As we begin to look toward 2013, there are still some uncertainty especially in the pitching department yet there is one area of the roster which seems plenty full. The outfield is shaping up to be one of the best in the league. Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp, and Andre Ethier will man the outer regions of the Dodger Stadium field for years to come, and the thought of a trio of outfielders of that caliber in the field and in the lineup makes me giddy. Left field has been a black hole for quite some time in Dodgertown, and that was the reason the Dodgers chose to trade for Shane Victorino this past summer. The revolving door in left field included Juan Rivera, Tony Gwynn Jr., Jerry Sands, Jerry Hairston Jr., Bobby Abreu, Elian Herrera, and Scott Van Slyke this season. The lack of a left fielder goes way back to previous seasons as well. You do remember the Jay Gibbons debacle, right?
In left field and batting lead-off for the Dodgers….Carl Crawford….
Carl Crawford could be the answers to our left field prayers. The Dodgers made a big gamble when they took on his seven-year $142 million dollar contract. The Dodgers will pay him about $20 million per year through 2017. The 31-year old left-handed batter is coming off of Tommy John surgery, and he is unlikely to be at full playing strength come Spring Training. As a position player rather than a pitcher, Crawford will need less time for rehabilitation. The Houston, Texas native was drafted in the 2nd round of the 1999 amateur draft by the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and he played for Tampa Bay for nine seasons before signing with Boston in 2011. The four-time All-Star stole as many as 60 bases back in 2009. His speed also helped him collect 19 triples in 2004. The Silver Slugger recipient has a career batting average of .292 and OPS of .774. If Crawford can regain his form, he could be a good option to lead-off for the Dodgers. The Gold Glover has only made 29 errors in his 11 seasons in the Majors. Crawford’s nickname is The Perfect Storm, and that could be indicative of the Dodgers’ success next season if Crawford is ready to start fresh and hopefully thrive at Dodger Stadium. One interesting note is that Crawford has never played at Dodger Stadium, and in fact the Tampa Bay Rays will be making their first visit to Chavez Ravine this season.
In center field and batting third…Matt Kemp…
The success of the Dodgers is directly correlated to the success and health of Matt Kemp. He’s the captain and catalyst of this team. The Dodgers cemented his future as the Dodgers’ franchise player last winter when they signed him to a 8-year $160 million contract. That means that The Bison will be wearing Blue through 2019 and he will be taking in about $21 million per season. 2012 was so frustrating and disappointing for Matt Kemp and the fans. After coming off his MVP year in 2011, the expectations for Kemp were through the roof. Matt Kemp’s 2012 April was so incredible, that many were predicting a 50 homerun and 50 stolen base season for the big right-hander. It was not to be. The injury bug hit the usually healthy center fielder. He was only able to play in 106 games in 2012, and this directly impacted the Dodgers’ season. The two-time All-Star had previously played in every game for the Dodgers in 2009 and 2010, and so his long disability this season really was hard for Kemp as he sat in the dugout and was unable to contribute. Kemp underwent surgery on his left shoulder last Friday to repair a torn labrum and rotator cuff. He will be unable to swing a bat until January. He should be ready for Spring Training, but it’s possible that like Carl Crawford, he will not be able to play at full strength. The 28-year old is in the prime of his career, and as long as he’s healthy the sky’s the limit for the five-tool outfielder. Matt Kemp has won two Gold Gloves, and he’s only made 25 errors in his 7 seasons in the Majors. He also has made 55 assists in his career. Matt Kemp is determined to win a World Series, and there’s nothing that Dodger fans want more than to see him fulfill his destiny.
In right field, and batting fifth…Andre Ethier…
Rounding out our Gold Glove, All-Star filled outfield is Captain Clutch himself, Andre Ethier. Ethier recently signed a 6-year $95 million contract with the Dodgers
this season. That means Dre is signed through 2017 with a vesting option for 2018. The 30-year old Phoenix, Arizona native is now the longest tenured Dodger since making his debut on May 2, 2006. Ethier had his biggest year so far in 2009 when he hit 31 homeruns and collected 106 RBIs. He also had 6 walk-off hits (including four walk-off homeruns) which was the most in the Majors since 1974. The four walk-off homeruns tied the MLB record for most in a single season. He is a two-time All-Star and a Gold Glove Award recipient in 2011. He’s only made 24 errors in his 7 seasons, and only 4 errors in his last 3 seasons. He also has 52 career assists. In 2011 Ethier had a 30-game hitting streak, which was the second longest streak in franchise history. Ethier has had some injuries to deal with as well, and his broken pinky, knee problems which resulted in surgery, and strained oblique this year have slowed him down at times. I don’t really agree with the idea of platooning Ethier like some suggest due to his trouble hitting lefties. His career splits are .311/.238. Perhaps that’s a topic for an entirely different post. The question would become, who would you platoon him with? Regardless, Ethier is a solid defensive outfielder and a clutch hitter. The latter is something the Dodgers cannot afford to lose out of their lineup.
As for the bench, the Dodgers have quite a few choices. I expect Bobby Abreu to be gone or retired. Tony Gwynn Jr. is still under team control, and he’s a great defensive outfielder who can back up Matt Kemp in center field if needed. Jerry Hairston Jr. might get more time in the outfield since the Dodgers have extra infielders. Elian Herrera, who probably will begin the season in the minors, is always in the wings ready to play if needed. The Dodgers also still have a $4 million team option on Juan Rivera. Or they could pay his buyout of $500,000.Rivera is a decent batter off the bench, so it’s possible the Dodgers could pick up his option. The future also is bright with such prospects as Alex Castellanos and Yasiel Puig.
Barring injury setbacks, the 2013 Dodger outfield is looking Golden.