Aside from the massive mystery illness and the huge injury blow dealt to righty swing man Tom Koehler last week, there really hasn’t been any major news lately in the Dodgers‘ clubhouse. However, there has been plenty of speculation in the blogosphere about the team’s Opening Day roster, and the situation surrounding Koehler certainly threw a wrench into many of the early prediction models.
One thing we haven’t talked about much is the bench. The fact that Los Angeles has decided to carry an eight-man bullpen limits the strength of the bench crew, as there will only be a mere four players on the pine for skipper Dave Roberts to utilize.
Three of the four spots have conceivably already been sealed. Whomever isn’t starting behind the plate between Austin Barnes and Yasmani Grandal will assume one spot, while veteran infielder Chase Utley fills another. Super-utility man Enrique Hernandez will be the chief player off the bench for the Dodgers, as his defensive versatility is undeniably among the best in the game.
As complicated as the selection of the fourth and final spots sounds, it actually may be quite simple. As it stands now, in my eyes at least, that spot—which could very well boil down to one of the final few choices for the 25-man roster—could be awarded to Matt Kemp, Andrew Toles or Joc Pederson.
There are just 22 days remaining until Opening Day, and while that sounds like a lot of time, there’s no question it will pass by extremely quickly. It’s hard to believe that there’s not any rumblings about the future of Kemp—for all we know, he’s right there in front of the race for the starting left fielder’s job. Yet, on the other hand, perhaps the front office team has already decided Kemp’s destiny and waiting until just the right moment to make it public.
Regardless, we all shall continue to wait patiently. It may be worth noting that the Opening Day lineup, which will take its hacks against San Francisco ace Madison Bumgarner, will be loaded with right-handed bats, and will not represent the batting order we see each day. And while Roberts is speculated to use a number of platoon-type scenarios throughout the season, there are still plenty of players who will be in the everyday lineup regardless of the pitching matchup, most specifically guys like Chris Taylor, Yasiel Puig, Cody Bellinger, Justin Turner and Corey Seager—if he’s indeed healthy enough to begin the campaign.
With Taylor and Puig making up the backbone of the outfield in center and right respectively, the biggest roster battle—aside from the final few bullpen spots—unquestionably is happening in left field. Kemp has done almost everything right so far in Cactus League play, as has impressed everyone with his level of fitness, including Roberts. Toles has proven that he’s in peak condition after ripping his ACL early last year, and with Pederson’s pop and ability to cover either left or center field, the decision will undoubtedly be a very difficult one.
As much as it doesn’t make sense to carry both Toles and Pederson on the 25-man roster, in theory, it’s still a logical move, even if they both hit from the left side of the dish. Let’s just say, for example, that the starters on one random day are Pederson in left, Taylor in center and Puig in right. With Toles on the bench, it gives Roberts and his crew pleny of options, and it also balances the number of left-handed bats vs. right-handed bats available for late inning use. If that’s indeed the case, then Kemp is obviously not on the squad.
Of course, all of this depends upon whether the club is able to move Kemp. Whatever the outcome is, either way it will be a chunk of news that’s highly scrutinized by everyone familiar with the team. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, a bench consisting of Grandal, Hernandez, Tolesly and Utley isn’t too shabby at all.