While the status of the 40-man roster finally became locked down yesterday with the official addition of Franklin Gutierrez, the Dodgers now can begin honing in on the general makeup of the 25-man roster as Cactus League play begins this weekend. After reflecting on our projections in detail for perhaps the hundredth time, there may be two or three spots that are completely up for grabs, with some of the stiffest competition taking place among the bullpen crew.
After the dust settles at the end of spring training, the management team of the Dodgers will ultimately need to decide if the club will carry seven or eight relievers. Personally, I’d be much more comfortable with eight, being that the starting pitchers will require stretching and time to build stamina before they’re lasting six or more frames per outing, thus demanding much higher mileage from the relief corps — at least at the beginning of the season.
If the Dodgers do indeed decide to carry eight relievers, though, it would limit the bench crew of position players to four, assuming the club starts the season with its full compliment of five starting pitchers in the rotation. In the end, even though most team pundits would prefer eight men in the bullpen, management will almost be forced to go the seven man route, just to make sure all the secondary depth is covered at every position on the field.
All-World closer Kenley Jansen will once again lead the charge of the relief corps, but there’s a ton of daylight between Kenley and the next-best closing option. If for some reason the team would need an alternate option to close, the infamous matchup spreadsheets would surely come into play, almost creating a closer by committee type of scenario. For the general well-being of the squad, anyone close to the team hopes that particular situation will not arise.
Earlier in the month, the Dodgers elected to snag free agent righty reliever Sergio Romo to arrange a viable, eighth-inning setup option for Jansen, however, Romo will certainly need to show effectiveness during Cactus League play to earn that role at the beginning of the season.
And as we’ve mentioned frequently over the winter, player options will definitely come into play to some degree when deciding on the ultimate 25-man roster for Opening Day. As far as the bullpen’s concerned, that means Chris Hatcher and Luis Avilan are locks to begin the season on the roster, at least until either an injury or their performances suggest otherwise. Subsequently, assuming Brandon Morrow comes out of the gates strong and throws well this spring, he may conceivably earn a roster spot as well.
Leaving the status of Morrow up in the air, and being that Jansen, Romo, Hatcher and Avilan all appear to be locks, that leaves three spots open, if we conclude that the club does indeed elect to go with a crew of seven. The best guesses to fill those final three holes are Pedro Baez, Josh Fields and Grant Dayton. Nevertheless, each of those players have options on their contracts, affording management some much needed flexibility as the season progresses.
As far as the fringe players go, Adam Liberatore and Josh Ravin will presumably lead the charge at Triple-A Oklahoma City, yet with outstanding performances this spring, either could easily slot in for any of the aforementioned arms with options. And although Alex Wood, Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart have already proven their value as quality long men in relief, all three may possibly start the year at OKC, being prepared to join the big league rotation with the first sign of a potential need.
In the end, if the majority of the relief corps is healthy and throwing well through the end of March, there’s no question that Dodgers’ management will have a few critical decisions to make in the moments leading up to April 3. Stay tuned.