There’s been plenty of speculation for months surrounding how the Los Angeles Dodgers will handle their gluttony of outfielders. There is simply no way to play four of them at the same time, forcing someone to the bench on a daily basis. For most organizations have too many capable starters would be a “happy problem”, but in Los Angeles it merely represents a logjam. An expensive one, at that.
When healthy, the Dodgers have a multitude of outfield alignments they can trot out on a daily basis. Yasiel Puig has developed into one of the top defensive right fielders in baseball, with an arm that goes nearly unmatched. Carl Crawford has still capably handle left field, despite seeing the speed that once was his calling card now diminished. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier both profile best in center, but have the athleticism to handle either corner in a pinch if needed. Collectively the group presents a daily challenge for the Dodgers and manager Don Mattingly in determining how best to work them into the lineup.
Part of the problem, however, stems from the very fact that they cannot all play everyday. It’s difficult for a player to get into a solid rhythm without consistent at bats. Production can be slowed, but the player’s value – both to the current team and to potential suitors – is also affected.
In his latest Insider-only column, ESPN’s Jim Bowden attempted to decipher how the Dodgers could go about handling their mix of outfielders – specifically with a focus on what the team should do leading up to this summer’s trade deadline. The belief has long been standing that Los Angeles will, or should, look to move one of these outfielders in an effort to address another need and alleviate the logjam that they’ve created on the active roster. Bowden’s focus, however, largely hangs on the argument that the Dodgers will need to make room because their top prospect, Joc Pederson, is an outfielder who appears to be MLB-ready.
Perhaps the biggest roadblock preventing the Dodgers from moving one of their outfielders, however, are the salaries each is still owed under their current contracts. Either is earning $15.5 Million this season, with another $53.5 Million guaranteed through 2017 and a $17.5 Million vesting option for 2018. Crawford is due $62.25 Million through 2017 on top of the $20.25 Million he’ll receive this season. Kemp’s earning $21 Million this season, with $107 Million still coming to him over the next five years. Puig, with just over $30 Million coming to him over the next four years, is easily the most affordable of the group but is also the least likely to be traded.
Moving one of these outfielders – Bowden specifically focuses on trading either Ethier or Crawford – is hardly going to be an easy task. The Dodgers will almost assuredly be looking at eating a significant portion of their remaining contracts if they hope to receive something of value in return. Los Angeles doesn’t have internal long term options at third base or behind the plate. They could also look towards stockpiling more pitching. Any deal would also likely involve them taking on another team’s exorbitant salary obligation.
The other piece of the puzzle here is, of course, which teams might end up being fits for one of the Dodgers outfielders. The Minnesota Twins, Detroit Tigers, Seattle Mariners, and Chicago Cubs are each mentioned by Bowden as potential landing spots but each comes with their share of reservations. The Twins could use another bat in the middle of their lineup, but do they have the resources to spend on a big-name outfielder that could eventually play alongside Byron Buxton? An outfield upgrade would help the Tigers, but they could also focus their efforts on supporting the pitching staff and/or bullpen instead. Seattle installed Robinson Cano into their lineup during the offseason, but added little to support and protect him. The Cubs have a wealth of young talent on the way, but a severe lack of pitching to lead the team back into contention.
Ultimately Bowden may be right, as the Dodgers will likely increase their desire to move one of their outfielders as the season progresses – both due to the payroll savings such a move could bring and because of the continued production that Pederson brings to the table in the minor leagues. There’s absolutely no reason to think that a deal is guaranteed to happen, however, which makes this yet another situation worth keeping a close eye on.