It might not have been a house of cards. But after an offseason talent exodus and significant turnover in the clubhouse, the Dodgers’ roster seemed to be built almost like a Jenga tower.
Strong and steady as constructed, but dangerously vulnerable with even a few missing pieces.
The first piece was pulled out Tuesday when manager Dave Roberts announced shortstop Gavin Lux would miss the season because of a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.
It was a blow for Lux, the 25-year-old former top prospect who solidified himself as a big leaguer last year and was looking forward to his first opportunity as the everyday shortstop.
“That’s one of the hardest parts,” he said Tuesday, leaning on crutches and fighting back tears. “Every baseball player’s dream is to play shortstop for the Los Angeles Dodgers.”
It also creates tricky new hurdles for the Dodgers to clear, throwing their plans out of whack just three games into spring training.
What the team does next is anyone’s guess.
The Dodgers could explore the remaining players available in free agency. They could evaluate the trade market for either a minor addition or major splash. They could stand pat, sliding Miguel Rojas to shortstop while rearranging other pieces — such as Chris Taylor and Mookie Betts — to provide more infield depth.
Roberts said the club is evaluating its options. Here are four of them:
Stick with internal replacements
The easiest, and maybe most likely, option is do nothing.
Rojas can playshortstop, where he is strong defensively but might struggle at bat. And on days Rojas, second baseman Miguel Vargas or third baseman Max Muncy needs a game off, Taylor and Betts can rotate in from the outfield.
It isn’t ideal. The Dodgers would be without an established backup infielder. Their last position player spot likely would come down to Yonny Hernández or Luke Williams (infielders acquired after they were designated for assignment this offseason), Michael Busch or James Outman (highly touted prospects but with question marks), or Bradley Zimmer or Steven Duggar (veteran outfielders in camp on minor league contracts).
The Dodgers’ lineup likely would take a hit. Lux had the team’s fourth-highest batting average (.276) last season and was being asked to help compensate for the loss of Trea Turner.
David Peralta, Trayce Thompson and maybe even Jason Heyward — outfielders who seemed in line for part-time platoon roles — probably would need more at-bats to add some offense.
Still, it might be enough to get the Dodgers through the first half of the year, keep them atop the standings and in position for trade deadline activity.
“What we do have will be more than sufficient,” Roberts said, “but we’re always trying to get better, whether it’s internally or externally.”
Add the top remaining free-agent bat
If the Dodgers look outside for help, Jurickson Profar beckons as perhaps the most productive hitter left in free agency.
The former San Diego Padres switch-hitter wouldn’t be a perfect fit defensively. He has experience at shortstop and second base but is more suited to be a corner outfielder.
However, if the team does play Taylor and Betts more often in the infield, Profar could factor into the outfield rotation and contribute at the plate.
Last year the 30-year-old Profar posted above-league-average numbers for the third time in the last five seasons, including a .723 on-base-plus-slugging percentage that ranked fourth on the Padres’ 89-win team.
Profar wouldn’t be the cheapest option. He’s still a free agent because no team has met his asking price. And the Dodgers already signed another veteran outfielder in Peralta for $6.5 million (plus incentives), a salary Profar possibly could exceed.
But if the Dodgers are looking for another bona-fide big league bat, Profar offers perhaps the most intriguing possibility.
Look for another depth piece
Profar isn’t the only free agent who might make sense.
As of Tuesday, the market still included experienced infielders José Iglesias and Andrelton Simmons — players who have struggled offensively in recent seasons but have track records as strong defensive shortstops and probably would be relatively inexpensive.
Near the end of spring, there could be more options as teams trim their rosters and minor-league invitees reach the opt-out dates of their contracts. Any player in this category probably wouldn’t see regular at-bats with the Dodgers. But they could help replace Rojas in a defensive utility role, providing depth in case Vargas struggles to adapt to second base or other injuries ravage the infield.
But finding a significant upgrade over Hernández or Williams, or the addition of another outfielder already in camp, is no sure thing.
Try to swing a blockbuster trade
This probably makes more sense closer to the deadline. But if the Dodgers want to make a major move before the season, the trade market might offer the most impactful opportunities.
Several shortstops were rumored to be available this offseason, from Willy Adames of the Milwaukee Brewers to Amed Rosario of the Cleveland Guardians.
The Dodgers have plenty of prospect capital too, finishing last season with the second-highest-ranked farm system, according to MLB Pipeline.
To swing a trade now, however, the Dodgers almost certainly would have to overpay, with all 29 other clubs well aware of their situation.
Chalk it up as another imperfect solution.
For now, the Dodgers still are a contender. Their Jenga tower still is standing.
But it’s already starting to look shaky. And they’ll be spending the rest of camp trying to find the right remedy.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.