All of our focus so far this offseason has been on shoring up the starting rotation. With Chad Billingsley‘s elbow issue, Ted Lilly‘s rustiness, and the mediocrity of Aaron Harang and Chris Capuano, the primary goal of signing a true no. 2 starting pitcher is understandably paramount. I’m certain that the Dodgers will sign Ryu Hyun-Jin before the December 10th deadline, and I think they will most likely sign another free agent pitcher like Zack Greinke. Once the Dodgers make the moves necessary to secure a solid starting rotation for 2013, they will need to shift their attention to other pressing matters. Namely the bench.
The Dodger bench is a glaring weakness that needs to be addressed. The bench has been problematic for quite a few seasons. Will the Dodgers make any moves in order to bolster their bench depth? I’m beginning to fear that they might not. Let’s take a look at the current bench situation as it sits right now.
Tim Federowicz will be the backup catcher to A.J. Ellis. Even though FedEx has only played in 10 Major League games over the past two seasons, the right-handed backstop will be thrown into the fire this season since Matt Treanor was not brought back. Last year in AAA-Albuquerque, FedEx had a solid year, and he batted .294 with 11 homeruns and 76 RBIs in 115 games. Honestly, he can’t be much worse than the departed Matt Treanor who only mustered a .175/.281/.282 line in his 36 games played with the Dodgers last season.
Nick Punto, a jack-of-all-trades utility infielder, is the type of player which Ned Colletti salivates over. He’ll be with the Dodgers next season, so be ready for many more headfirst slides into first base. Even though Punto hit well in his 22 games with the Dodgers after he was acquired in the mega deal with Boston (he hit .286), don’t expect him to hit that well over the course of an entire season. His total batting average last season between Boston and Los Angeles was .219, and he’s a .247 career hitter over his 12 years in the Majors. I’m dreading the inevitable game on the line Nick Punto at bat that is sure to be orchestrated by Don Mattingly next season. The only somewhat positive thing I’d say about Nick Punto when it comes to future pinch-hitting situations is that he is a switch-hitter. So there’s that.
Jerry Hairston Jr. is coming off of hip surgery, but he will be on the bench as another utility player. Most likely if the Dodgers do not sign a fourth outfielder, which I’m doubting they will at this point, then JHair will be asked to play outfield a lot more in 2013 since Juan Rivera‘s option was not picked up. The right-handed Hairston played well for the Dodgers before he had to cut his season short due to his hip surgery. He finished with a .273 batting average in 78 games. Like Punto, Hairston can play second, third, and shortstop.
I must now discuss the pink elephant in the room. Juan Uribe. For some unknown
reason, the Dodgers just cannot let Uribe go. He’s been downright useless with the bat in his two futile seasons with the Dodgers, and now that the new ownership is flush with funds, is the $8 million that the Dodgers owe him for 2013 that big of a deal anymore? He is good defensively at third base, but is it worth wasting a roster spot on him if he’s just going to sit on the bench collecting spider webs and getting one or two at bats per month? He can play second, third, and shortstop, just like the aforementioned Punto and Jerry Hairston Jr. Do we really need three slow utility players off the bench? Last season Uribe played in just 66 games, which was the least of his entire career. He finished well below the Mendoza Line with a .191 batting average, and hit a mere 2 homeruns and 17 RBIs. At this point it’s getting a bit sad watching Uribe sit and not play. It’s time to let this bird fly.
Other possibilities for the Dodger bench are players like Dee Gordon, Scott Van Slyke, and Tony Gwynn Jr. I don’t think the Dodgers will play TGJ next season, even though he has decent speed and is great defensively. After he fell off the map in the second half of the season last year, he was designated for assignment and finished the season down in AAA.
If Dee Gordon does not start next season, which is looking that way since Hanley Ramirez will most likely be the starting shortstop, then the Dodgers could really use his speed off the bench. The bench really lacks any sort of speed. How will the Dodgers be able to pinch-run in late innings? I shudder at the thought of Nick Punto getting the call to do that. Dee Gordon will have to be able to be in the Dodgers’ arsenal for those situations.
Not only does the bench lack speed, but there is no back up for first base. Adrian Gonzalez is a phenomenal first baseman, and I’m sure barring any unforeseeable injury, he will be manning first base almost every game. Yet there has to be someone who can take over first base in a pinch. That’s where Scott Van Slyke may come into play. The Dodgers are lacking in depth for that position, so if they don’t sign someone via free agency, then Van Slyke may be on your Opening Day roster.
The Dodgers have improved dramatically throughout the lineup with the additions of Hanley Ramirez, Adrian Gonzalez, and Carl Crawford who is set to play next season. The bullpen is stronger than ever with Ronald Belisario, Kenley Jansen, and Brandon League who look to be one of the nastiest set-up and closer trios in the league. The starting rotation will soon be bolstered with the signings of Ryu and possibly Greinke or another free agent. The bench has been neglected far too long. As of right now the bench is devoid of power, speed, and depth. Even though the bench is an overlooked aspect of a baseball team, we will not be overlooking its shortcomings this season if the Dodgers do not reconfigure these important substitute players.