The Dodgers Have A Good Outfield Problem

Shane Victorino was recently asked if he would return to the Dodgers in a part-time role next season. One of the many pieces the Dodgers added near the trade deadline, the former all-star centerfielder was adamant that he’ll seek regular playing time in his next deal. Given Victorino’s sentiments and the crowded Dodgers outfield, his return likely isn’t in the cards. However, the Dodgers may need someone like him over the next year or two as an insurance policy on Carl Crawford or a stopgap until Yasiel Puig is ready.

When the Dodgers acquired Crawford, along with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez …and Nick Punto in last week’s megadeal, they put the finishing touches on a very expensive outfield for the foreseeable future.

The move didn’t come without consequences. In addition to the hefty contracts now on the books, the Dodgers created a positional logjam that may prove difficult to solve without eating salary or making subsequent trades.

As it currently stands, Crawford is set to play left field for another five years. He will make around $102 million over that span. Andre Ethier will man right field and just signed a five-year, $85 million extension through 2017. Matt Kemp is on the books at $160 million over eight years and has center field locked up. The Dodgers would have a difficult time moving any of these players if they were so inclined. Crawford, the likely odd man out of the bunch, wouldn’t bring back much either, even if the Dodgers paid most of his bill.

What complicates matters is twofold: Crawford’s health and the signing of Puig.

The Dodgers signed Puig to a seven-year, $42 million deal this season. He spent August between Rookie Ball and High-A, and produced a .433 wOBA at the latter. He is at least a year and a half away, but is being groomed for a corner outfield spot. Assuming his progress remains on track, the Dodgers will face an interesting dilemma.

The natural reaction to this type of logjam is to move one of the outfielders to a new position. The likeliest position to receive one of said outfielders is first base. The Dodgers just acquired Adrian Gonzalez. Ipso facto, none of those outfielders are moving to first base. They aren’t going to try and move Gonzalez to open up space because the entire point of that trade was to bring him in. They absorbed Crawford’s and Beckett’s contract specifically to replace James Loney with Gonzalez.

If Crawford were to return from Tommy John surgery on schedule and start producing again, the Dodgers may very well find suitors for his services. Crawford probably won’t return until May or June next season, and might not get his groove back until a few weeks later. Which means the Dodgers are spending almost $200 million next season yet won’t have an everyday left fielder until the midway point of the season. If Crawford experiences any setbacks, he would obviously miss even more time.

This puts the team in somewhat of an awkward position, because it’ll be tough to convince a worthwhile and established outfielder to sign up for a role that might not involve everyday play from June onward. They certainly aren’t going to platoon Crawford or limit his playing time either, especially with that contract. Yet the Dodgers can’t risk not getting production out of the position and their big-time prospect isn’t yet ready.

If everything works out, Crawford will return sometime in May, produce very well, and the Dodgers will have another 1.5-2 years to make a decision based on Puig’s readiness. They would only need a stopgap leftfielder for a month, maybe two, and could look to utilize, say, Juan Pierre in a role similar to his current one with the Phillies. He wouldn’t cost much, especially relative to what the Dodgers just spent, could produce in a small sample, and then get relegated to fourth outfielder and pinch-runner status.

If everything doesn’t work out and Crawford misses more time, the Dodgers would be left with a fourth outfielder in an everyday role, which isn’t very prudent for a team looking to make a big-time dent in the National League. The future of the Dodgers outfield is very much up in the air, even with almost $400 million committed to four outfielders over the next several seasons.

They have an important decision to make this offseason but an even more crucial decision to make over the next year or two. Having a surplus of talent is a good problem to have, but it’s still a problem in need of a beneficial solution.

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Eric is an accountant and statistical analyst from Philadelphia. He also covers the Phillies at Phillies Nation and can be found here on Twitter.

20 Responses to “The Dodgers Have A Good Outfield Problem”

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  1. DrBGiantsfan says:

    I would say the Dodgers have a very bad problem that’s going to hang around for a long time. Way to take the Red Sox problem and make it yours, Dodgers!

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  2. CS Yankee says:

    So almost $400,000,000 invested in the OF and they’ll only have (best case) two starters come opening day 2013, simply amazing.

    Wonder if no one touches Crawford, if they’ll need to move Puig next offseason.

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  3. marc says:

    Don’t forget that it seems likely that the NL adopts the DH within the next couple of years.

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  4. maguro says:

    These potential logjams usually sort themselves out. Most likely, either Puig will bust or Crawford will continue to be terrible. Maybe even both of the above…that would suck, wouldn’t it?

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  5. ChadT says:

    When “Juan Pierre” is the proposed solution, I don’t think it can be considered a “good problem.”

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  6. phattonez says:

    Can Juan Rivera haz job plox?

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  7. Jason says:

    Ethier is a platoon bat at this point. Can Puig hit lefties?

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  8. Chris says:

    I see no problem at all. Crawford and Ethier both bat left handed while Puig is a right handed batter. Ethier is hitting .216 against left handed pithching. Crawford has been about a .250-.260 hitter against left handed pitching in his career. So in two years they can bring Puig up in september to get at bats. The following year he could be used to to take at bats against left handers from Either and Crawford along with giving Kemp a break once i awhile (shifting Crawford to center) maybe 10 games or so and pinch hitting. He could get 150ab from Ethier (get ridd of .200 ave against left handers), 100-150 from Crawford to keep his legs fresh all year long, 50ab or so from Kemp just to give the man a break (he will be getting close to 30 at the time) and also 50ab from pinch hitting. Add that up and he gets 350-400abs along with three good guys to learn from. after that you only have the Crawford and Ethier deals with two years left and alott easier to move.

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  9. Bip says:

    Teach Puig to play shortstop so he can fill that space until Gordon is ready in 2019.

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  10. Jack says:

    The Internet has really warped perspective on prospects man. Puig hasn’t even had a full season and it’s already a popular opinion that the Dodgers have an OF logjam with him involved.

    I like Crawford to rebound. It’s something that gets treated as crazy to say because the wind changed, but I have tons of trouble buying that a guy who averaged nearly 5 WAR a season before 2011 suddenly stopped being able to produce at age 30 due to…what exactly? A bum elbow?

    I love that trade for the Dodgers.

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    • chuckb says:

      You do realize they have to pay those guys, too, right?

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    • hk says:


      How does expecting some production from a player during the 7-year, $42M contract to which he was signed equate to the internet having a warped perspective on prospects? Either the Dodgers have a warped perspective on Puig’s value or they will, as the author suggests, have a logjam in the OF in a few years.

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  11. Kirk says:

    The Dodgers have plenty of players available to fill in waiting for Crawford and should Crawford not recover well enough.
    Jerry Hairston will probably be the main place holder, but Alex Castellanos, Scott Van Slyke, Elian Herrera have played there recently . Also there are rumors of Scott Hairston coming to the Dodgers as a back up OFer.
    Lots of options also coming up from the minors before Puig will be ready – Alfredo Silverio, Joc Pederson, James Baldwin, Blake Smith are all high OF prospects ready soon

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  12. Mike Newman says:

    I enjoyed this Eric. One of the things MLB baseball fans don’t often consider is the whole organization when looking at a move. It’s more done in isolation. In most cases, I wouldn’t worry much about a minor league batter with so little experience, but Puig’s price tag means he’s expected to produce at the big league level and relatively soon.

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