We’re 12 games into the Cactus League season and there haven’t been a ton of surprises just yet for the Dodgers. So, let’s take a first guess at what the 25-man roster for opening day might look like.
First, the locks.
- Starters: Rich Hill, Clayton Kershaw, Kenta Maeda, Brandon McCarthy
- Relievers: Luis Avilan, Grant Dayton, Kenley Jansen, Sergio Romo, Ross Stripling, Alex Wood
- Catchers: Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal
- Infielders: Logan Forsythe, Corey Seager, Justin Turner, Chase Utley
- Outfielders: Andre Ethier, Franklin Gutierrez, Joc Pederson, Yasiel Puig
That’s 20 surefire locks. I’m not concerned about Seager’s back injury just yet. He missed a lot of time last spring and not only made his Opening Day start, but he appeared in the most games and made the most plate appearances. Forsythe has had some knee injections, but all signs on him look good. Ethier appears to be healthy again and, despite a slow start by Gutierrez, he’s not going anywhere.
On the pitching side, Hill, Kershaw and Maeda have had zero issues so far. McCarthy is still a question mark in terms of performance, but he’s been healthy and will be in the rotation if he remains so. Avilan is out of options and the rest of the relievers have a place carved out already. Sure, a guy like Stripling could go to the minors, but you’d be replacing him with a non-roster invitee or a fellow youngster like Brock Stewart. Stewart should begin the season in the minors so he continues to be on a starter’s schedule. Wood could very well find his way into the rotation sooner rather than later.
So, we have five spots remaining — two position players, three pitchers — to fill out the roster. I’m sure he’ll be healthy after a stint in the World Baseball Classic, so let’s pencil Adrian Gonzalez in for one of the spots. We’re down to four. Now, it gets fun. There’s one spot remaining for five players:
Hernandez would appear to have the edge because of his versatility. Dave Roberts has already said he wants to carry a player on the roster capable of being a legitimate backup to Seager at shortstop. If that were the only criterion, I’d opt for Taylor. But, we’re just a year removed from Hernandez being the best hitter in the game against left-handed pitching, so the Dodgers might very well bet on that.
Thompson is set to make his spring debut this weekend, but he hasn’t played a game since July 10 and might need more time to get re-acclimated to the game. When he’s right, he’s definitely one of the five-best outfielders on the team. Toles was a great story last season, but he has options and carrying him and Ethier on the same roster to play the same position is redundant. A trip back to Oklahoma City to get him everyday at-bats is for the best. Van Slyke appears to be healthy once again, but he, surprisingly, has an option remaining, so maybe he goes to Triple-A for a short stint.
As for the pitchers, Pedro Baez isn’t a sure thing just yet because he’s still hurting after taking a comebacker off his hand two weeks ago. If he isn’t ready for April 3, someone will benefit. For argument’s sake, let’s say Baez begins the season on the disabled list. Here’s who would remain:
Fields has an option remaining, but he’s probably the best relief pitcher of the four listed above. I’d like to see him make the final cut. Hatcher is out of options and the Dodgers seem hell-bent on trying to get something — anything — out of him. He has looked very bad this spring and I’d almost rather they designate him for assignment and risk losing him before putting him on the 25-man roster. Liberatore would have a spot in many a bullpen in the majors, but the Dodgers are so deep that he’s on the outside looking in. But if the Baez is out, I’d say he makes the cut. Ravin is a hard-thrower who impressed after coming back from a performance-enhancing drug suspension from last season. He has an option, but if Petey can’t make it back in time for Opening Day, Ravin might be on the roster. That part also depends on just how much the Dodgers trust Hatcher.
That brings us to Ryu. He has been impressive — for a guy who hasn’t pitched for almost two years — in early bullpen sessions and is close to making his spring debut. He also said he feels good and hasn’t had any setbacks. Despite that, I’d be incredibly shocked if he were in the Opening Day rotation. It just doesn’t seem wise to bet on much of anything from him at this stage. If he doesn’t break camp with the team, he’d stay back in extended Spring Training to keep working.
Scott Kazmir has already had a hip issue, but if he’s healthy, he’ll get one of the rotation spots. If for, some reason, he begins the season on the DL, it’d be best for the Dodgers to go with Wood in the rotation and another true reliever in the bullpen.
Here is who I predict would get the final four spots, provided Gonzalez is ready to go and Baez and Kazmir are not:
If Baez is ready, I suspect the Dodgers would demote Fields or Liberatore before designating Hatcher. That wouldn’t be my preference, but this post isn’t about personal preference.
The Dodgers have too many talented/deserving players and not enough active roster spots. This is a good problem to have. Things could work themselves out in the next 3-plus weeks — and they probably will. Either way, the Dodgers are going to have one of the best rosters in baseball for the entire season thanks to the quality depth.