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There Is No Replacing Mookie Betts

LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA - JUNE 16: Mookie Betts #50 of the Los Angeles Dodgers reacts after getting hit by a pitch during the seventh inning against the Kansas City Royals at Dodger Stadium on June 16, 2024 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images)
Katelyn Mulcahy/Getty Images

Dave Roberts's new battlecry for the Los Angeles Dodgers is one surely designed to sharpen the players' focus and invigorate the fan base:

"It’s not season-ending."

This was how he described pitcher Yoshinobu Yamamoto's touchy triceps, which proved to be a strained rotator cuff, and hours before he had to describe shortstop/godsend Mookie Betts's broken wrist. Indeed, the Dodgers put those two on the injured list, as well as reliever and spot starter Michael Grove on Sunday. They have essentially clinched the NL West already and are lingering dangerously close to the Phillies despite already having plowed through 27 pitchers, so it's not like this is an emergency no matter how much you and your Nationals-style fandom wish it to be so.

But since one of those names is Betts, it could be a hard blow. And when we say it could, we really mean it still probably won't, but we're trying to float your boat here even if your boat is the S.S. Rockies. Of all the players currently employed, Betts is the one who exhibits the greatest combination of skill and joy, and has managed to be elite at two wildly different positions, sort of like the team's designated hitter who is taking the year off from pitching because, yes, he has an arm injury. You know, the Ohtani guy.

While it is wholly myth to claim that one player defines the fortunes of a team with a payroll of $299 million, Betts comes closer than anyone else. He exudes a vibrancy as well as a skill set to explain why the Dodgers, even with their injury list, are the team most likely to etc., etc. And yes, that includes the New York Yankees.

So when a 97-mph fastball with pico de gallo from Kansas City reliever Dan Altavilla fractured Betts's left hand in the seventh inning on Sunday, as an injury it felt considerably different than Yamamoto's, or Max Muncy’s oblique strain. Muncy is a useful but replaceable part of the Dodger lineup. Betts is crucial and not replaceable. It is indeed the kind of injury that reverberates, and there is no sign that Andrew Friedman can liberate Gunnar Henderson from Baltimore or Bobby Witt from Kansas City, even if money were no object, as it seems in L.A that it is not. This is why: Neither Orioles general manager Mike Elias nor Kansas City GM J.J. Picollo is an idiot. The Dodgers can trade for a third baseman, as they have in acquiring Cavan Biggio. They can trade for a starting pitcher, and probably will. They can’t trade for a Mookie Betts.

Even if Muncy comes back soon (which currently looks less than likely) and Biggio moves to short, he is under no circumstances a replacement. Even if Ohtani is moved to Betts's leadoff spot, it still means a fair amount of juggling in the top half of the lineup. And no matter how Roberts's chirpy optimism plays, "It's not season-ending" is less than inspirational. Even his corollary—“We’re going to be fine. We have really good players”—rings a tad hollow when you realize that they are on a pace to win only 98 games this year, their lowest showing by percentage since 2018. Ninety-eight wins—why, that's only two seasons of White Sox baseball.

So yeah, the Dodgers are screwed, relatively. We assume you weep for them.

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