After 13 months of debate and discussion about how to fit four starting outfielders into three spots, the Dodgers finally have an answer.
Yasiel Puig plays right field, Andre Ethier center, Matt Kemp left.
Carl Crawford? Left out.
The Dodgers flew home Wednesday after a dispiriting two-game sweep in Detroit, capped by a 4-1 loss to defending American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer and the Tigers.
The Tigers won Wednesday despite a lineup that did not include Miguel Cabrera or Victor Martinez, their top two bats. They spotted the Dodgers five runs in the first inning Tuesday, then outscored them 18-1 over the final 17 innings of the series.
“We got humbled these two days,” catcher A.J. Ellis said.
Crawford could be activated as soon as Thursday, which could leave Manager Don Mattingly with an unhappy bench player. Mattingly said he would speak with Crawford about his role, but said he is “not really planning any big changes” and noted the Dodgers had ascended to first place in the National League West with a set outfield. San Francisco moved percentage points ahead Wednesday night.
“Everybody is happier,” Mattingly said. “They don’t have to come to the ballpark looking for the lineup card.”
The Dodgers were 29-24 (.547) when Crawford went on the disabled list. They are 22-18 (.550) since then, including 19-11 (.633) in the last 30 games.
Mattingly said Crawford bears no blame for the situation.
“Carl happened to be the one who got hurt,” Mattingly said.
However, Kemp is batting .289 since becoming the everyday left fielder May 28, when the Dodgers put Crawford on the disabled list.
Is there any thought of moving Kemp back to center field?
“Not right now,” Mattingly said.
Could Crawford play another position?
“Carl pretty much plays left,” Mattingly said.
Crawford, 32, a four-time All-Star, considers himself an everyday player, and the Dodgers would not be opposed to accommodating him with a trade. Scott Van Slyke has proven himself as a capable fourth outfielder, and top prospect Joc Pederson returned Wednesday from a separated shoulder at triple-A Albuquerque.
However, if Crawford were traded at the July 31 deadline, he would have $69 million left on his contract — $6.75 million for the last two months of this season, and $62.25 million through 2017.
So, to trade Crawford and his big contract, the Dodgers might have to take on another big contract. The Dodgers are looking for a starting pitcher. If the Philadelphia Phillies decide to move Cole Hamels, the Dodgers could see whether Crawford could be part of a trade package.
If Hamels was traded at the July 31 deadline, he would have $103.5 million left on his contract, through 2018, when he would be 34. The difference between the money left on the contracts — $34.5 million — could allow the Dodgers room to pay some of Crawford’s contract and acquire a top pitcher without spending the money to sign the likes of Scherzer or David Price in free agency. That money could be diverted toward retaining Zack Greinke, who can opt out of his contract after next season.
The Dodgers would have to include top prospects, of course. And Crawford’s unsettling experience in the rugged Boston market might well make Philadelphia apprehensive. But the last-place Phillies insist they are not embarking on a long rebuilding process, and their left fielders rank last in the National League in batting average (.207), on-base percentage (.273) and slugging percentage (.299).
No contract is untradeable. Vernon Wells was traded twice on a supposedly untradeable contract.
But the vast majority of trade scenarios never come to pass. In the near future, that could leave Crawford as a pinch-hitter.
In 35 career at-bats as a pinch-hitter, he is batting .114.