The Dodgers have too many outfielders!
(Or so the narrative goes…)
With Matt Kemp gone, and Andre Ethier eternally on the trading block (last rumored to be garnering interest from the Orioles), I think the question needs to be asked: do the Dodgers really have too many outfielders?
Well, let’s count: Yasiel Puig (the only sure thing), Joc Pederson (the rookie who has waited for his chance), Carl Crawford (penciled into left field after a decent 2014), Andre Ethier (the ever-present odd-man-out) and Scott Van Slyke (backup outfielder and first baseman who provides a nice bat off the bench).
Of course, we could also include Chris Heisey and Scott Schebler in this list — two outfielders added to the 40-man roster this off-season. The 30-year-old Heisey was acquired from Cincinnati in December and has a .712 OPS for his career and is a solid defensive option at all three spots in the outfield — making him a prime candidate for a bench spot if someone is dealt. Schebler, on the other hand, is just 24 and is the product of the Dodgers’ farm system, where he had an excellent season at Double-A in 2014 (.924 OPS with 28 HR). Schebler will probably spend 2015 in the minors.
So, if we add Heisey to the count of major league outfielders, that leaves us with six — too many. Right?
Well, as usual with these kind of questions, it depends.
I think the biggest question the front office has to ask itself is whether Joc Pederson is ready for everyday playing time at the major league level. Detractors will point to his performance in the majors last season — 4-for-28 with 11 strikeouts — and scoff at the idea that he should be counted on. Supporters, on the other hand, will acknowledge his 1.017 OPS at Triple-A last season (with 33 HR and 30 SB) and find it crazy to think he’s anything but ready.
As for me, I lean towards the fact that he’s the best option the Dodgers have right now. He’s the best fielding center fielder on the roster, and while there will surely be growing pains, he has the potential to become an All-Star someday, and that type of career has to start somewhere.
The second question the Dodgers need to ask themselves is whether the clubhouse chaos of leaving Andre Ethier as a fourth outfielder is worth the safety net they get with him on the roster.
Should an injury occur or Pederson struggle mightily, having Ethier as a backup is a luxury few teams can afford. Then again, he’s obviously unhappy with a bench role, and with the moves this front office has made so far, it’s clear they care very much about the culture in and around the clubhouse.
In my opinion, the Dodgers need to choose between Crawford and Ethier and ship the other one out (and it seems clear they’d rather have Crawford).
The good news is that even if Ethier is dealt (along with a lot of money to pay off part of his remaining contract), the Dodgers would still be left with five quality outfielders. Puig, Crawford and Pederson is a really solid group (offensively and defensively), and with backups in Van Slyke and Heisey, the team would be left with more power and flexibility off the bench than most teams in the league.
Heading into the offseason, the Dodgers outfield situation was one full of intrigue — who would remain? Who would be traded? Would a high-priced player find himself on the bench?
As 2014 has come and gone, many of those questions have been answered — Kemp is gone, Ethier is being floated and the front office seems content with Pederson as a major piece in the 2015 title run.
There is, of course, one question that is still unanswered, and that is how this new roster comes together in 2015 and what it means for the future of the franchise. Unfortunately, that’s a question we’ll have to wait a few months to answer…