Just who is going to start in center for the Dodgers?
Put me in, coach -- I’m ready to play today.
Look at me, I can be, center field.
And now for what is shaping up as the Dodgers’ most interesting decision, one still looming, that could be decided any day now or still hanging in early May:
Who is going to be their starting 2015 center fielder?
The Dodgers moved Matt Kemp, which is one less candidate in name only, but certainly one less outfielder. President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman made it clear a month ago he wanted to trade an outfielder, though it was generally presumed it would be Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.
“I think it was really important coming into the off-season to trade one,” Friedman said. “Now it’s just that we’re open-minded to different scenarios that make us a better team, whether it’s an outfielder or somewhere else. Now we’re kind of in a mode of being opportunistic and continuing to target guys that we like and feel that they fit us. What that means and how that plays out, I don’t know right now.”
That sounds honest. Ethier wants to start or be traded. Phenom Joc Pederson has done all he could at the triple-A level. The Dodgers are down an outfielder and still with a problem in center.
1) Start Pederson in center, Crawford in left, Yasiel Puig in right and put Ethier on the bench.
2) Start Ethier in center, Crawford in left, Puig in right and send Pederson back to the minors.
3) Start Puig in center, Crawford in left and Ethier in right.
Early lineup prognosticators seem to favor Crawford, Pederson and Puig starting and Ethier either being traded or sitting on the bench.
Friedman, however, is hesitant to say Pederson will be the team’s opening day center fielder. And there is really nothing for him to be gained by saying so now. If he did, he’s giving Pederson the position without his earning it and causing Ethier early anguish, two unnecessary results.
So while waiting to see if Ethier sparks any fresh trade interest from a team that’s decided it needs an additional bat, Friedman is going to let the Pederson-in-center thing play out.
“I don’t know yet,” Friedman said. “I think we’ll take some time in spring training and assess that, get a feel for him in camp and how he’s handling things. It’ll be a discussion we’ll have with the staff and I’m sure it will be an ongoing discussion between now through the last game in March.
“My guess is Puig would play there a decent amount. Ethier, [Enrique] Hernandez, Chris Heisey, we have different guys that can go out there.”
The problem is, should they trade Ethier and Pederson struggles, they could be in trouble. You almost would have to keep Ethier. He absolutely will not like it and be far from happy and cause Manager Don Mattingly a few maddening moments, but Ethier wouldn’t sour the clubhouse. He’s too much a loner. And though he was mostly great about his situation as the odd outfielder out last season, it’s not like he’s never been in a snit before.
It seems the most logical solution, though if Pederson struggles in the spring and it’s decided he’s not quite ready to start at the major-league level, then I’d still start Puig in center and put Crawford and Ethier in the corners. Puig was raw in center but showed great promise. Plus, there was no right-field railing/wall to crash in to.
Ethier is coming off the worst season of his career, but he’s only 32 and I grapple with the concept he’s suddenly done. Plus, the Dodgers have Scott Van Slyke and now Heisey to platoon against left-handers should they wish.
The Kemp trade made Ethier more valuable to the Dodgers, though probably not in a way he appreciates. Now they will want a little more in return and be willing to eat a little less of his $56-million contract. Or they could flirt with going from a surplus of outfielders to a shortage.
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