When the Los Angeles non-tendered Cody Bellinger, clearing a path for him to sign with the Chicago Cubs (which became official this week), many assumed the center field void would be filled in-house with Trayce Thompson or James Outman. The addition of Jason Heyward helped with the lack of clarity, too.
But apparently none of those options may be part of the solution. According to reports, the Dodgers are exploring the trade market for their next starting center fielder, as they also remain in the Dansby Swanson sweepstakes (a scenario that remains unlikely unless the Dodgers manage to get their way should the shortstop's market fails to materialize).
In his latest for The Athletic, Ken Rosenthal (subscription required) talks about the outside shot the Dodgers have at Swanson as well as their hesitance to spend due to Trevor Bauer's pending appeal (which could them millions both in oweing his salary in addition to luxury tax penalties).
Rosenthal also revealed a number of names the Dodgers are targeting via trade to be their starting center fielder for the 2023 season. Let's just say LA fans aren't really going to be sold on any of these names, for a multitude of reasons.
Might've been better off just swallowing that money for Bellinger and praying for a bounce back that could've resulted in a long-term relationship?
The Dodgers' CF trade targets aren't that much more impressive than Cody Bellinger
"So, maybe a path opens for Swanson, and maybe it doesn’t. In the meantime, the Dodgers are actively pursuing trades for a center fielder. Taylor, James Outman, Trayce Thompson are their current options to replace Cody Bellinger, the worst-hitting center fielder in the majors the past two seasons. The Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds, Diamondbacks’ Alek Thomas, Cardinals’ Dylan Carlson and Mariners’ Jarred Kelenic are among the trade possibilities, and all fit the Dodgers’ need for a left-handed or switch-hitter."- Ken Rosenthal of The Athletic
Let's go down the list here. Bryan Reynolds would be a tremendous acquisition, but it would cost the Dodgers a prohibitive price in trade talks. The Pirates are reportedly asking for a haul since Reynolds is under club control for three more seasons and is in the prime of his career. The New York Yankees have long been connected to the center fielder and they've failed to get a deal done due to the ask. If the Dodgers' plan is to usher in a new era of young players, then how would they fit Reynolds into the picture if it's going to cost multiple top prospects?
Next up, Alek Thomas! The rookie hit .231 with a .619 OPS and 76 OPS+ in 2022. He's a good defender and showed he could hit for average in the minor leagues. His power also came around in 2021 between Double-A and Triple-A. Not better than Thompson or Outman, though. Maybe not even Heyward.
Staying in the NL, Cardinals outfielder Dylan Carlson is another consideration because he's falling behind in the outfield pecking order in St. Louis. The organization seemingly values a number of others over the 24-year-old, who disappointed in 2022 after a breakout 2021. Bad option? Not necessarily. But not an upgrade whatsoever (29 HR, 123 RBI, .247 AVG, .730 OPS and 104 OPS+ in 312 career games).
Jumping over to the AL, for some insane reason the Dodgers are reportedly considering Mariners outfielder Jarred Kelenic, who was the centerpiece of the Edwin Diaz-Robsinon Cano trade package with the Mets years ago. Kelenic, to put it nicely, has been a certified bust, logging a .168 average, .589 OPS and 66 OPS+ in 147 games between 2021 and 2022. He's bounced between Triple-A and the big leagues over that span as well, failing to catch on and putting his future in question in Seattle. This would be a nightmarish replacement for Bellinger.
Lastly, this option wasn't directly connected to the Dodgers in Rosenthal's article, but the insider mentioned the Royals are "willing to move" Michael Taylor, who's a very good defender. However, he's arguably worse offensively than Bellinger was during the former Dodger's 2.5-year slide (career .241 AVG, .677 OPS and 81 OPS+ in 840 games).
Instead of keeping Bellinger and paying the fairly unreasonable price (one the Dodgers could've easily afforded, though!), the team is either a) apparently willing to get way worse or b) considering a deal that would mortgage a good deal of their future for a player who's been wasting away in Pittsburgh.
If these truly are the options for LA, it seems letting Belli go was, in the simplest terms, a mistake.