Who should be the Dodgers' starting left fielder?
Well, this is a complicated answer.
The Candidates (as per their current 40-man roster)
Tony Gwynn, Jr.
Scott Van Slyke
Because all of these candidates are on the 40-man roster, they all have to be considered. However, Van Slyke and Silverio don't figure to get playing time early in the season, although they could steal some at-bats in September when the dugouts get crowded.
The true candidates are Rivera, Sands, Oeltjen and Gwynn.
Based on playing time in 2011, the games started splits come out to be like this:
Rivera: 54 G, 214 PA, 5 HR, 33 RBI, .258 AVG, .327 OBP, .384 SLG, .711 OPS
Sands: 39 G, 138 PA, 1 HR, 14 RBI, .248 AVG, .328 OBP, .355 SLG, .684 OPS
Oeltjen: 10 G, 26 PA, 1 HR, 1 RBI, .136 AVG, .240 OBP, .273 SLG, .513 OPS
Gwynn: 89 G, 291 PA, 2 HR, 16 RBI, .255 AVG, .304 OBP, .352 SLG, .657 OPS
These are awful statistics. According to Baseball Prospectus' Kevin Goldstein, the average OPS for a corner outfielder is .819. The only one that has a shot at meeting this kind of production is Sands, but in order for him to gain regular playing time, he will have to prove that he is the left fielder of the future and also that his defense will be a positive contribution to the Dodgers, not a negative one.
If Sands gets 500-600 AB's (considered a full-time player) and his numbers stay fairly in line with his minor league numbers, he should post something like this:
29 HR, 88 RBI, .278 AVG, .344 AVG, .586 SLG, .931 OPS
And hypothetically, the Dodgers have a star in the waiting. If he slugs .586 like he did at Triple-A, he would tie for third in the majors (with Matt Kemp and Miguel Cabrera) and above such players as Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and Carlos Gonzalez. Crazy stuff, right?
The major problem with this theory is Juan Rivera. He is making $4 million this season, with a $4 million team option for the '13 season with a $500,000 buyout. Compared to Sands' salary of the league minimum $480,000.
With such a price increase between the two players, Rivera is practically guaranteed playing time. Whether it may be at first base or left field, he is going to get at least 250 AB. Hopefully, these all come at the expense of James Loney, particularly against left-handed pitchers. Rivera hit .289 with a .805 OPS against lefties, whereas Loney hit a paltry .213 with a .561 OPS against lefties.
This is a direct platoon situation that Mattingly should be facing, but of course, with the two combined to make $10.375 million, he will have to get both into the lineup as much as possible. Concurrently, if the Dodgers were able to spend that cool $10.375 million on any first baseman in the league, they would be able to (hypothetically) afford Joey Votto, Adrian Gonzalez or Carlos Pena and would still have enough money to employ someone of the likes of Freddie Freeman.
Too bad that situation will never arise. Just a thought...