Miguel Vargas’ MLB debut with Dodgers puts pressure on Justin Turner

What did we tell ya? The Los Angeles Dodgers didn’t go wild at the trade deadline and instead started using top prospects as reinforcements for the big-league roster. James Outman came first and has been great. Next up? Miguel Vargas. That move was made after Justin Turner hit the IL.

Once again, the Dodgers saw another promising debut from one of their top young talents. Vargas was in the starting lineup against the Giants on Wednesday and was the driving force in LA’s 3-0 victory.

The Cuban slugger was eased into action as the designated hitter as Max Muncy took over defensive duties at third base, and turns out it was the right move! Vargas went 2-for-4 with two RBI and a stolen base. He accounted for two of the three runs and a third of the hits.

OK, hot take (sort of!) time! Vargas’ impressive debut, after he tore up Triple-A in 94 games this year, puts pressure on Turner (and Muncy!) for the remainder of the season. Why? Those two underachieving veterans have team options for the 2023 season, with Turner’s costing $16 million and Muncy’s costing $13 million.

Andrew Friedman has uniquely set up the Dodgers with financial flexibility the next few years. LA only has $89.7 million of guaranteed money committed to next year’s payroll and just $70.4 million after that. If they can save $14 million by replacing Vargas with Turner (there’s a $2 million buyout on that $16 million team option), why wouldn’t they do it?

Dodgers’ Miguel Vargas putting pressure on veteran Justin Turner?

Or, at the very least, Muncy’s $13 million and Cody Bellinger’s ~$20 million are jettisoned, Turner stays as a semi-permanent DH, and Vargas ushers in a new era at third base. Don’t tell us you can’t see one of these scenarios!

There’s a reason the Dodgers didn’t involve themselves in blockbuster talks, and the one scenario they did dabble in — for Marlins starter Pablo Lopez — Friedman quickly hung up the phone when the package became far too excessive.

The Dodgers clearly believe in the top prospects nearing their big-league careers to supplement guys like Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Chris Taylor — all of whom will be here until at least 2025. Other than that, the Dodgers have well guaranteed contracts for 2023 and beyond. Wild.

Among the “priorities” to keep the next few years? Trea Turner, Clayton Kershaw, Walker Buehler, Julio Urías (who was excellent on Wednesday night), perhaps Tyler Anderson. Other than that, it’ll be Friedman calling up prospects like Vargas and Outman (there’s more, too!), facilitating trades, or spending more money on free agents.

But Turner, at 37 and entering his age-38 season in 2023, offering average offensive production and mediocre defense at this current moment, undoubtedly shifts the Dodgers’ thinking, especially if Vargas shows off his playmaking abilities while he’s here. His defense, once he’s tested out there, will likely be among the deciding factors, but the 2023 Dodgers might look very different if the team’s apparent succession plans are seen through.

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