The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t enter 2022 expecting to experience an offensive backslide, but here we are, with multiple core players failing to replicate their 2021 production due to aging, injury, or something confounding beyond reason in clutch situations (looking at you, Will Smith).
Justin Turner was always going to be on the ’22 roster. Even when he briefly flirted with a departure to Milwaukee, it always felt like an idle threat before he figured out the details of how to finish his career in Hollywood. Even if he’s not productive, he’ll always have a home here.
So … yeah, about that … he hasn’t been productive. Turner’s 73 OPS+ is well below average and his -0.4 WAR is en route to being 2021 Cody Bellinger-esque. His leadership will be invaluable down the stretch, and he’s a galvanizing force — just look at the dugout’s reactions when his body finally gave out on him last October.
At the dish and in the field, though, the Dodgers could stand to upgrade. Luckily for LA, Turner’s ready-made replacement Miguel Vargas is tearing up Triple-A and looking up Oklahoma City-to-Los Angeles flights on Expedia during his spare time.
Vargas has long been considered the heir apparent, but his ascent may be finishing slightly quicker than Turner and the Dodgers’ braintrust assumed it would. So, when does Andrew Friedman pull that lever?
How much longer can Dodgers store Miguel Vargas in Triple-A with Justin Turner struggling?
The chants for the 22-year-old (!) Vargas got the loudest on June 12, when he socked his 10th homer of the young season while the Dodgers lost a sleepy 2-0 game in San Francisco and Turner raised (!) his average to .213 with a single hit in four at-bats. The team needed a wake up call, and Vargas seemed primed to provide one.
Overall, his first taste of Triple-A has looked like the work of a seasoned veteran. Still stuck on 10 homers, he’s paired the dingers with 44 RBI and a triple-slash of .273/.367/.475 through 61 games.
He takes his walks. He rakes. And he keeps the ball off the ground and launches (0.54 GO/AO ratio, in line with his career norms). Nothing about the upper minors seems to have surprised Vargas, so wouldn’t it be prudent to push his learning curve up another level? Say he struggles. Promoting him now would probably give him a long enough runway to be ready by September.
The Dodgers under Friedman have done a spectacular job in blending the old with the new, maintaining an upper-echelon farm system while rostering a lineup packed with veteran All-Stars. Adding a future piece to LA’s big league club has always presented some difficulty, though, as evidenced by Gavin Lux’s years-long quest to become entrenched in the lineup.
Vargas won’t have an easy time breaking through, but it’d be wise to begin the process now, even at his young age.