According to just about everyone who is anyone in baseball, the Los Angeles Dodgers are the early season favorite to win the pennant and head to the World Series. With the highest payroll in baseball and a long list of star players both in the field and on the mound, the Dodgers aren’t exactly a surprise pick. In fact, it will be a surprise if they don’t contend strongly come playoff time.
However, that doesn’t mean it’s all fun and games in Southern California. One of manager Don Mattingly’s biggest issues is how to divide up playing time among four very capable outfield options. In a league with no DH, Mattingly doesn’t have the option of keeping the odd man out happy by getting him at bats in the DH slot when not in the lineup.
The four outfielders in question are Carl Crawford, Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier. All four of the players are very well paid, and would be starters on just about every team in the league. In addition to that logjam, the Dodgers havestar prospect Joc Pederson waiting in the wings to get his chance as well. It’s a good problem to have, but a problem nonetheless.
Previously, this issue has been solved by the poor health of superstar Matt Kemp. When healthy, Kemp is the best of the four players, but his health has been fickle in recent years. He is back in action now, and if he is able to perform like his old self, will be safe bet to land in the lineup on a nearly daily basis.
With Puig, the issues have been more behavioral than performance or health related. Puig has had a series of minor incidents like speeding tickets and tardiness that have left him in the dog house from time to time. Also, on the field errors like overthrowing the cutoff man and getting picked off on the base paths have taken attention off of his amazing natural talent.
Crawford has had his own health issues, and Ethier has been hit and miss with the bat over the last couple seasons. Both players can be strong contributors when right, and sitting either is a hard pill to swallow considering their large salaries.
So what can Don Mattingly do? Is a trade inevitable?
While there might be a trade coming down the road, Mattingly can probably make do for the time being just by rotating these four players around. For one thing, the injury history of Kemp makes him a good candidate for a rest every few days. If Ethier doesn’t hit up to his previous level, it will make it a little easier for Mattingly to justify his time on the bench. Also, Crawford has been in the league for many years now and could also benefit from some rest on his legs throughout the course of a long season.
To be sure, the Dodgers are loaded with talent. Whether they choose to hang on to all four of these outfielders, or if they trade one to address another area of weakness is yet to be seen. Either way, it seems like a good bet that the Dodgers will be playing into October this season.