The Los Angeles Dodgers were trade- and sign-happy last season, but they didn't delve too deeply into the free-agent pool this time around. After 2012's spending frenzy, they already had most of the pieces they wanted in place, so re-signing guys like Juan Uribe became the priority.
With a move to get Cuban second baseman Alexander Guerrero and the reluctance to trade away one of the team's four starting outfielders, general manager Ned Colletti has himself quite a good problem in Los Angeles—nine starters for eight lineup spots.
We know that Hanley Ramirez, Yasiel Puig, and Adrian Gonzalez will stack the middle of the batting order and that Uribe and A.J. Ellis will bring up the rear. But where do the other three outfielders and Guerrero fit into the mix?
Assuming all four outfielders (Puig, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier) suit up on Opening Day with clean bills of health, the following slides will be a prediction of manager Don Mattingly's 2014 Opening Day lineup.
I'd love to see Puig in this spot, but I wouldn't trust him there full-time until he cuts down on his strikeout total.
That being said, he showed a remarkable improvement in plate discipline down the stretch and in the playoffs and would likely lead off when Crawford is getting a rest.
But in the 120-plus starts the Dodgers surely hope to get from Crawford, he has to be the leadoff man. He's not your prototypical contact-hitting speedster anymore, but he does put the ball in play and can set the table better than most in this lineup.
Crawford will be an integral part of the Dodgers' success in 2014 if he can stay healthy. With so many potent bats immediately following the leadoff hitter, Crawford has to find ways to get on base and give the heart of the order chances to bring him around.
There really is no better option than Crawford.
Puig hit anywhere from first to sixth last year, and he did damage in every single spot. The young Cuban still has plenty of flaws in his game to fix, but there's no denying the pop he can provide.
Though, again, the Dodgers don't really have a prototypical No. 2 hitter, don't expect many station-to-station innings from the top of the order. They're designed to hit for power and extra-base hits and to score in flurries.
With that in mind, Puig is the ideal No. 2, because he'll provide protection for the other big bats behind him and can utilize his speed to swipe bases, beat out double-play balls, and keep pitchers off-balance when he's on base.
I'm a proponent of hitting your best hitter in the three-hole, even if just to force the opposing starter to face that batter in the first inning. If that pitcher's rhythm and confidence can be disrupted before his offense even gets a chance, it will give the Dodgers an early advantage.
And there's nobody better than Ramirez on this roster to really inflict pain with the bat.
Ramirez, if not for a couple lengthy disabled list stints, would have made a strong case for National League MVP in 2013. He hits for average and power and looks like the superstar hitter we all saw on the Marlins now that he's gotten a fresh start in L.A.
Ramirez is the kind of guy who will bring in runs in clutch situations and also start rallies on his own. He's an ideal No. 3 hitter because of the power he brings, but his swagger and intimidation shouldn't be undervalued.
Gonzalez and Ramirez are really the only two players who should be locked in at the same slot in the order all season long. A-Gon will be the second-best power and RBI man the Dodgers have. He should see an increase on his 100-RBI 2013 season.
The Dodgers' first baseman will be locked in to the cleanup spot as the slightly less dangerous middle-of-the-order hitter behind Ramirez.
In some ways, Gonzalez can be even more valuable with his ability to spray the ball to every inch of the field and hit lefties at a strong rate.
No matter who hits at the top of the order (it will always be Puig and someone else—Crawford, Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and A.J. Ellis are the most likely candidates), having the Ramirez-Gonzalez gauntlet in the third and fourth spots will be hell for opposing teams.
Assuming Kemp is ready for Opening Day of the 2014 season, he'll most likely hit fifth. If he comes back and plays like he did in short stints between injuries in 2013, the Dodgers have an elite No. 3 hitting two spots below that.
If Kemp is still hurting or struggling to regain form, he'll likely have the chance to face pitchers who are distracted with runners on base, which may provide more opportunity for the former All-Star to get back in his groove.
Given that he's missed most of the last two seasons with injuries, Kemp is likely to be eased back into action, which means that he'll split time here with Ethier. But when a lefty starter is on the hill, a top four of Puig, Kemp (.342 career batting average vs. lefties), Ramirez and Gonzalez is just unfair.
This is where it starts to get interesting.
Uribe could hit anywhere from fifth to eighth, depending on the situation. Chances are he'll start off in the six-hole, based on his surprisingly good production in 2013 and the question marks in the order behind him.
Nobody knows what Guerrero is going to bring the table in 2014, if he even starts the season at the major league level. But, if he lives up to the hype and becomes a solid contributor, this spot could be all his.
For now, it belongs to Uribe.
As he continues to age, Uribe's 2013 season will look more and more like a fluke, but he can still be a very productive, albeit streaky, hitter for the Dodgers. Fifteen-to-20 home run potential isn't a bad thing this far down in the order; the Dodgers just hope he can produce at that level.
This seems like a decent place to start Guerrero, a rookie with a fabulous skill set but no proven history in the big leagues yet.
He's struggled with a couple minor injuries in fall ball, but he had a decent debut against that level of competition.
Guerrero could very well disappoint and be dropped out of the lineup altogether, even though the Dodgers are short on backup infielders. Even if he does struggle, the Dodgers could stick with the young second baseman and drop him to the eighth spot in the order.
Either way, they're hoping to strike it rich again with their second signing of a young Cuban player in as many offseasons. If Guerrero can provide a little pop and hit in the mid-.250s while rounding out with above-average on-base and slugging percentages, Dodgers fans should be feeling very good about him.
After a good 2012 season, Ellis wore down in the second half of 2013 in his first full year as a starter. The wear and tear showed on both sides of the ball. His famously high on-base percentage dipped and his defense suffered down the stretch.
Still, Ellis recovered and came on strong at the very end of the season. He had some key hits in the playoffs for the Dodgers.
He's on the team for his clubhouse presence and rapport with the pitching staff, but that extra bit of offense might not necessarily return.
That being said, nobody really expects much from the No. 8 spot in the lineup, regardless of who is hitting there. If Ellis can continue to get on base at a decent rate and come up with some clutch hits, nobody will complain about his contribution.