If having four All-Star caliber outfielders on your roster is a problem, it’s what you would call a good problem. Los Angeles Dodgers manager Don Mattingly happens to have one of those good problems, and although I consider the situation a good problem – it is a problem nonetheless.
Mattingly was lucky last season as he was able to avoid the problem of having four high-priced, start-worthy outfielders with only three outfield spots last season because of the absence of Matt Kemp. Mattingly lucked up again entering the 2014 season, again because of the absence of Kemp.
The outfielder couldn’t save Mattingly from having to deal with the situation any longer when Kemp, finally healthy — was activated from the disabled list on April 4. While Kemp might have been unable to continue saving Mattingly from the tough decision of deciding which outfielder plays and when, a young and extremely talented outfielder by the name of Yasiel Puig immediately picked right up where Kemp left off, and let Mattingly back off the hook.
As soon as Kemp was activated, Mattingly immediately let it be known that Kemp wouldn’t start in the game later that Friday evening and that Kemp would be eased back into the lineup, immediately setting himself up for disaster as Kemp made it publicly clear that he was ready to go, and further reiterated a stance he took a long time ago — the stance that he was an everyday player that wouldn’t take to kindly to sitting.
The potential disaster was immediately adverted when Puig arrived late to the ballpark and was benched that very same night in favor of Kemp. Puig was back in the lineup on Saturday, but in favor of Andre Ethier. OK, now that everyone was healthy and discipline free, the outfield carousel would began — so we thought.
Puig would injure his thumb in the game and require a MRI, and even though the test results were negative, it once again gave Mattingly a ready-made explanation in regards to who he decided to start in the Dodgers outfield when it came to Sunday’s series finale against the San Francisco Giants, as Puig was out and Kemp was in the lineup.
The Puig situation has actually become a gift in some ways, as Puig’s antics and injuries have taken the tough decisions out of Mattingly’s hands, making things easier on him while allowing him to manage without having a disgruntled player on the bench upset at his decisions.
In another sense, and most importantly, the Puig situation has been a gift because Mattingly’s plan to ease Kemp in the lineup, which wasn’t the best idea in my opinion, was done away with. Due to the fact that Kemp wasn’t sent on a rehab assignment, the more consistent at-bats he could get, the sooner he could get in a groove. The Puig situation has allowed Kemp to get those consistent at-bats, and the situation proved itself valuable as Kemp was definitely in a groove in Sunday’s game.
Kemp homered in his first two at-bats in the game, a game in which the Dodgers needed badly, as the Giants had been beating on them pretty badly in the series and was on the verge of a sweeping the 2013 division winners. The Giants went on to win the game 6-2.
Although a gift in some aspects, unfortunately, there is a little bit of a curse aspect to the Puig situation. While the Puig situation has allowed Kemp to get his at-bats without issue, as well as allowing Mattingly to easily avoid the tough lineup decisions and the distractions that come with it, it has meant that Puig and all of his abilities are absent from the lineup which is not a good thing.
Sooner or later, everyone will all be healthy and showing up on time to the ballpark, and Mattingly will be forced to deal with this situation and the media attention, as well as the attitudes and distractions that will accompany them — and then things will get interesting. Until then, Kemp is locked in and Mattingly is off the hook — stay tuned.