April 16, 2024

Don’t mess with Mookie!

Why are the Dodgers messing with Mookie?

Moving Mookie Betts to shortstop from second base less than two weeks before the start of the regular season is an error far worse than even the wildest throw uncorked by Gavin Lux.

Betts is being asked to change positions because, despite having all winter to figure this out, the Dodgers just now decided that Lux is a lousy shortstop.

Betts is being asked to change positions even though he had never spent a big-league moment at shortstop until last season, when he made all of 16 appearances there, and only six when he played shortstop the entire game.

Betts is being asked to change positions even though he finished second in the National League MVP voting last year while moving from right field to second base, where he finally became comfortable.

Two position changes in two seasons. For a guy who won six Gold Gloves at his original position. All to accommodate Lux, who will take Betts’ spot at second base because the Dodgers want his bat in the lineup.

The Dodgers' Mookie Betts runs toward the ball during a spring training workout at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix on Feb. 14

The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts runs toward the ball during a spring training workout at Camelback Ranch in Phoenix on Feb. 14.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

What? Why?

Why are the Dodgers treating their superstar like a safety net?

Why would they risk rattling the skill set and mind set of one of their best players by asking him to learn a new job on the spot at the start of the season?

This is something teams do with aging veterans or eager rookies. This is not something teams do with a seven-time All Star.

They need a shortstop? Heck, in this loaded lineup, I could play shortstop. Miguel Rojas certainly could play shortstop. He did it often brilliantly for 121 games last season. So he can’t hit. So everybody else will hit.

The bigger issue here is that the Dodgers should not have waited this long to find a new shortstop. It’s impossible to believe that they gave up on Lux based strictly on Lux’s six spring games. He threw more bounce passes than D’Angelo Russell but, still, he’s recovering from knee surgery, and it was only six games.

They had to suspect Lux wasn’t going to work there long before now, and they should have found a replacement last winter. They shelled out more than $1 billion for free agents, you’d think they could have figured out a way to pry Willy Adames from the Milwaukee Brewers. They could have traded for him, maybe sent the Brewers — bingo! — Gavin Lux!

Instead, they waited and gambled and lost and now they’re asking their most selfless player to pay off their debt.

This has trouble sloppily scribbled all over it.

Lux will assume Betts’ spot at second base, where he’s made 153 starts over four years, and the Dodgers are spinning it like it’s a good move for his psyche and their offense and …really?

“This position change, things should alleviate some — I don’t want to say pressure — but just whatever anxiousness he might have had,” said manager Dave Roberts to reporters about Lux.

The Dodgers' Gavin Lux, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez run during a spring training workout in Phoenix

The Dodgers’ Gavin Lux, left, Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez run during a spring training workout in Phoenix on Feb. 20.

(Ross D. Franklin / Associated Press)

Just wondering … what about the increased pressure on Betts?

“[Lux] is just such a threat offensively,” said Roberts. “So for us as an organization to do anything we can to find a way to get him in the lineup I think is a smart thing to do.”

Of course. You would never want Mookie Betts to keep Gavin Lux out of the lineup. Heaven forbid.

Soon after the switch was announced Friday, Betts began his conversation with reporters on an optimistic note.

“We’re all on the same page here,” he said. “We don’t care what happens. We just want to win. We don’t care how we really get there … you can put me wherever. As long as I’m on the diamond, I’m going to do the best I can do and we’ll see what happens after that.”

But then it got sort of dark, with Betts basically acknowledging being the recipient of a steaming mess.

“It’s the task put in front of me and nobody cares,” he said. “Nobody cares what I gotta go through. I don’t care what I gotta go through. On whatever day we are in Korea, I’ll be ready to go.”

When asked about the biggest challenge of playing shortstop, he said, “Everything. Everything is tough about playing shortstop but somebody’s got to do it.”

When asked if last year’s 16 games there helped, he said, “No … there wasn’t like a feel there. Now … there’s just a different feel, a different routine.”

When asked if playing shortstop was more demanding than his other positions, he said, “Never done it so I don’t know. We’re about to find out together.”

Does anybody else hear a guy who is biting his tongue while taking one for the team?

Sounds promising. Can’t wait.

The Dodgers' Mookie Betts high-fives teammates and celebrates after scoring.

The Dodgers’ Mookie Betts high-fives teammates in the dugout after scoring off of a triple by Shohei Ohtani during a spring training game against the Colorado Rockies in Phoenix on March 3.

(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)

And remember, all this new heat is being placed on a guy who was already entering the season under the glare of last fall’s 0-for-11 postseason amid questions about his leadership. You think the Dodgers would want to begin his redemption season by keeping Betts’ distractions to a minimum? Just saying.

This move, of course, is soaked in the maddening motif of the current Dodger culture.

Most players, with a few exceptions, are simply cogs in a giant blue machine. They can be shuffled and rearranged and reworked into any combination that makes analytical sense.

Relievers fill no roles and every role. Starters can be in the rotation one day and in Oklahoma City by nightfall. Infielders are outfielders. Everybody is everything.

This philosophy, while wildly successful in building a deep organization filled with versatile talent that literally covers every base in building 100-win regular seasons, sometimes runs amok.

This move is the literal definition of amok.

By messing with Mookie, they are messing with the wrong guy, at the wrong position, at the wrong time.

If this doesn’t work, who knows what’s next?

Shohei Ohtani, keep that glove handy.

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