Los Angeles Dodgers: Predicting What Starting Lineup Will Look Like Next Year
As the Dodgers continue to roll along in the latter stages of the season, there is still one lingering question that has yet to be addressed this season.
How will Don Mattingly, and more importantly the front office, deal with the surplus of starting outfielders once Matt Kemp returns healthy?
A variety of injuries to Kemp and Carl Crawford in unison with the passing of the non-waiver trade deadline have allowed the Dodgers to temporarily skimp over the impending issue.
Although the team won't have to address the matter this season, it will certainly have to do so in 2014, as having two starting right fielders in Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig presents the team with a roster dilemma.
Beyond the unavoidable conflict in the outfield, the Dodgers will likely also make some other moves based on the expiration of a few contracts.
Here's a prediction of what the Dodgers' starting lineup will look like in 2014.
1) Carl Crawford, LF
However, Crawford quickly snuffed any doubts about the caliber of his play by putting on a hitting display in the early stages of the season.
While he hit a rough patch coming back from a hamstring injury, the 32-year-old outfielder has otherwise been steady at the plate for the Blue Crew (.290 BA .340 OBP 5 HR 21 RBI).
Crawford has filled the Dodgers longstanding void in the leadoff spot and is holding his own in left field, which has cemented his spot in next year's starting lineup.
2) Yasiel Puig, RF
In his first five major-league games, Yasiel Puig hit four home runs and drove in nine runs.
The anticipation surrounding Puig was warranted. He's a phenom, and perhaps one of the next great power-hitting outfielders—if he can keep a level head.
In his abbreviated rookie season, the 22-year-old Cuban sensation has hit 11 home runs and driven in 27 runs, maintaining an outstanding .352 batting average and .412 on-base percentage.
To complement his fascinating five-tool skills, which have been displayed when he doubles off a runner from the warning track or stretches a routine single into a double, Puig also brings tremendous energy to the club and is often credited for being the catalyst for their recent hot streak.
Unfortunately, this suggests that longtime Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier will be on his way out in the offseason.
3) Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Adrian Gonzalez has found a home in Los Angeles.
In line with the power-hitting first baseman's illustrious career, he has thrived as a member of the Dodgers, and has carried the team offensively all season long.
Although the Blue Crew is now chugging along in the latter stages of the season, Gonzalez was the Dodgers' only consistent offensive producer in the beginning of the season, which helped them from slipping even further out of contention in the National League West.
Gonzalez's performance at the plate and in the field has ensured that the Dodgers will keep him in the lineup next season.
4) Hanley Ramirez, SS
Hanley Ramirez is another Dodgers player in his first full season with the team who will be gladly welcomed back for a second.
While the hoopla has followed Puig, Ramirez has had an equally fantastic season, which has been cut short by injuries.
Playing several fewer games than Puig, the 29-year-old Dominican shortstop has hit just as many home runs as him (12) and has driven in significantly more runs (Ramirez: 39, Puig 28) and also boasts a higher OPS (Ramirez: 1.012, Puig: .979).
In addition to his prolific offense, Ramirez has also assured the Dodgers that he can still hold his own at shortstop.
5) Matt Kemp, CF
Matt Kemp is expected to return from an ankle injury within the next two weeks, and when he does, the Dodgers will finally have all of their four star outfielders healthy (hopefully).
Fortunately for Kemp, this won't be a dilemma for him, as he is still considered the Dodgers franchise player and is the only true center fielder on the team.
Although he's had a subpar season, in which he's intermittently been sidelined due to various injuries, the Dodgers are expecting Kemp to be back to his normal self in the 2014 season.
6) Chase Headley, 3B
After two miserable seasons, Juan Uribe has surprised the Dodgers with a good season at the plate and a stellar performance at the hot corner.
Nonetheless, the Dodgers won't take another gamble with Uribe by keeping him as their starting third baseman for the 2014 season.
The two reasons behind this are simple. 1) Uribe is 34 now and has had trouble with injuries in his tenure as a Dodger, and 2) His contract is up this year.
With Uribe out, the Dodgers will pursue a talented third baseman in exchange for Ethier, and the San Diego Padres' Chase Headley is a perfect candidate to take over.
7) A.J. Ellis, C
With the surplus of hefty contracts the Dodgers have accrued, which have subsequently strapped them with the largest payroll in MLB history, they need a few small contracts to balance it out.
For that reason, Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis will stick around behind the plate for the Blue Crew.
Ellis is not only a steady hitter with excellent plate discipline (6 HR, 42 RBI, 36 BB, .251 BA, .332 OBP), but is also a good defensive catcher.
He is also a financial bargain for the Dodgers, as he only made $2 million this season.
8) Mark Ellis, 2B
Although he was slowed down by an early-season injury, Mark Ellis has had another solid season at second base for the Dodgers.
Like his namesake A.J., Mark is a valuable asset to the Dodgers. He is not only a great defensive second baseman, but has also been consistently clutch at the plate this season.
In his second season with the Boys in Blue, Ellis has amped up his approach in the box and is putting up power numbers (6 HR 40 RBI in 94 games) that he hasn't achieved since his 2009 season with the A's.
More importantly for the Dodgers, Ellis is contracted to make $5.8 million in 2014.
1) Clayton Kershaw
Unless contract negotiations between Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers fall to pieces, the lefty ace will be their Opening Day starter.
Kershaw is the best left-handed pitcher in baseball and will become the highest-paid pitcher in history, exceeding teammate Zack Greinke's colossal six-year, $147-million contract.
Although the Dodgers are well above the luxury tax threshold, they will dish out the necessary cash to sign Kershaw to a hefty contract.
The front office has seen his sample of work and understand that he's on pace to become the next great Dodgers pitcher.
2) Zack Greinke
Zack Greinke has hit a few obstacles during his first season with the Dodgers—figuratively and physically—but he's molded in to a reliable starter and has flashed dominance at times.
Greinke still has to prove that he's worth $25 million per year, but he's shaping to be a dependable No. 2 or middle-rotation starter.
3) Hyun-Jin Ryu
Hyun-Jin Ryu entered his rookie season with high expectations, which usually proves daunting for an international player.
He has not only handled the pressure of being a major-league pitcher incredibly well but has also exceeded all the lofty expectations.
In his first season playing in the U.S., the 26-year-old South Korean lefty has kept on pace with aces Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke in the wins (12) and ERA (2.95) columns.
If Ryu can keep up his current pace, he'll be wearing a Dodger uniform for a very long time.
4) Chad Billingsley
Yes, that name should ring a bell. You remember? That guy who pitched two games this season and then had season-ending surgery on his elbow?
With all the excitement going on for the Dodgers right now, we've hardly taken notice of those who haven't been able to partake in all the festivities.
Now that the longtime Dodgers righty has sorted out his elbow issues (hopefully, for good) with Tommy John surgery, the team hopes that he can be an integral part of the rotation again in 2014.
5) Josh Beckett
Josh Beckett has proven to be the riskiest asset involved in last August's blockbuster trade between the Dodgers and the Red Sox that also brought over Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto.
At this juncture, with Beckett now out for the season after suffering a concerning injury to a nerve in his hand, the Dodgers would likely prefer to shop the veteran righty.
The only roadblock to that route is Beckett's hefty contract, which at $15.75 million won't attract any bidders.
Thus, Josh Beckett will remain a Dodger for at least the beginning of the 2014 season.
This also entails two other actions: 1) Lefty Chris Capuano will be traded, and 2) Ricky Nolasco will be treated as a rental, won't be re-signed, and will enter free agency.