Are the Dodgers' Title Hopes Dashed After Losing Corey Seager for the Season?

Jacob Shafer@@jacobshaferFeatured ColumnistMay 1, 2018

Los Angeles Dodgers' Corey Seager reacts after striking out during the sixth inning of Game 5 of baseball's World Series against the Houston Astros Sunday, Oct. 29, 2017, in Houston. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)
Matt Slocum/Associated Press

After limping out of the gate at 12-15, the Los Angeles Dodgers sat in fourth place in the National League West entering play Monday. Then, they learned one of their best players, shortstop Corey Seager, is lost for the season.

"Ouch" doesn't begin to describe it.

Per David Adler of MLB.com, Seager will undergo Tommy John surgery on the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow and miss the remainder of the 2018 campaign. The elbow, Adler noted, has been troubling the 24-year-old since last summer. Now, the procedure will put him on the shelf indefinitely.

It's a seismic blow for the sport, which will be without a two-time All-Star, the 2016 National League Rookie of the Year and one of the most exciting young players in either league. Between 2016 and 2017, Seager ranked fifth in MLB with 12.9 WAR, per FanGraphs, behind only Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Jose Altuve and Mookie Betts.

It's a bigger blow for the Dodgers, who must replace a key lineup cog at a premium position on the fly.

Seager summed up the sentiments of the Dodgers front office, clubhouse and the Southern California faithful, per Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times: "This obviously sucks."

He added nuance, per the Orange County Register: "You always think about if the day would come. You always hope it doesn't come. I've kind of accepted it now. It's finished; it's done with; there's no more decisions to be made."

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Los Angeles marched to Game 7 of the World Series in 2017. It entered 2018 with its eyes squarely set on the franchise's first title since 1988.

Is said goal achievable sans Seager?

John Hefti/Associated Press

To answer that question, let's first look at L.A.'s internal options. The versatile Chris Taylor is next on the shortstop depth chart and could assume full-time duties, with Enrique Hernandez taking over in center field.

Taylor broke out in 2017, as he hit .288 with 21 home runs. Hernandez is a fine role player. For context, however, even with Taylor's big season, he and Hernandez combined for 6.1 WAR in 2017, next to Seager's 5.9. Two, in this case, is barely better than one.

Seager is merely the latest in a string of Dodgers players to hit the disabled list. Third baseman Justin Turner is out with a fractured wrist. Right fielder Yasiel Puig is down with a hip pointer and bruised foot. Infielder Logan Forsythe (shoulder) and left-hander Rich Hill (finger) are likewise out of commission. 

Seager's injury hurts worse, however, because he's: A) arguably the biggest piece of the Dodgers' present and future; and B) out for the year. There's a pretty solid history of players returning from Tommy John, particularly non-pitchers, but there's no guarantee.

In the short term, what can the Dodgers do?

They can roll with the in-house candidates for a while. Eventually, though, if they want to catch the Arizona Diamondbacks in the division and compete with other NL heavyweights such as the Chicago Cubs, they'll need to consider outside reinforcements.

Predicting the July 31 non-waiver trade market at this point is dicey. Teams that think they're in it now could be sellers, just as clubs that think they're out of it could be buyers.

Given those caveats, if you scan MLB for squads with premium shortstops and a losing record, your eyes inevitably land on the Baltimore Orioles and Manny Machado.

Patrick Semansky/Associated Press

The O's are 8-20, dead last in the American League East. Machado, who converted to shortstop full-time this spring, is hitting .361 with nine home runs and a 1.124 OPS.

The three-time All-Star and two-time top-five AL MVP finisher is also set to hit free agency after the season and is thus a short-term rental. Los Angeles would probably have to part with a top prospect or two, plus ancillary pieces. 

Bleacher Report's Joel Reuter ranked the Dodgers' system No. 5 in the game in February. They could shed a couple of blue chips without decimating the farm.

All of the injured players listed above, other than Seager, have a strong shot at returning healthy and effective in 2018. L.A. has depth. It has Clayton Kershaw, debatably the best pitcher on the planet. This isn't so different from the team that won 104 games and a pennant in 2017.

Except for Seager. His absence makes it different in a bad way. Replacing him will require a high-risk, high-reward move of Machadoian proportions. It might mean mortgaging the future for a crack at confetti and champagne.

The Dodgers aren't sunk in the wake of Seager's elbow fiasco, but they're sinking. And they need to get a big ol' bucket posthaste.

   

All statistics current as of Monday and courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball Reference