The Dodgers Still Have Too Many Outfielders

Nearly a year ago on these very electronic pages, I wrote a post entitled “The Dodgers And Too Many Outfielders,” investigating the fact that the Dodgers had four starting outfielders — Yasiel Puig, Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford and Andre Ethier — for three spots, a situation that would only get more complicated when top prospect Joc Pederson arrived. A move, it seemed, was a necessity, and I counted down six ways it could happen.

A year later, a lot has changed, both in terms of how some of those players are viewed and in what outfield positions they play. But what never did change is that Ned Colletti wasn’t able to move any of his veterans, and now Andrew Friedman, Farhan Zaidi and company are left with an even more constricting situation. Puig, Kemp, Crawford, and Ethier are still Dodgers. Pederson put up the first 30/30 season in the PCL in decades on his way to winning the league MVP and Rookie of the Year awards before making his major league debut in September. Most unexpectedly, lightly-regarded backup Scott Van Slyke became one of the league’s most valuable bench players and clearly deserves more time.

Four outfielders? If only. These Dodgers have six, and if we thought a move last year was a probability, now it seems like more of an imperative. But how is this going to resolve itself? Here we go again.

First, let’s review what they have right now, showing 2014 performance, 2015 projection & age, and remaining dollars committed. The (*) for Puig is because of the clause in his contract that allows him to opt into the arbitration process after he has three years service time, which he almost certainly will, easily inflating the dollar amount shown here.

2014 stats 2015
Name PA HR AVG OBP SLG wRC+ WAR Steamer wRC+ Age Remaining Contract
Yasiel Puig 640 16 .296 .382 .480 147 5.1 145 24 4/$24m*
Scott Van Slyke 246 11 297 .386 .524 160 2.8 110 28 pre-arb
Carl Crawford 370 8 .300 .339 .429 119 2.5 107 33 3/$62.25m
Matt Kemp 599 25 .287 .346 .506 140 1.8 128 30 5/$107m
Andre Ethier 380 4 .249 .322 .370 98 0.7 109 33 3/$56m
Joc Pederson (MLB) 38 0 .143 .351 .143 68 0.1 105 23 pre-arb
Joc Pederson (AAA) 553 33 .303 .435 .582 164 n/a

Probably, two things jump out at you there. One, yes, that is a ton of money, roughly a quarter-billion dollar. Two, even with Ethier’s collapse to league-average and various other assorted issues, this was a highly-productive offensive group, arguably the best offensive outfield in baseball and the best for the team since the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles in 1958. For 2015, Steamer projects above-average seasons for each of them, and while I’ll take the under on Ethier, I might take the over on Van Slyke. You’ll notice that I’m speaking of offense only, because the defense was a never-ending mess that involved everyone but Crawford playing multiple positions, and Van Slyke actually starting 17 games in center. (!!) That will be need to be resolved, too.

Lists are the lazy writer’s best friend, but that worked out well enough last year and allows the opportunity to touch on each individual, so let’s do it again. Which should the Dodgers trade? Maybe more importantly, which can they trade? Counting down from least likely to most…

6) Trade Yasiel Puig.

This came in as “least likely” last year too, and for obvious reasons. Puig is young, he’s cheap, and he’s productive — in his two years in the bigs, he’s No. 6 in all of baseball in wRC+, a historic start to a career. He clearly overcame some of 2013’s unfocused mistakes and even managed to hold down center field reasonably well enough when forced there late in the season, though obviously there were warts too — a bad second half slump, season-long issues with stealing bases, and a dreadful NLDS performance that ultimately ended with him surprisingly on the bench for the final game.

After finishing No. 24 in our 2013 Trade Value Series, he was No. 5 this year because again, “young, cheap, productive.” We’ve heard a whisper here and there that the Dodgers would be open to moving him, with speculation ranging from attitude issues to off-field concerns to the more tangible worry that his all-out style of play leaves him open to injury. It certainly can’t be ruled out, but it would take a pretty massive return. Let’s leave this alone and move on.

 5) Trade Scott Van Slyke.

Fine, I guess? But then also, does it matter? Van Slyke isn’t the road block here, either in dollars or in playing time, and he also adds some flexibility with the ability to back up Adrian Gonzalez at first base. We should probably note that after being DFA’d in the fall of 2012, Van Slyke has turned his career around and then some — in 455 career plate appearances, he’s hit 20 homers with a line of .261/.348/.476 and a wRC+ of 134.

It’s fair to note that possible overexposure would make him look a lot less appealing, and much of his damage has been done in carefully selected doses against lefty pitching. He deserves to play somewhere, though, and Steamer/600 sees him as a two-win player. If the Dodgers can get something of value for him, sure, okay. Otherwise, he’s not the issue here.

4) Trade Matt Kemp.

A year ago, the best I could say about the first two years of Kemp’s contract was that while disappointing, “it’s hardly been a Josh Hamilton-level disaster.” After rushing back after more offseason surgeries on his ankle and shoulder, Kemp had a nice enough 124 wRC+ through May 22 in New York, a date selected here because it was when the team finally could take no more of his poor center field play and pushed him to left — or at least they did five days later when he resurfaced after all but disappearing while trying to accept the move. Kemp later said he wanted to return to center, and Jeff rightfully smashed that to pieces.

Near the deadline, when the topic of moving Kemp came up, Jeff had thoughts on that too:

Based on my own little calculator, between 2015 – 2019, Kemp might be projected for a little over 8 WAR. He’d therefore be worth about $60 million, giving him a negative value of about $47 million. The easiest way to understand that: based on these numbers, it would make sense for the Dodgers to trade Matt Kemp for nothing, while eating $47 million.

Jeff was right! Jeff is mostly always right. An oft-injured, defensively-lacking outfielder with decent-but-not-elite offensive production (Kemp had a 122 wRC+ when Jeff wrote that) doesn’t have value. Except… wow, that second half. As I wrote about in September, a return to health — with his shoulder healed, he’s finally able to turn on the inside pitch — and a mechanical change made second-half Kemp the second-best hitter in baseball, behind only Buster Posey. Counting the entire year, he was No. 16 overall. He was so great in the second half that — here’s Jeff again — pitchers all but stopped challenging him.

So what, then, is Kemp? 1.8 WAR isn’t impressive, though it’s safe to say that he’s never playing center again, as he did poorly for the first two months. His late-season performance was outstanding enough that it would likely revive trade interest in him, though the $107m due him and the history of injuries would still make it tough for the Dodgers to find value in return. For better or worse, the best place for him is in the Dodger lineup, especially with Hanley Ramirez likely departing.

3) Trade Joc Pederson.

This could happen! It might still happen. Pederson is one of the top prospects in the game, ranked as No. 15 by MLB.com, and his 2014 performance (in an admittedly high-octane PCL) did nothing to diminish that. Should anyone be concerned by a 28.9% K rate in 38 scattered September plate appearances? Nah. Should anyone be concerned by 26.9% K rate in 553 Triple-A plate appearances? Well, maybe. There’s always going to be some swing-and-miss in his game; it’s how much that will determine if he’s a star.

With such an outfield glut, one could easily see the Dodgers trading Pederson to fill holes elsewhere. Trade from strength, right? The problem with that is that Pederson is really the only true center fielder the Dodgers have, and outfield defense was such a disaster for the team in 2014 that simply punting on that is problematic. Puig was adequate there but is still probably best served in a corner, so if the Dodgers deal Pederson… then what? You imagine that if trading Pederson was on the table, it might have happened at the deadline for badly-needed pitching, though obviously we’re talking about a new regime here. Pederson just might find himself back in Triple-A to start 2015.

2) Trade Andre Ethier

You thought this was going to be No. 1, didn’t you? So did I. The problem is that Ethier is probably immovable in ways not all that dissimilar to how Ryan Howard is immovable. As Keith Law said last week, “I’ve seen fast-food eggs that looked less done,” and while that’s obvious hyperbole, Ethier also hit as many homers as Madison Bumgarner did. 33 in April, Ethier is no longer young, and in 2014 he added a new component to his career-long inability to hit lefty pitching (75 wRC+): He failed to crush righty pitching. Ethier had long been a nice platoon part stretched as an every day player,  but this year, he was merely league-average (102 wRC+) against righties.

It’s a single year, obviously, and Steamer likes him to bounce back. Maybe so. But I’m honestly having a hard time finding even a bad contract swap for Ethier. Howard and B.J. Upton aren’t fits for positional reasons. The O’s wouldn’t swap Ubaldo Jimenez for him. In order to move Ethier, the Dodgers probably need to eat $50m of that $56m contract and get nothing back in return for doing so. It’s probably what they’ll need to do.

But…

1) Trade Carl Crawford.

… you know, it was pretty easy to ignore that Crawford actually had a decent season in 2014. A .300/.339/.429 line (119 wRC+) with 23 steals isn’t bad at all, and it came on the heels of a surprisingly quiet three-win 2013. Obviously, there have been injuries in each year, and like Ethier he’s a clear platoon player, and he’s disappeared for weeks at a time, but the stink of his time in Boston may have been too much. Crawford isn’t anything like the star he was in Tampa Bay. He’s just a reasonably useful player.

Obviously, he’s not being paid like one, so the Dodgers would need to eat a considerable amount of this contract as well. So why Crawford, rather than Ethier? Because while I’d certainly take Crawford as being better in 2015, his presence is a bit more of a roadblock. You can stick Ethier on the bench and spot him at any of the three positions with moderately acceptable defensive results. Crawford is limited by his weak arm to left field. For a team with an opening — looking at you Cincinnati? — at the position, maybe that’s not a problem. In Los Angeles, it is.

Hey, any way this goes, short of trading Puig or Pederson, Dodger fans are not going to like what they get in return. That should be a given at this point, though. A situation that was difficult last year is completely untenable this year. Something has to change, and the fact that a completely new front office is in place — Friedman & Zaidi didn’t acquire any of these players, obviously — is going to make that a whole lot easier.

* * *

Oh, and let’s not forget one other potential complication, too: 28-year-old Alex Guerrero, who definitely isn’t a shortstop and possibly isn’t an infielder at all. Guerrero put up a big offensive year in the minors (148 wRC+ in Triple-A) around being assaulted by Miguel Olivo, but his contract includes two fun clauses: one that says he can’t be sent to the minors after his first year, and another that says he can declare free agency at the end of any year in which he’s traded. The bat looks like it could be for real, he began playing outfield late in the year in Triple-A, and each of his three September appearances in the bigs came in left. The fun never ends!

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Mike Petriello used to write here, and now he does not. Find him at @mike_petriello or MLB.com.

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LHPSU
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LHPSU

Edwin Jackson is always on the front list of contract swaps, and the Cubs kind of have a need for both outfielders and bench players.

Doc Holliday
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Doc Holliday

The Cubs have about 6 or 7 prospects that will/could wind up getting their MLB ABs from the outfield. The one thing they need to do is not block any of those prospects.