thereby pushing Betts back into a full-time outfield role. That said, the free agent market for outfielders is significantly deeper, with Heyward just one of many options. Moreover, Betts has made it quite clear he's comfortable playing second, and evidently, the Dodgers are happy with that arrangement, too. It might not be his best position, but it could be what's best for the team in 2024.

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