Was Dodgers-Max Muncy extension possible Shohei Ohtani insurance?

We're just wondering ...
Detroit Tigers v Los Angeles Angels
Detroit Tigers v Los Angeles Angels / John McCoy/GettyImages
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The Los Angeles Dodgers once again couldn't help themselves and needed to get that team-friendly deal on the books before the chaotic offseason began. On Thursday, news broke that they extended slugger Max Muncy through 2025 (with a team option for 2026). Gotta have that team option, always.

Muncy was at the mercy of a team option this offseason, and depending where you looked for that information, he was set to earn anywhere between $10 million and $15 million had the Dodgers exercised it (which they were always going to do).

Instead, Muncy's 2024 money is now guaranteed (he got a $5 million signing bonus and will make a $7 million base salary) and he'll earned another $12 million in 2025. There's a $10 million club option for 2026.

But what does this tell us beyond Muncy being guaranteed to spend the next two years in LA? If we dig a bit deeper, this could provide hints with two other free agents: Shohei Ohtani and JD Martinez. Yup, let's prepare for a worst-case scenario.

Muncy is entering his age-33 season in 2024. His defense is on the decline, as evidenced by metrics we'll detail. There's been almost nothing reported on Ohtani's market over the last month or so, outside of insiders and reporters taking their best stab at ranking his destinations. Martinez, as many have suspected, is as good as gone. Was the Dodgers' extension for Muncy mere insurance?

Was Dodgers-Max Muncy extension possible Shohei Ohtani insurance?

On the surface, was there any reason to extend Muncy this offseason? Admittedly, he had a really good season in 2023. He belted 36 home runs and drove in 105 RBI -- both of which were career highs. But he also batted .212 (and was under .200 for most of the year), struck out a career-worst 153 times, and finished with a solid but unspectacular .808 OPS and 115 OPS+.

Not to mention ... his defense is quickly on the decline, especially as he's had to play a more important position at third. Muncy just logged a career-worst defensive season, too, finishing with a -0.1 dWAR, -3 Defensive Runs Saved and -7 Outs Above Average.

Did the Dodgers really sign an aging Muncy for another two guaranteed years to factor him into their important defensive plans? If he struggled playing third base, we can assume his range is no longer suitable for second base. And with Freddie Freeman at first base, there's little use for him even as a backup on the other side of the diamond because of Freeman's durability.

Muncy, at the very least, will be a tremendous depth piece to maintain over the next few years, but was his extension to provide insurance for JD Martinez's likely departure as well as uncertainty surrounding Ohtani's free agency?

Martinez was locked into the DH spot last year because he can no longer play defense. Ohtani can't pitch in 2024 and is primarily a DH anyway. You'd have to assume Muncy's defensive responsibilities will start to dwindle beginning next season if the Dodgers are serious about contending, which means he'll be logging a decent amount of DH reps, which ... indicates potential uncertainty about an Ohtani signing? Martinez already priced himself out of LA and his return would've undoubtedly affected Ohtani's arrival or created an unnecessary logjam.

But Muncy? He's a core Dodger. He was always going to be here at least through 2024 (even though some speculation surfaced about the team picking up his option and trading him). But now that it's through 2025, it's hard to envision Muncy being a defensive fixture for all of 2024, let alone for even part of 2025.

So, at the very least, the Dodgers have their DH for the next two full seasons whether Ohtani comes to LA or not. And they just got themselves a cost-effective option to replace Martinez. Worst case? Ohtani signs and the Dodgers have to sacrifice some defense with Muncy playing third. Then they can trade him after 2024? Don't know, but it certainly doesn't feel like this contract makes all the sense in the world if the Dodgers manage to sign Ohtani, which is something worth monitoring as the offseason progresses.

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