In that same breath, let’s look at who stands to benefit from the increased playing time. Obviously, Carl Crawford tops the list. Scott Van Slyke‘s playing time will remain roughly the same as the right-handed platoon option. But Ethier’s injury opens the door for Alex Guerrero to stick around longer or, and much more interesting, for Austin Barnes to make the team out of spring training. Trayce Thompson, being the best defender of the lot, also has a greater chance of making the team out of spring training than he did before (but it still isn’t great).
Dave Roberts had already told Crawford he was going to be a bench player — at least to start in 2016. Crawford was third on the depth chart behind Ethier and Van Slyke, and the fact he’s a left field-only guy limits his ability to be productive. Now, he’s slated to be the Dodgers’ option in left field against right-handed pitchers.
FanGraphs has Crawford projected for a .266/.308/.398 triple slash with a 95 wRC+ and 0.8 WAR. That’s obviously not great, but I suspect those numbers will be a little better with more consistent playing time. He can still be a somewhat productive player, but not the player he was in Tampa Bay. One thing to watch is his strikeout rate. He had a career-worst 21.2 percent rate last season. That’s OK if you’re hitting at an above-average clip and/or walking a lot. He didn’t do either of those things. Also, he’s sure to be an adventure in left field, especially going back on fly balls.
Thompson has opened a few eyes the spring with his play. The results haven’t been great (and don’t mean anything), but he has all the look of a major leaguer. The fact he’s versatile and can play all three outfield spots works in his favor. If Thompson doesn’t make the team, the primary backup in center field is Enrique Hernandez. He’s also the primary backup at shortstop, mascot, bench coach, pitching coach and general manager. Freeing up Hernandez a bit could help Thompson make the club. His chances of leap-frogging Guerrero or Barnes are slim — for now.
Yes, he is still on the roster. How? We don’t know. But with Ethier going down and Guerrero’s “ability” to “play” multiple positions (even if it is just third base and left field) could give him a slight edge. That, and the ridiculousness of his contract — he cannot be sent to the minors without his permission and can opt for free agency following the season if he’s traded. Frankly, the Dodgers should have either called his bluff or outright let him go awhile ago. He’s really not a good baseball player, and if he gets more playing time, he likely wont make it worth the Dodgers’ while.
This is the guy who stands to benefit most. The fact he’s a catcher makes him important enough, but he can also play a little second base. He has played a little third base in the minors, but it isn’t realistic to expect much from him at that position. But he has a nice skill-set on offense and could provide the Dodgers with flexibility behind the plate. This isn’t even factoring in Yasmani Grandal and his sore forearms. If nothing else, he can allow the Dodgers to remove Grandal late in games without fear of being down to one catcher. But Barnes is good enough to start on a number of MLB teams. This is a luxury the Dodgers have, and they should take advantage of it.
There’s no doubt the Dodgers will be negatively impacted by the loss of Ethier. He was so good last season that you’d be nuts to think replacing the majority of his projected plate appearances with what Crawford is going to do ends well for the Dodgers. Barnes should benefit most by landing an opening day assignment with the MLB team, while Crawford stands to get the most playing time out of it.
Unless Crawford performs at or near the level he did the last two seasons, then Ethier will get the job when he returns. And he will return, even if 14 weeks seems like a long time. He could be back around the All-Star break, which might make him feel like a midseason trade acquisition.
With Ethier out, some guys are going to have to pick up the slack. Mostly, that guy is Yasiel Puig. If he plays up to his capabilities, Ethier’s absence won’t hurt nearly as much. Joc Pederson could also chip in, provided he has figured out his issues at the plate.
The Dodgers have tons of depth, as we’ve written before. I’m just not sure it was expected to be tested so soon. Here’s hoping this isn’t the trend for the 2016 season.