The Dodgers open up spring training this week, with competition for a spot on the 25-man roster very high. Even the bench will be difficult to sort out.
The Dodgers will have some tough decisions to make regarding who makes the final cut on the 25-man roster. The competition for the position players for a bench slot will be very, very high due to the franchise’s depth, and quality depth at that.
I believe that the team will go with nine bullpen arms due to how they like to manage the team and heavily use the pen. That leaves four spots on the bench. And it’s a tough four to select. What I think the bench should be will be different from I think the Dodgers select. I predict that the Opening Day bench will be as followed:
This is assuming that the starting lineup will be Cody Bellinger at first, Logan Forsythe at second, Corey Seager at short, Justin Turner at third, Austin Barnes at catcher, Yasiel Puig in right, Chris Taylor in center, and Joc Pederson in left. Also, the assumption is Andrew Toles not being completely healthy because who knows how he will be coming off a torn ACL?
Utley is a given. His return can be judged as neither good or bad at the moment because we do not know how his real value to the team will play out. Off production and age, he should not even be considered because there are other younger players more deserving of a shot.
But he is a lock for a spot, no matter what happens. You do not bring back an established 39-year-old just to send him to triple-A. He should spare Logan Forsythe and Cody Bellinger at second base and first base, respectively, while bringing veteran leadership and experience.
Matt Kemp is a polarizing pick. He has declined the past few seasons while also taking a shot at Los Angeles as a baseball town in the past. So some fans are not sold on him being worthy of being on the team. But he is owed $21.5 million this season and seems to be going through a bodily transformation that might bode well for him.
The money alone is enough for him to make the major league roster. Front offices will never let over $20 million rot in the minor leagues (although why not?), and Kemp is not an attractive get for other teams, so he will most definitely be staying in Los Angeles. Add in the physical change and the potential he can bring off the bench is intriguing.
But he will need to prove his worth, especially on defense, where Kemp needs to show at least some competence because the 33-year-old has been horrendous as he has declined.
Grandal and Hernandez have been critical pieces to the Dodgers the last three seasons and the team would be foolish not to have them on the roster, and they know it.
Grandal has been the team’s starter behind the plate since 2015, and the front office loves his overall defensive package. However, with his impending free agency, disappointing offensive performance last year, and Austin Barnes’ emergence, Grandal’s only role figures to be a backup.
But he won’t be your typical backup because you can expect him to see more reps than your standard reserve due to his pedigree. But the Dodgers can afford and should trade him because they have Kyle Farmer that can be a capable backup to Barnes.
Enrique Hernandez is a dream player for Andrew Friedman and Co. because of how much they love defensive versatility and platoon matchups. He can play all defensive positions but pitcher and catcher and hits considerably well against left-handed pitching.
He is not a guy who has to play every day (his inability against right-handers shows that), but you can use him on any given night as a defensive replacement. He has proven to be a valuable get for Los Angeles and is a fan favorite. He has done everything that has been asked of him, so there is no reason for him not to return.
With these four making it, it means the likes of Alex Verdugo, Kyle Farmer, Rob Segedin, and a potentially healthy Andrew Toles will be left out. Whether that is right or wrong, who knows?
Naturally, a trade would shake things up. If it were up to me, I would move Grandal and see what you can get for him before he leaves for nothing. And then something would have to be done with Matt Kemp. I am intrigued by him, but I am going into this thinking that we will be getting what he has been the past few years: Bad defensively, declining with the bat, and a negative clubhouse presence. Then the bench would be constructed as:
Rob Segedin/Chase Utley
Verdugo deserves a chance to show what he can do and potentially win the left field starting job for himself. He is the future. Toles, assuming he returns healthy, can be a huge boost. Segedin hasn’t blown us away, but he is a younger version of a 39-year-old Utley, which isn’t good, but he has the potential to do more and is more versatile on defense.
This is an enviable problem to have but leaving guys out will always be tough.