(Photo Credit: Kyusung Gong/OC Register)
While it’s probably entirely too early for team management to begin piecing together roster ideas for the upcoming season, it certainly doesn’t hurt when fans begin brainstorming about areas of the squad that could eventually fall under heavy scrutiny about four months from now.
Opening Day 2016 feels like it was upon us decades ago. The injury bug began to bite the Dodgers early, preventing seasoned veterans like Howie Kendrick, Yasmani Grandal and Andre Ethier from suiting up for the first contest of the year at Petco Park. Rob Segedin was coming off a fantastic spring training, but it was almost impossible to even conceive having him contribute to an already overwhelmingly crowded outfield. Nobody ever heard of a prospect called Andrew Toles, who was starting the year at Single-A Rancho after working as a grocery store clerk in Atlanta one year prior.
Despite the injury to Ethier, the outfield didn’t shape up too badly, with Carl Crawford, Joc Pederson and Yasiel Puig all getting starting nods in the opener. The bench was a bit right-handed heavy, as utility men Scott Van Slyke and Enrique Hernandez provided plenty of pop and versatility off the bench. Fans were excited about newcomer Trayce Thompson, who had all of the tools to become a star defensively, yet could never muster enough offensive production to consistently stick to the roster of the White Sox after a couple of big league chances.
Although it was in the back of the minds of many, the Dodgers cutting ties with an extremely under-productive Crawford came as a huge surprise. And some fans cringed at the thought of Kendrick shagging flies out in left field. At certain points of the season, it seemed as if the front office crew was operating in a completely chaotic state.
As the season evolved, more injuries took their tolls, impeding SVS to make steady contributions while hindering Thompson from capitalizing on a huge career opportunity. Hernandez would even struggle with a phantom rib injury as Puig battled nagging hamstring problems and ultimately fought through a stint in Triple-A because of his supposed unprofessional attitude and behavior. Even after doors were opened for Segedin and Tolesy, the front office still dealt for Josh Reddick in hopes of finding the final piece of a potentially successful outfield playoff puzzle.
While it can probably be said that the outfield was never a notable barrier that kept the Dodgers from succeeding in the 2016 postseason, there may be a few different looks as the team heads into camp next spring. Reddick will likely escape to the free agent market unsigned, as the Dodgers will have plenty of lefty bats with the likes of Toles, Pederson and Ethier. Paired with the lefty crew, righties such as Puig, Segedin, Van Slyke and Thompson should also be poised to compete for spots on the 25-man at Camelback Ranch come February. And that’s not even mentioning Kendrick or Hernandez.
We’ve already discussed a few of the biggest potential holes for 2017, and after given a few months to work a little magic, it’s quite possible the front office puts together a trade at the Winter Meetings to acquire a bonafide No. 2 starter, utilizing the surplus of outfielders at their disposal to orchestrate a prospective blockbuster.
And as we try to make an educated guess of the outfield crew come Opening Day 2017, the players with options could favor heavily into management’s decisions. And it’s always impossible to project any type of impactful injury. That being said, we all hope the club’s luck with the disabled list is much better next year compared to a few years in the recent past.
As far as a projected outfield crew for next season, our best guess is that six players — Toles, Pederson, Ethier, Puig, Thompson and Van Slyke — battle for five roster spots, while Kendrick, Hernandez and Segedin fight for one or two super-utility positions on the roster.
Indeed, interesting times lie ahead for the fans, while during a nice, easy cruise through the winter months, could see their beloved Dodgers evolve into an even better squad who will be much more suited to coast deep into the playoffs next year.