Nine years after helping preserve Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter, infielder Miguel Rojas is a Dodger again.
After losing Trea Turner to the Phillies last month and sitting out of the free-agent shortstop sweepstakes, the Dodgers bolstered their depth at the position by acquiring Rojas from the Marlins on Wednesday in exchange for middle-infield prospect Jacob Amaya.
Rojas gives the Dodgers another option at shortstop beyond Gavin Lux, who seemed to be the most obvious candidate to replace Turner at the position, and Chris Taylor, who can now spend more time in the outfield.
Lux came up as a shortstop but enjoyed his best major-league season last year as the Dodgers’ second baseman. At the Winter Meetings, both Dodgers president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and manager Dave Roberts expressed confidence in Lux at shortstop but stopped short of fully committing to the 25-year-old as the starter at the position.
“I think just having options just creates the most flexibility, and I think Gavin’s a really talented player who’s going to help us win a lot of games this year,” Friedman said. “Exactly where that is, we’re not sure yet.”
Now, the Dodgers have the ability to either keep Lux at second base and start Rojas at shortstop or shift Lux back to shortstop and use Rojas as a utility player.
Rojas has served as the Marlins’ primary shortstop since 2017 but has played all four infield spots during his nine-year career. He is coming off a season in which he slashed .236/.283/.323 with a 72 OPS+, which was his lowest mark since 2016. He was hampered by a wrist issue that required offseason surgery, though he has been a below-average hitter in four of the past five seasons. The exception was a shortened 2020 season in which he posted a career-best .888 OPS in 40 games.
Still, he has managed to accumulate 10.9 wins above replacement over the past six seasons because of his defense. His age-33 season last year was one of his best. Rojas’ 15 defensive runs saved at shortstop ranked second among all qualified players at the position, while his 10 outs above average ranked tied for sixth.
The Dodgers know the defense Rojas can provide.
Rojas made his major league debut for the Dodgers in 2014 and helped keep Kershaw’s no-hitter intact that year with a marvelous play down the third-base line. But after hitting .181 over 85 games, he was traded that December in a deal that brought Kiké Hernández and Austin Barnes to Los Angeles.
Amaya, who had a .795 OPS with 17 home runs and six stolen bases last year between Double-A Tulsa and Triple-A Oklahoma City, profiles similarly to Rojas, known more for his glove than his bat. ZiPS projects Amaya to be a 1.2 WAR player next year with a 77 OPS+, while Steamer forecasts Rojas as a 1.8 WAR player with a 93 wRC+.
The Dodgers opted for the more proven option in Rojas, continuing their trend of moves on the margins this offseason.
While the Padres loaded up by adding Xander Bogaerts — and while many contenders have either kept their top free agents, spent on new ones or done both (see: Mets, Yankees) — the Dodgers have largely stayed out of the high-end free-agent market aside from re-signing Kershaw.
They’ve watched Trea Turner, Justin Turner, Tyler Anderson, Andrew Heaney, Cody Bellinger, Chris Martin, Tommy Kahnle, Joey Gallo and Hanser Alberto all find new teams while adding Kershaw, Noah Syndergaard, J.D. Martinez, Shelby Miller, J.P. Feyereisen, Yonny Hernandez and now Rojas. As Ben Clemens of FanGraphs wrote last week, it’s the biggest net loss in value (based on 2022 wins above replacement) in the sport.
The inactivity seemed to be in an effort to give their up-and-coming prospects a chance to play and to reset their luxury-tax penalties — only, with Rojas due $5 million in 2023 and with the Dodgers on the hook to pay Trevor Bauer $22.5 million even after designating him for assignment, they’ve now risen slightly over the first tax threshold by about $4 million.
It’s still considerably below what the Dodgers have spent in recent years and ranks fifth in baseball behind the Mets, Yankees, Padres and Phillies. As of now, their attempt to rebound from a stunning division series exit will begin with a lesser payroll than the division rivals who caused it.
Rowan Kavner covers the Dodgers and NL West for FOX Sports. He previously was the Dodgers’ editor of digital and print publications. Follow him on Twitter at @RowanKavner.
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