When Hyun-Jin Ryu makes his return from the disabled list on Wednesday, the Los Angeles Dodgers will be at full strength for the first time in years.
Perhaps a healthy roster will help the team escape from a funk that is nearing its second month.
The deep-pocketed Dodgers are treading water as they approach June, just two games over .500 heading into the final two games of this week's series against the New York Mets.
Granted, the team was in a more precarious position at this point last season. But Hanley Ramirez was recovering from a hamstring injury and Yasiel Puig hadn't even arrived yet.
Suffice it to say the Dodgers have underachieved so far this year. As Los Angeles' patience wears thin, the team may need to start making some tough decisions about how to shake things up.
One of the more common threads surrounding the Dodgers is their surplus of outfielders.
Los Angeles owes large sums of money to Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford and Puig for the foreseeable future, which means it will be difficult to trade one of them for, say, bullpen help.
The Dodgers bullpen leads the National League in innings pitched and is tied with the Chicago Cubs relief corps with 11 losses.
Yet, while it may seem like a good idea to ship away one of the four main outfielders, the statistics advise otherwise.
The Dodgers outfielders, including Scott Van Slyke, have the best on-base percentage of any group in the National League. Los Angeles outfielders also trail only the Colorado Rockies’ counterparts in slugging percentage.
Manager Don Mattingly has employed an outfield rotation that favors certain matchups while giving all of his outfielders multiple opportunities to start each week.
“I think it’s something you can win with,” Mattingly told The Orange County Register's Bill Plunkett. “I think that’s my job and in a sense their job and their responsibilities. My job is to try and continue to communicate. It’s their job as professionals to do their job even if they’re not happy."
Still, Los Angeles' 24-22 record is not making management and fans very happy so far.
A potential injury is one of the reasons why general manager Ned Colletti may be reluctant to deal one of his outfielders. With one gone and three left, an injury would suddenly expose a void not present with that extra outfielder.
However, the Dodgers' top outfield prospect Joc Pederson is tearing up Triple-A to the tune of a .361 batting average with 14 home runs. Los Angeles almost promoted Pederson last season but opted for Puig instead.
It's far from a lock that Pederson could replicate the way Puig broke into the majors last season, but he would sure be a solid option in the event that the Dodgers need to call him up after trading away the likes of Ethier, Crawford or even Kemp.
What To Do With Hanley Ramirez?
This is a two-part question. What should the Dodgers do with their shortstop in the short term, and what should they do with him in the long term?
Hanley Ramirez entered the week hitting a modest .251 with six home runs and 21 RBI as he tries to battle through a thumb injury he sustained back on April 26.
Since that game, Ramirez is slashing just .228/.307/.405.
Compare that to his .345/.402/.638 totals from last season and the drop-off is very apparent.
If Ramirez played with a cracked rib in the National League Championship Series last October, he's not about to sit down because of a sore thumb.
The problem is that it's difficult for players to produce at a high level when they are not fully healthy. In the case of Ramirez, it will probably get worse before it gets better.
The team may want to think about placing Ramirez on the 15-day disabled list to address a short-term concern.
That way, the shortstop will be able to rest, recover and return at full strength—something that will undoubtedly help Ramirez and the Dodgers come to an agreement about his long-term future in Los Angeles.
Ramirez is in the final year of a $70 million contract, per Baseball Prospectus, $16 million of which is owed to him this season.
The Dodgers would obviously love to re-sign Ramirez after he helped power the team to the brink of the World Series last season.
But at what price?
It is thought that the shortstop is asking for a contract worth $130 million, according to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com
Ramirez and the Dodgers have been discussing this potential deal for the past several weeks, but there is still a considerable gap between the two parties, per Heyman.
Where will Hanley Ramirez be playing next season?
Offensively, Ramirez has remained an above-average shortstop despite his performance so far this season. While the Dodgers could live with his subpar defense—only one shortstop in the National League has more than his seven errors—the main concern has to do with Ramirez's recent injury history.
He has been unable to stay on the field for more than 100 games in two of the past three seasons.
Los Angeles may opt to reduce the wear and tear on Ramirez's body by sliding him to third base. The problem there is that Juan Uribe currently occupies the position and he just re-upped with the Dodgers for two more seasons.
As of now, the talks are ongoing. But the longer the negotiations drag into the summer, the more inclined Ramirez will be to test the market at season's end. What's more, the Dodgers do not want to overpay for Ramirez when they have a $28 million investment developing in Triple-A.
Is Alex Guerrero Ready?
The Dodgers' primary backup in case they can't reach a deal with Ramirez is currently slashing .368/.411/.737 at Triple-A.
Los Angeles signed Alex Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million contract over the winter in the hopes that the Cuban defector could take over as the starting second baseman.
It didn't go quite according to plan for the Dodgers and Guerrero, who arrived late to the United States before suffering two hamstring injuries in winter ball.
Dee Gordon, a shortstop-turned-second-baseman like Guerrero, eventually won the job with an impressive spring and hasn't looked back.
That means Guerrero is now faced with the possibility of another position switch if he wants to stick with the big league club.
With all of the talk surrounding Ramirez's contract negotiations, it's worth noting that Guerrero curiously started at shortstop on Monday night for the first time all season with the Albuquerque Isotopes.
Perhaps the the feeling deep within organization is that Ramirez may not be with the club next season and Guerrero is his heir apparent. After all, the Dodgers did spend a lot of money to bring him to Los Angeles.
With almost two months gone in the 2014 season, Guerrero's big league opportunity still hinges on whether or not Gordon can keep it up and if Ramirez will spend some time on the shelf.
Until then, the 27-year-old Guerrero will continue to develop in Albuquerque while trying to avoid additional ear-biting fiascos with veteran teammates.