(Photo Credit: LM Otero/Associated Press)
Unlike second base, the outfield is not a place that the Dodgers need to add any players. Conversely, they have too many. So where does that leave someone like Andre Ethier coming off an injury-riddled season?
Ethier played in just 16 games last year for the Dodgers. That was in September, after having incurred a freak injury during Cactus League play. Andre fouled a ball off of his right shin, ultimately enduring a long healing process with his tibia. After intense rehab, September ended up being his real spring training. But he made his way onto the playoff roster, hitting a home run against the Chicago Cubs in the NLCS.
Heading into the 2017 season, there’s a surplus of outfielders on the prospective 25-man roster. All of the outfielders, with the exceptions of Yasiel Puig, Scott Van Slyke and a healthy Trayce Thompson, hit left-handed. Joc Pederson seems to have the center field job locked up. In right field, the spot is up for grabs again, having been vacated by Josh Reddick who moved on to Houston. Puig could regain his starting position there, if he has a good spring training and has lost the weight that the coaching staff has told him to lose. (And has continued to mature, as most of us hope he has). When Puig is healthy and has his head in the game, he has both a better arm and bat than Ethier. But that is a huge if — the arm is certain, the bat is not. Batting against left-handed pitching could come in to play here, and Ethier only has a .234 career average against lefties.
Left field similarly does not have a definitive starter. Howie Kendrick, who started the majority of games in left last season, was dealt to the Philadelphia Phillies in the offseason. Andrew Toles had quite the end of the season last year, even earning some starts in the postseason lineup. Toles is young, and has some speed, which could be used at the top of the lineup. Van Slyke doesn’t seem like he would be in contention for starting job, and will stay general utility man for outfield and first base. Throw the versatile Rob Segedin into the mix, and it even complicates things further. So that could leave Ethier battling for a starting position in both the corner outfield spots.
All that being said, if Ethier does not land a starting position, where does that leave him? Andre is entering his age-35 season, and is owed $17 million in 2017. Overall, Ethier is probably a better right fielder than left, based on familiarity and zone ratings alone. He is also a fan favorite, and has hung on through many seasons of speculation that he might be traded at some point. Could he be included in a trade, possibly for another starting pitcher or second baseman? That seems unlikely, given the amount of money still owed on his contract. And I don’t think that he would be a DFA candidate, because he is better than other outfielders who would take on a platoon roll, like Enrique Hernandez or Van Slyke.
So it all boils down to spring training. The competition between Toles, Puig and Ethier should be something to watch. I’m excited to see which one rises to the top — because whoever we’re left with on the bench or as a platoon player will still be a darn good backup plan.