As we approach the end of a wild month of April, the Dodgers remain precariously perched atop the NL West. Usually I would be quite satisfied with leading the division early in the year but the rules have changed. Ever since the Guggenheim group, along with Magic Johnson and company, woke up this club up from the nightmare that was the McCourt era, our expectations have sky-rocketed. Although I am very grateful, I am still adjusting to the new Dodgers mantra. For years, I only hoped they could get to the World Series. Now, considering our posh payroll, we expect nothing less. But despite spending over $230M to get this club back to the Fall Classic, there remains work to be done.
Sure it would be fair to say that it’s still early, but it has become apparent that this squad has some issues to address. This does not make them different from any other team in April. But again, this is not your ordinary team. This is the highest paid team in the history of the game!
So where should we start? Statistically speaking, the most alarming thing that jumps off the page has to be the defense. Or should I say, the lack of it. Quite frankly, our defense has been putrid. 23 errors thru 23 games naturally have the Dodgers ranked near the bottom of the league in all defensive categories. At least they have been sharing the wealth with six players sporting two or more errors. What is worse is that almost all of these gaffes have proven costly with some coming at critical moments late in the games. Perhaps some of these mistakes can be attributed to rust or simply working out the kinks early in the season but it is a trend that needs to stop. Part of the problem has to be the constant lineup shuffling which Don Mattingly is faced with managing this roster. The Dodgers fielded their sixteenth different starting lineup last night in their twenty-third game. It is going to be awfully hard to gel with that much variance in the day-to-day lineups.
Some of our defensive ineptitude lies in the quandary the Dodgers outfield logjam has left Don Mattingly in. Of course, we all know what the situation is at the moment. We have four capable starting outfielders to fill just three spots. To me, this is the most pressing issue with the club. It has to be resolved somehow. That’s the easy part. The hard part is figuring out exactly how Ned Colletti can make it happen?
This is where it gets really tough! There are as many questions as there are answers for each of these four outfielders. I believe that Colletti would like to move one of the four but how exactly does he intend to do so? The difficulty in this scenario has many layers. It is a complex situation which cannot be solved with some simple arithmetic. The good news is that the Dodgers have options. The perilous part is in making the right decisions. Here is how I see things unfolding.
Yasiel Puig plays Right Field! That is the easy part of this equation. There will undoubtedly be moments where Yasiel makes us cringe but the man is electric. He will still have some growing pains at the dish too, but his presence in the outfield alone is undeniable. The big challenge will be managing the Wild Horse as Vin loves to call him.
I’m curious to see just how hard Yasiel works on the everyday adjustments that are the pre-requisite for Big League success. I’m not really sure what to expect from Puig because he is anything but predictable. But this is where the veterans on the squad need to be relied on heavily. Puig should continue to look to his buddy Juan Uribe for leadership and advice. Clearly, Uribe thrived in this role last season, and hopefully these two can feed off each other once again this year. In the end, Puig is always going to be Puig. And that’s not a bad thing!
Now things get really complicated. We still have Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford on the books for the foreseeable future, at a combined price tag of roughly $57M/per season. The Dodgers also currently have Scott Van Slyke doing an admirable job as the fifth outfielder in the mix. We also know that Joc Pederson is waiting in the wings. Again, it’s April. This is going to be a long drawn out process with many variables. The first of which is health.
Colletti is in a really tough spot. Hypothetically, if he had a taker for one of his three high priced outfielders, how would he know which one to move? All three have spent significant time on the DL in recent years. The combination of the unknowns surrounding these three combined with their price tags has left Ned in an unenviable position.
In terms of durability, Colletti would have to trust Ethier. Andre has been solid defensively for the Dodgers. He also possesses a better arm out of left field than Crawford. Ethier has also had a knack for being one of the Dodgers best hitters in the clutch. Many of these big moments make it difficult to imagine moving Andre. Overall though, offensively speaking, I feel like he may have reached his ceiling. His numbers the last few seasons indicate that this is the case. There is no crying in baseball, so despite his popularity, if an offer was made for Ethier, Colletti would have to consider it.
The argument for Crawford for me is primarily based on speed. I really like what CC can bring to the top of the order. It’s too early to say if Dee Gordon can remain in the leadoff spot. Regardless, pairing Crawford with Gordon or Puig atop the order can create havoc for the opposition. All three players just need to focus on reaching base consistently. To do so, they will need to cut down on their strikeouts. Carl’s speed in the outfield at least helps to offset what is easily his biggest deficiency, which is of course, his left arm. Seeing some of Crawford’s throws into the infield can be painful to watch. The alternatives though would be Van Slyke or Ethier in left field. Obviously, neither has the speed of Crawford, so Don is basically left to pick his poison in left field each night.
Lastly, we have Matt Kemp. It has been great to see Kemp back on the field this month even if he has struggled early on. It has been a long and winding road to recovery through multiple injuries. The real question now is what kind of player do the Dodgers have on their hands with a healthy Matt Kemp? So far, the results have been mixed. We have seen flashes of Kemp’s brilliance both at the dish and in the outfield. We have also seen instances where he has looked like a deer in the headlights. He is striking out at an alarming rate, almost one-third of his plate appearances. Playing alongside Puig in the outfield has been an adventure to say the least. But again, to be fair, it’s April. Perhaps, with time, some of these wrinkles can be ironed out.
So where does that leave Ned Colletti? Basically, it leaves us exactly where we are now. We are currently in a wait and see mode. There are many reasons for this. First, we need to see how each of these four individuals performs, and more importantly, if they are able to stay on the field. At least there is a security blanket in case of injury, which obviously is never out of the question with this group. The Dodgers also need to assess their strengths and weaknesses as the season progresses for when potential trades eventually present themselves.
Currently, I would be looking to straighten out the mess that is the Dodgers Bullpen. I am not concerned, yet, with the individual struggles some of the relievers have had. Colletti should be scouring the market for the best left-handed middle reliever available. Simply put, we have an abundance of right-handed relief options. Granted, some are better than others, but regardless, the one thing this team lacks is a dominant lefty reliever. I am still scratching my head over the curious demotion of Paco Rodriquez. J.P. Howell has done a nice job but he is now the only true left-handed option in the pen. National League baseball alone dictates that this is not enough. I really feel that this is the last piece of the Dodgers puzzle.
I have a hard time believing that Colletti is actually going to be able to move one of his outfielders. There are too many risks involved with each player individually, that make any potential deal scary for both parties involved. The Dodgers do not want to trade Matt Kemp just to see him return to his MVP form of 2011. Likewise, teams are not likely to offer very much for any of these three because of their salaries and their injury histories. If a deal is offered which makes sense for the club Colletti should not hesitate to pull the trigger. But for now, Donnie will have to continue this juggling act. The Dodgers are not looking to shed salaries. The Dodgers clearly want to win at all costs!
Therefore, I think it is more likely that you will see Colletti making some moves he might not have had the option to make in the past. He might not be able to move any of his high priced talent, but he could possibly move some of his top prospects. Clearly, this is where Joc Pederson and Zach Lee enter our riddle. I hate to say it, but I’d like to see the Dodgers target Javier Lopez from the hated Giants. Whether or not the Giants would be willing to move Lopez to their nemesis hinges on how the season plays out. If it appears, as we hope, that the Dodgers are in control of the division, the Giants may look to add to their future. I understand that giving up Pederson or Lee would be a steep price, but I think we would all agree a trip to the World Series would surely make it worth it.