GLENDALE – This season was supposed to be Gavin Lux’s coming out party. On Tuesday, that party officially was delayed until next year.
News broke Tuesday morning confirming the Los Angeles Dodgers’ worst fear. Lux, the 25-year-old who was expected to be the team’s starting shortstop, had suffered a torn ACL and will miss the entirety of 2023, reigniting a wildfire of questions in an offseason already filled with many for LA.
Through tears, Lux did his best to describe what happened Monday afternoon, although adding he plans on never watching a replay. Lux, running between second and third base, went down immediately upon reaching third base after bending his knee awkwardly while avoiding a throw. He needed the cart to leave Monday’s spring training game against the Padres.
“I felt it kind of pop right away,” Lux said. “The outside of my leg went numb. I kinda figured something wasn’t right. I’ve strained stuff before, I’ve pulled stuff, so it definitely felt different. I kinda knew right away.”
The hardest pill for Lux and the Dodgers to swallow will be the nature of the play in question. On the surface, it was a seemingly harmless ground ball double play to third base, a play that happens thousands of times each season without a hitch.
“I tried to duck out of the way of the throw and I think my cleat kinda got stuck in the ground,” Lux said. “Straightened out a little funky and bowed out, kind of rolled up on my ankle too. Freak thing, I don’t even think it’s really avoidable. In hindsight, I probably should have just taken the throw to the nose and worn it.”
The Dodgers shortstop job is historically one of the most decorated and glamorous in baseball. The star lineage traces as far back as Pee Wee Reese and extends with more modern names featuring the likes of Rafael Furcal, Corey Seager and Trea Turner.
Lux, a former top prospect who had committed to play for Arizona State before the Dodgers took him in the first round of the 2016 MLB draft, patiently waited in the wings for his opportunity behind Seager and Turner. Now, that dream will have to be put on hold.
“I think every baseball player’s dream is to play shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers, I think that’s one of the hardest parts,” Lux said.
He expressed his gratitude toward not just his Dodgers teammates, but the fraternity that is MLB for its outpouring of support amid the news.
Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman had a front-row seat to another ACL injury during his time in Atlanta, when Braves superstar outfielder Ronald Acuña Jr. tore his ACL in 2021. The ripple effects of that injury only served as a blip on the radar given Freeman and the Braves went on to win the World Series that season.
Freeman became close with Lux during Freeman’s first season in LA last year. Just like the rest of the Dodger clubhouse, the 2020 National League MVP did his part Monday evening to cheer up their dejected shortstop.
“I texted him, then I FaceTimed him and we talked,” Freeman said. “It looked like he just finished a little tear session, so I told him to cry a little more, no reason to be a tough man right now, you worked hard, your dream is to play baseball and it’s taken away from you for a year.”
Freeman’s secret formula for cheering up his teammate? Putting his son Charlie on the phone, which he said put a smile on Lux’s face.
Where do the Dodgers go from here?
If anyone is qualified to deal with losing a star shortstop early in a season, look no further than Dodgers manager Dave Roberts. After all, he led the Dodgers to their second straight World Series appearance in 2018 after Seager suffered a season-ending elbow injury that April.
The shortstop market this past offseason produced one of the most loaded free agent classes ever, headlined by Carlos Correa, Xander Bogaerts, Dansby Swanson and Turner. The Dodgers struck out on all four, settling for Miami Marlins veteran shortstop Miguel Rojas for depth and theoretically handing the starting job to Lux.
“The reason we traded for a guy like Miguel (Rojas) was to guard against potential volatility, downside, whatever,” Roberts said. “So now obviously he’s gonna take on the brunt of those at-bats at shortstop. So we feel very good about that but obviously bad for Gavin. I think Mookie (Betts) will take some more at second base and (Chris Taylor) will take some more at shortstop.”
Rojas’s past numbers hardly resemble the eye-popping stat sheets of Turner and Seager, but that’s not necessarily what LA needs. In the last four full seasons, Rojas has played at least 132 games each year, a mark of consistency that should benefit the Dodgers.
“What does it mean for me? It’s what I’ve been preparing for,” Rojas said. “I’ve been playing shortstop every day for the last four or five years of my career, so I went into the offseason thinking that I need to prepare for 162 games, and here it is.”
Trea Turner, who signed an 11-year contract with the Philadelphia Phillies in December, wasn’t the Dodgers’ only major loss this offseason, as third baseman Justin Turner took his services to the Boston Red Sox. The hole at third base has been filled by Max Muncy, who previously played second base.
Questions already lingered as to how LA would solve the second base issue, and with the injury to Lux, it will be all hands on deck to fill the glaring hole. Betts and Taylor both currently play outfield but have seen their fair share of the infield.
It’s difficult to see the Dodgers moving their best player, Betts, from right field, given the success it has brought. The more likely candidate seems to be Taylor, who was kept in the outfield in 2022 because of elbow issues.
“It’s early in spring training so it’s definitely a progression but I feel right now I’ll be fine,” Taylor said regarding his arm strength.
Taylor also said he had taken the majority of his ground balls this spring from second base.
If history repeats itself, the Dodgers will get the best out of the players in their clubhouse. But a 162-game marathon looms, and one of baseball’s most coveted positions won’t be easily filled.