After an electrifying midsummer spurt to claim the NL West in 2013, the Los Angeles Dodgers had seemingly placed a stranglehold on the division for subsequent seasons, given their deep pockets and relentless pursuit for their first World Series title since 1988. Winning championships has never been as simple as delving into an infinity money pool, though. The Dodgers have failed to meet lofty expectations at the start of the 2014 MLB season in part because of a ridiculous outfield carousel which flaunts four starting-caliber players fighting for playing time.
At some point this season, general manager Ned Colletti is going to be forced to make a difficult roster decision in regard to the Dodgers’ four star-studded outfielders, especially if the team remains in a dog fight with the surging San Francisco Giants, who currently own the best record in the National League. Even though the Dodgers have the monetary resources needed to provide Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig with a lavish professional baseball experience, it doesn’t serve them well for manager Don Mattingly to mix-and-match almost every night.
It’s easy for most to make the argument that having a primary fourth outfielder, like Ethier, serves the team well because of his ability to produce off the bench or in case of injury, but it’s simply not logical to use a $95-million player as a reserve, even for the Dodgers. At this juncture, Puig has essentially become a permanent everyday player — except for days when he shows up late to the ballpark or runs full speed into outfield walls. Kemp, although susceptible to injury, appears mostly healthy as indicated by his .825 OPS in 119 official at-bats.
That leaves Crawford and Ethier basically fighting for playing time in left field, and that’s a reality that neither player has benefited from. Both players own career-worst OPS figures in 2014. Crawford has posted an inefficient .619 OPS with nine RBIs and six extra-base hits in 106 at-bats while Ethier has registered a slightly better .686 OPS with 17 RBIs and seven extra-base hits in 111 at-bats. Although those numbers aren’t horrendous, they are not indicative of what either of those players are capable of when playing full-time.
The carousel has already taken a toll on the Dodgers in early action. Mattingly has done a relatively good job of mitigating the circumstances, frequently getting each player regular at-bats even if they come off the bench. That strategy isn’t going to result in another runaway division title for the Dodgers, though. Yes, their pitching staff is fantastic when fully healthy, capable of propelling them into the postseason. But consistency from your best players is needed in order to win championships. The Dodgers have an awkward problem: They have too many “best” players in their outfield. Trading Ethier mid-season could ultimately be a turning point.