Predicting the Los Angeles Dodgers' Starting Lineup Next Season
With the Dodgers on the ropes in the 2013 NLCS and a new set of rumors surrounding Cuban infielder Alexander Guerrero courtesy of CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman, some uncertainty clouds the future of the organization.
The roster won’t look substantially different than it does right now, though. With Juan Uribe the only Dodger regular who isn’t under contract for next season, GM Ned Colletti doesn’t have very much flexibility to make any changes. It’s good, then, that each of their starters posted a WAR of at least 1.8.
Carl Crawford, LF
Crawford had a nice bounce-back year in 2013, with a .283/.329/.407 line that made him a more valuable player than he was in his two years in Boston combined. He is no longer the elite player that he was in his prime with Tampa Bay, so if there is any chance the Dodgers can trade him, expect Colletti to jump at the opportunity.
Yasiel Puig, RF
Puig has taken the league by storm in his rookie season. His .925 OPS is the second-highest among qualified Dodgers, and he has been a stunning find for a Dodger team that had been hamstrung by the absence of Matt Kemp. His emergence as the every-day right fielder has made Colletti’s job a little bit easier: a cost-controlled ($6 million per year) outfielder allows the front office to attempt to keep the payroll in a relatively reasonable situation.
Hanley Ramirez, SS
The only question surrounding Ramirez is his health: he played in only 86 games this year after playing 92 in 2011. His hitting prowess has come back to levels previously unseen: his 190 OPS+ this year is far above his 2007 career high of 145. And while no one reasonably expects him to be that good over the course of a full season, he should still be good enough at the plate to make up for his subpar defense.
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
If we recalibrate our expectations for Gonzalez, he really is quite a good player. Unfortunately for the Dodgers, he will no longer reach the heights of his peak, when he slugged over .500 for six straight years. But even with his depressed power the last two years, he has been one of the league’s best and most durable first basemen. Therefore, although he is not quite the home run threat he was with San Diego, he is still a valuable hitter to have in the middle of a lineup. As one of only two left-handed bats among the Dodger starters, he provides a much-needed balance.
Matt Kemp, CF
Kemp’s health in 2014 is a huge question. After being remarkably durable for the first four full years of his career, he has played just 179 games over the past two. But he’s still just two years removed from the best season of his career (172 OPS+), and the Dodgers have to be hoping they can get someone who is a legitimate center fielder back in their outfield.
Andre Ethier has filled in admirably this year, but he doesn’t have the athletic ability or speed to cover as much ground as is needed. His whiff on a Carlos Beltran fly ball in Game 1 of the NLCS stands out as an example of his poor defense.
Juan Uribe, 3B
Without question, Uribe was the biggest shock of the 2013 season. After being absolutely horrible in 2011 and 2012 (.204/.264/.293 and .191/.258/.284), he came back and was worth 5.1 wins per FanGraphs’ WAR statistic.
Whether or not this was just a dead-cat bounce remains to be seen. However, there are no other viable free agent third basemen, so expect Uribe to be back in Dodger blue.
Alexander Guerrero, 2B
As Mike Petriello wrote on his excellent blog Mike Scioscia's Tragic Illness, the Guerrero saga is getting out of hand. The Dodgers have reportedly signed him twice, once in July and once in September. With recent reports from CBS’s Jon Heyman that the Dodgers are back in on him, expect that the two sides will reach an agreement.
While Guerrero is a huge unknown, the Dodgers have had success with another Cuban import (see: Puig, Yasiel), so it wouldn’t be shocking for them to return to that well. The other big name second baseman available is the Yankees’ Robinson Cano, but a potential deal with Guerrero would cost about $40 million. Cano will expect upwards of $200 million.
A.J. Ellis, C
A truly feel-good story, Ellis has emerged as a solid everyday catcher. His 95 wRC+ (FanGraphs’ cumulative offensive statistic, where 100 is league average) ranks fourteenth among qualified catchers, so he is a solid, low-cost option (he is arbitration-eligible this year) for a team filled with high-priced stars. As the eighth-place hitter in a National League lineup, Ellis is more than capable of holding his own.