Dave Roberts says Dodgers still need to add a proven right-handed hitter
Three weeks remain until Dodgers pitchers and catchers report for spring training at Camelback Ranch in Arizona. Traditionally, clubs are applying the finishing touches to their rosters at this point. But the last two offseasons have bucked convention. The hot stove is still churning, big names remain unsigned, and the Dodgers, as active as any club in baseball this offseason, have more on their checklist.
“We have a lot of depth, and to make the trades that we’ve made it allowed for runway for some younger players that need opportunities,” Roberts said Monday morning before serving as grand marshal of the Kingdom Day Parade in Los Angeles. “But I don’t think we’re done.”
Roberts specified adding an established right-handed bat as a need. It’s one the Dodgers generated by trading Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp, two right-handed-hitting outfielders, to the Cincinnati Reds, and not re-signing switch-hitting catcher Yasmani Grandal. The trio combined for 67 home runs last season.
“The left-handed hitters that we have, the defense, with the addition of [Corey] Seager with us, is going to be huge,” Roberts said. “But now to kind of balance out the lineup with a right-handed bat, probably makes it a little better.”
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Roberts’ affirmation comes after reports surfaced that the Dodgers are targeting free-agent center fielder A.J. Pollock, a right-handed hitter who spent his first seven major league seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Pollock enjoyed a career season in 2015, batting .315 with an .865 on-base-plus-slugging percentage, 20 home runs, six triples and 39 stolen bases. But elbow, groin, hand and thumb injuries plagued him the last three seasons and he hasn’t been the same offensive threat. Last season, he batted .257 with 21 home runs and an .800 OPS. However, his defense in center field remains elite, according to most metrics.
Chris Taylor and Enrique Hernandez are the only two right-handed-hitting outfield options on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster. Their other four outfielders — Cody Bellinger, Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo, and Andrew Toles — are left-handed batters. Trading Kemp and Puig could allow the Dodgers to give Verdugo, their top prospect, regular playing time.
“There’s only so many at-bats to go around,” Roberts said.
Roberts said shortstop Seager, who sat out most of last season because of elbow and hip injuries, would be “100% ready to go” for spring training. Behind the plate, Austin Barnes and Russell Martin, whom the Dodgers re-acquired this month, are slated to split time.
Martin, who turns 36 next month, had his worst season in 2018 with the Toronto Blue Jays. The Dodgers are counting on a bounce-back season from the veteran before he hits free agency next offseason.
“I think the leadership in the clubhouse and the defensive metrics still make sense,” Roberts said of Martin. “And I think there’s an upside to the bat. The at-bat quality … the quality of contact is still there. It was his worst season offensively, but we’re betting on the upside to pair with Austin.”
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