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After striking out on two of their top free agents over the last three days, the Dodgers managed to retain one Wednesday.
Utilityman Chris Taylor agreed to a four-contract worth $60 million guaranteed to stay in Los Angeles, according to two people with knowledge of the situation, hours before Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement expires at 9:01 p.m. PDT and the owners impose a lockout. The deal includes a $12 million club option with a $4 million buyout. The Dodgers designated infielder Sheldon Neuse for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Taylor.
Taylor, 31, picked the best time for a resurgent season ahead of free agency in 2021, riding a strong first half to his first All-Star appearance. He stumbled mightily at the plate in the second half — he batted .223 in 62 games — but rebounded to star in the postseason and again raise his stock in free agency.
Taylor began the playoffs as a bench player, but he delivered the walk-off home run in the wild-card game and started the Dodgers’ 10 final playoff games. In Game 5 of the National League Championship series, he went four for five with three home runs and six RBIs. He batted .351 with a 1.202 on-base-plus-slugging percentage in 43 postseason plate appearances.
The Dodgers used Taylor at six positions in 2021, but he regressed defensively from his previous levels. Whether that was an aberration or the sign of things to come in his early 30s remains to be seen.
Ultimately, signing Taylor became almost imperative for the Dodgers after losing shortstop Corey Seager to the Texas Rangers, who introduced him in a press conference Tuesday. The Dodgers are expected to move Trea Turner from second base to shortstop. The Dodgers could then try Gavin Lux at second base again after he struggled in the everyday role to start the 2021 season before bouncing back in September and October as an outfielder.
The depth is slim after that. Taylor gives them premium insurance while bouncing around the diamond. He could also play more third base in 2022 if the universal designated hitter is implemented as expected. That would give the Dodgers more opportunities to get 37-year-old Justin Turner off his legs.
The Dodgers acquired Taylor in an overlooked trade with the Seattle Mariners in 2016. Zach Lee, a former top pitching prospect, went to Seattle. Taylor went to Los Angeles with a .240 career batting average in 86 games. He broke out in 2017, batting .288 with 21 home runs and an .850 OPS, before leading the majors in strikeouts in 2018. After two seasons of relative struggles, he bounced back with an .842 OPS in the pandemic-shortened 2020 campaign, culminating in the Dodgers’ first championship in 32 years.
The Dodgers have lost significant pieces from that team over the last two offseasons. They could lose more with Clayton Kershaw and Kenley Jansen among the unsigned free agents. Taylor won’t be one of them.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.