Alternate title considered – “Carl Crawford throws monkey wrench into Dodgers bench plans” – scrapped for grammatical reasons, and because the man can’t throw a household tool across a workbench, much less a baseball from left field to second base.
It doesn’t matter what the former All-Star wants or says; Crawford is unlikely to be 100% by Opening Day, which causes a domino effect across the roster, but for the sake of discussion for a moment, let’s assume he is.
The Dodgers carry 12 pitchers most of the time, and with the traditional off-days on the April schedule, are sure to start the season as such. So with the eight lineup regulars that leaves five spots for the bench. One is always reserved for a backup catcher, and barring injury (the phrase “barring injury” applies to everything you read here generally, by the way) the job goes to Tim Federowicz. And he’ll be fine.
Newcomer Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston are locks and I love them both. Schumaker – bats left, throws right – was signed to back up Matt Kemp in center, for one, and will be especially handy spelling Mark Ellis at second base with a right-hander on the mound. He can play left, right and third base, he’ll pinch hit, pinch run, lay down a bunt and draw you a clutch walk. Whatever you need; a younger version of Jamey Carroll.
Hairston bats right-handed and does a lot of the same. He’s an excellent second baseman, is capable at third and plays a good outfield, although not center for more than a game here and there. Hits in the clutch, runs well, and is just an all-around good guy to have on a club.
That’s 23 of 25. Talk of a deal for a fourth outfielder – very much preferably a right-hand bat with some sock – abounds, with surplus starting pitcher Aaron Harang as the main bait. Baltimore and Milwaukee have shown interest publicly, but I imagine there are several clubs in the mix, and it could happen today, tomorrow, or minutes before the first pitch of 2013. Harang could just as easily be traded for some other need – minor leaguers, perhaps – and the team can afford to wait for the best offer.
Alex Castellanos, acquired from St. Louis in the 2011 Rafael Furcal trade, is an in-house option. How good a one we don’t yet know. His .238 spring average is meaningless at this point, but the two homers and .588 slugging tells us something. My guess is Castellanos can hit major league left-handers now, and is more than servicable defensively in left or right. If he can pinch hit with any success against righties, there’s your answer.
For the life of me I have no idea how Juan Uribe is still a Dodger. It’s mind boggling; stunning actually, and I say only half-kidding that perhaps he has compromising photos of a prominent L.A. executive stashed away as insurance. But look, there’s just no way Uribe takes the job of someone – almost anyone – more talented – which is almost anyone. Not this time. The countdown has begun.
Dee Gordon and Tony Gwynn are probably headed to Albuquerque, Yasiel Puig, while fun to watch and impressive as hell, is ticketed for either New Mexico or Chattanooga, and Dallas McPherson’s already been cut. And while Jeremy Moore and Brian Barden are auditioning nicely, they’re both longshots at best. Scott Van Slyke? I have no idea.
Alfredo Amezaga, Ellian Herrera and Nick Punto are competing for what is essentially the last-man-on-the-bench role. Because he can play five positions well and switch-hit, Herrera is my choice, but Punto probably gets the nod, with Amezaga and Herrera being a phone call away in AAA. We’ll see them early and often regardless.
Which brings us back to that monkey wrench. The Dodgers can talk all they want about taking the cautious approach with Crawford, and Don Mattingly has suggested April 10 as target date, but it could just as easily be May 10. Or June 10. This is a Tommy John surgery comeback we’re looking at here, and Crawford’s going to need dozens of at bats to prepare, if not a good hundred.
Perhaps Amezaga or Herrera get a job they otherwise wouldn’t or maybe just maybe Ned Colletti pulls a rabbit out of the hat with a late spring trade. Harang plus a respectable prospect could land them a solid major league piece, and maybe that right-handed extra outfielder type mentioned earlier.
Former Dodger and current Seattle Mariner Franklin Gutierrez is a good example, and getable. He’s a spectacular defensive player – better than Kemp in center, to give you an idea – and hits southpaws.
With the season opening April Fool’s Day there’s time for candidates to emerge and trades to surprise us. Probably not time for Carl Crawford to return healthy, however, but I’m pleased with the alternatives. The state of the Dodgers bench is sound. Not to worry.