The Dodgers fortified their infield defense by acquiring veteran shortstop Miguel Rojas from the Miami Marlins for infield prospect Jacob Amaya on Wednesday, a move that could push Gavin Lux to more of a second-base role and utility man Chris Taylor to more of an outfield role.
Rojas, who turns 34 in February, is an elite defender whose offensive production dipped last season, when he hit .236 with a .605 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, six homers, 19 doubles and 36 RBIs in 140 games.
The Venezuelan native batted .265 with a .713 OPS, nine homers, 30 doubles and 48 RBIs in 132 games in 2021 and .304 with an .888 OPS, four homers, 10 doubles and 20 RBIs in 40 games in pandemic-shortened 2020.
A right hand injury may have contributed to his offensive struggles in 2022 — Rojas caught his hand on a slide into third base in the first game after the All-Star break and hit .230 with a .557 OPS and no homers in his final 58 games. He underwent surgery to remove cartilage from the wrist in October.
The 6-foot, 188-pound Rojas, who made his big league debut with the Dodgers in 2014, was acquired more for his glove and strong and accurate throwing arm than his bat.
Rojas was a Gold Glove finalist in 2022, and he ranked second behind Dansby Swanson with 15 defensive runs saved and tied for fifth among big league shortstops with 10 outs above average, according to Fangraphs.
Rojas has made the majority of his big league starts (640) at shortstop, but he has also made 109 starts at first base, 99 at third base and 73 at second base. He is expected to play third base, shortstop and second base with the Dodgers and compete with Lux for the starting shortstop job.
The plan entering this winter was to move Lux to shortstop to replace Trea Turner, who signed an 11-year, $300-million deal with the Philadelphia Phillies, but some scouts question whether Lux has the arm strength and accuracy to play the position on an everyday basis.
The acquisition of Rojas could allow Lux to play more second base, a position he seems more suited for and that will be more physically demanding — requiring more range and quickness — with baseball banning infield shifts in 2023.
Lux came up in the organization as a shortstop, but with Corey Seager entrenched at the position in Los Angeles from 2016-21, he was moved to second base and to the outfield for a brief time in 2021.
Max Muncy was expected to play mostly second base, but Wednesday’s deal could push the slugger more toward third base, where he could split time with rookie Miguel Vargas.
Taylor has played three infield positions and all three outfield spots, and he might be the best defensive option to replace departed center fielder Cody Bellinger, who signed with the Chicago Cubs.
Rojas will make $5 million in 2023, the final year of a two-year, $10-million deal he signed before 2022, and his salary will push the Dodgers’ competitive balance tax payroll to about $242 million, well over the $233-million luxury tax threshold.
The Dodgers hoped to stay under the cap for the first time in a full season since 2019, thus resetting their penalties to the lowest possible level and better positioning themselves for a potential run at Shohei Ohtani, the Angels’ two-way phenom who can become a free agent after next season.
But the $22.5 million the Dodgers must pay pitcher Trevor Bauer, who was designated for assignment Friday in the wake of his violation of baseball’s sexual assault and domestic violence policy, actually pushed the team above the first threshold, and Rojas’ contract added another chunk to that amount.
Rojas signed out of Venezuela with the Cincinnati Reds in 2005 and with the Dodgers as a free agent in 2012. He played 85 games for the Dodgers in 2014 before being traded along with Dee Strange-Gordon and Dan Haren to Miami for Austin Barnes, Enrique Hernandez, Andrew Heaney and Chris Hatcher.
The highlight of his first stint with the Dodgers was a superb play Rojas made on a Troy Tulowitzki two-hopper down the third-base line in the seventh inning to preserve Clayton Kershaw’s no-hitter over the Colorado Rockies on June 18, 2014.
Amaya, 24, an 11th-round pick in 2017, is a slick defender with a keen eye at the plate. The former West Covina South Hills High standout hit a combined .261 with a .795 OPS, 17 homers and 71 RBIs in 133 games for double-A Tulsa and triple-A Oklahoma City in 2022, with 112 strikeouts and 81 walks in 476 at-bats.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.