In case you weren’t sure, baseball only allows for three outfielders to play at a given time. Most teams carry four on a roster to be safe, five if they really must (or if one of those five can also play infield).
The Dodgers don’t care about these rules.
As of now, the team is carrying six outfielders on its 25-man roster, and have two more on the DL, waiting to return from injuries. Of those six, three can play infield, though only one is used regularly in that way.
It’s a hodgepodge of young and old, left-handed and right-handed, All-Star caliber and journeyman. And it’s a complete mess.
Here’s where the situation stands: Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig are the obvious starters in center and right (despite Pederson’s early-season struggles and especially given Puig’s early-season resurgence). Kiké Hernandez, Scott Van Slyke and Franklin Gutierrez (on the DL) are the lefty-mashing options to replace Pederson and Andre Ethier (also on the DL) against southpaws.
Andrew Toles gets to play left against right-handers and lead off so the team can utilize his speed on the bases. Rob Segedin is a power bat occupying the last spot on the bench. If any of the aforementioned get hurt, traded or sent down, Trayce Thompson can get brought up from Triple-A. If they need to dip even deeper, they have a handful of AAAA guys who can play outfield and a few big-name prospects such as Alex Verdugo and Cody Bellinger.
Whew. Did that clear things up?
The stark contrast between the Dodgers’ major league infield, where all five positions are occupied by former, current or future All-Stars and where platooning isn’t necessary, and the outfield, is frustrating. The team has a ton of talent in the outfield but can’t seem to get consistent performances from all three positions.
That is why they entertained Puig-for-Ryan Braun offers for a while, and why they might still be willing to do so. For all the good things Puig has done in the first two weeks of the 2017 season, he’s still not Braun. Younger and cheaper, sure, but not nearly as consistent with the bat. The Dodgers are hoping this hot start doesn’t fizzle out so they can hang on to their much-maligned Cuban star.
Pederson has true 40-homer power, plays good defense and seems to improve every year. He’s in a bit of a funk at the plate to start 2017, but the Dodgers like the direction he’s going. If he can continue getting on base, hitting the ball out of the park and cutting down on strikeouts, he’ll blossom into a star sooner rather than later. Unfortunately, he still has trouble hitting lefties, and the Dodgers treat him as such, giving right-handed hitters starts against southpaws quite often instead.
The Dodgers could try to make a move to solidify left field and unclutter the outfield situation. But with such a cache of high-potential prospects, why dip into that pool unless they’re desperate? A much more enticing option is calling up one of the young prospects and letting him get his feet wet at the major league level until Ethier and Gutierrez return from injury.
Hernandez, who can play all over the diamond, is probably staying put, but Toles as a fourth outfielder makes sense, and Van Slyke has been digging his own Dodgers grave for a while now. In this writer’s opinion, the best way to solve the situation is to stop making it such a big one.
Cut your losses with Van Slyke, send Segedin down, call up Bellinger to play a little outfield and first base until Gutierrez or Ethier returns, and stay put with Toles, Pederson and Puig for now. That also allows the team to call up another bullpen arm, since the big league ‘pen has been so heavily taxed early on.
The Dodgers are a well-oiled machine run by very smart people at the top and a very creative skipper in the dugout. However, the outfield situations seems to be slowly spinning out of control.
Maybe simplifying – not overthinking – is the most obvious solution.