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Dodgers Dugout: Will Matt Kemp make the Dodger roster?

Matt Kemp
Matt Kemp
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, and welcome to another edition of Dodgers Dugout. My name is Houston Mitchell and it’s only 20 days until the season starts.

Will Matt Kemp make the Dodger roster?

When the Dodgers traded Adrian Gonzalez, Brandon McCarthy and Charlie Culberson to the Atlanta Braves for Matt Kemp, the prevailing theory (one the Dodgers did not go out of their way to deny) was that Kemp would either be traded or released. Why? Because the deal was mainly about trading three bad contracts for one and the fact Kemp stopped being a good player about two years ago. His arthritic hip has left him virtually immobile on defense and his only value on offense is occasional power.

As the weeks went on, however, the Dodgers didn’t release him and no one was knocking down their door to trade for him, so the team kept him around.

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Now, we are in spring training and a funny thing has happened: Kemp showed up in great shape and has been a fan favorite at games. He has gone seven for 21 with three homers and seems to be running better. Suddenly, Kemp is in the mix to make the roster on opening day.

The other options the Dodgers have in left are Kiké Hernandez, Alex Verdugo, Joc Pederson and Andrew Toles.

The betting favorite for left field had been a platoon of Hernandez and Pederson, but Pederson is four for 25 with eight strikeouts this spring. Verdugo is eight for 21, but is still young and can be sent to the minors. Toles is also playing great, going seven for 20 with a triple and two homers. The Dodgers had mentioned the possibility of Toles staying behind for extended spring training since he hasn’t played for almost a year, but it really doesn’t look like he needs to do that.

So, what will the Dodgers do? Since no one wants to trade for him, and they are going to have to pay him more than $20 million whether they play him or release him, why not start with him on the roster and see what he does? If he plays poorly, you can always release him during the season. Might as well see what he has left.

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The other problem is, with the Dodgers probably carrying 12 pitchers on the roster, that leaves only five spots on the bench. Chase Utley and Hernandez are locks. That leaves three spots. The second catcher (either Austin Barnes or Yasmani Grandal) takes one of those spots. That leaves Kemp, Toles, Pederson and Verdugo for the last two spots. Who would the Dodgers pick? If the season started today, I’d go with Kemp and Toles.

But the season doesn’t start today, it starts March 29. The next 20 days will determine who makes the team, but don’t be surprised if Matt Kemp is the opening day left fielder.

NL West rankings: the first basemen

A word on stats before we begin. OPS+ takes a player’s on-base plus slugging percentage and compares it to the league average. It also takes into account the player’s home field, so a hitter that plays in a pitcher’s park gets a slight boost, and vice versa. An OPS+ of 100 means he was an average hitter. 110 means he is 10% better than average, 90 means 10% worse.

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WAR takes all of a player’s contributions on offense and defense and tells you how many wins that player is worth to the team versus “What if that player was injured and the team had to replace him with a minor leaguer.”

As always, keep in mind that there is no one stat that gives you a full picture of a player and since I don’t want to bore you by just listing a ton of numbers, I pick five or six that give you a general idea of what kind of player each person was last season.

1. Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks (.297/.404/.563/140 OPS+/6.4 WAR). Goldschmidt is the player the Dodgers hope Cody Bellinger will become: A Gold Glove level defender who draws a lot of walks and hits 30+ homers every season. Goldschmidt is also good for about 20 steals a season. And he kills the Dodgers, hitting 28 homers against them in his career, more than he has hit against any other team. I’d love to point out a flaw in his game, but I don’t think he has one. OK, there is one: His nickname “Goldy” is pretty lame.

2. Cody Bellinger, Dodgers (.267/.352/.581/142/4.8). The big question Bellinger faces this season is this: Did the Astros expose a flaw during the World Series by constantly giving him low, inside breaking pitches that he wouldn’t lay off of or was it just fatigue from a long season for a rookie? Will he be able to lay off that pitch? There’s no reason to think he won’t, because he made smart adjustments all season to whatever pitchers were giving him. And don’t forget, he’s only 22. It’s too bad Adrian Gonzalez cratered last season, because having the Gonzalez of only two seasons ago at first with Bellinger in left field would make the Dodgers unbeatable.

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3. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres (.315/.385/.492/132/3.6). Hosmer picked the right time to have his best season, parlaying his 2017 numbers into an eight-year, $144-million deal with the Padres, pushing incumbent first baseman Wil Myers to the outfield. Hosmer is good, but not great and his numbers will probably take a hit because he will be playing half his games in Petco Park. But he has won multiple Gold Gloves at first and has a World Series ring, which is more than you can say for the other first basemen on this list.

4. Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants (.241/.355/.469/117/3.4). Belt sustained his third concussion in his last four seasons when he was hit in the head by a pitch on Aug. 4. He was put on the disabled list and did not play for the rest of the season. Before that he was putting together his typical season featuring good defense, a good batting eye and moderate power. But having that many concussions in a relatively short time makes you wonder if he can come back at 100%. Here’s hoping he can.

5. Ryan McMahon, Colorado Rockies (.158/.333/.211/40/0.1). Forget those numbers, because he only has had 24 plate appearances in the majors. McMahon is expected to do big things for the Rockies. In triple-A last season, he hit .374/.411/.611 and the first base job is his to lose this spring. If he doesn’t get the job, then Ian Desmond plays first for the Rockies, and if you are a Rockies fan, you don’t want that to happen. McMahon cut down on his strikeouts last season (from 161 in 2016 to 92 in 2017) and that is a big indicator that McMahon has the talent for the majors. His potential is probably just a notch below Goldschmidt and Bellinger, but there’s nothing wrong with that.’

Thank you

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After my note about the “greatest Dodgers” countdown, I received a lot of emails from readers who enjoy the countdown. Thanks to all of you who wrote me. And thanks to you who didn’t write but thought good things! The countdown will indeed continue on Monday, with No. 8.

Ask Ross Porter

Former Dodgers announcer Ross Porter will be back this season to answer select reader questions. To send a question to Ross, email me and I will pass it on to him. Please include “Ask Ross Porter” in the subject line.

And finally

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Inside the Dodgers’ failed bid for Shohei Ohtani. Read all about it here.

Have a comment or something you’d like to see in a future Dodgers newsletter? Email me and follow me on Twitter: @latimeshouston.


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