The Los Angeles Dodgers have a problem that 29 other teams would love to have. The Dodgers’ outfield is possibly the biggest position battle in all of baseball, with six starting caliber outfielders vying for three outfield spots.
Yasiel Puig isn’t going anywhere. Puig has emerged as one of the leaders of the Dodgers and one of the best players in the National League. Rumors of his regression have been greatly exaggerated as Puig has nearly replicated his numbers from last year and has shown the ability to adjust at the plate.
This leaves Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Carl Crawford, Scott Van Slyke and Joc Pederson fighting for two more outfield spots. Crawford doesn’t have the arm to play center field, so he’s limited to left field. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was unhappy with Kemp’s defense in center and benched him five games before moving him to left. Their battle has yet to become an issue, with Crawford being sidelined for the last month with a sprained ankle. However, both players believe they deserve to start, and rightfully so, as they have both arguably been one of the best players in the game at one point in their career.
Ethier and Van Slyke have both been less vocal about their frustration, but there surely is some. Van Slyke is a poor man’s Mark Trumbo- great power threat, but not great at anything else. Ethier is a solid player all around, but is not great at anything.
As if this problem isn’t complicated enough, Joc Pederson is sitting in AAA with a .319 batting average and 17 home runs. Most 22 year olds playing at his level would be on a major league team by now, but the Dodgers outfield logjam is keeping him from promotion.
Looking forward, the best Dodger outfield would feature Kemp in left, Joc in center and Puig in right. Talent-wise it shouldn’t be too difficult to trade Ethier and Crawford, but they come with high price tags. Ethier is due over $50 million over the next three years with an option for the fourth, which is insane for a guy hitting .249 with three home runs on the season.
Crawford comes at an even higher price, with over $60 million remaining on his contract over the next three years. Crawford got off to a slow start and recovered to raise his batting average to .267, but is a huge injury risk, so trading him would be a lot harder than trading Ethier.
The best bet for the Dodgers would be to trade one of these two outfielders for a reliever before the July 31 trade deadline. It’s not the sexy move, but the bullpen has been the biggest weakness for the Dodgers so far this season.
The Boston Red Sox have been linked to Ethier for a long time. Johnny Gomes leads the Red Sox outfield with a .238 batting average, ahead of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Daniel Nava, who are each hovering around the Mendoza Line. Shane Victorino is injured and Brock Holt is providing some spark for their outfield, but they could still use Ethier. With the short porch in Boston, Ethier can potentially regain his power stroke. Ethier would also be reunited with Arizona State teammate Dustin Pedroia. Boston instantly gets better in the outfield and could send back Andrew Miller or Burke Badenhop, neither of whom are young but have both put up solid seasons and will easily take the place of Chris Perez or Paul Maholm in the Dodgers’ bullpen. Whether or not the Red Sox would be willing to do this is a whole different conversation, but if the Dodgers kick in enough money, it might be hard for Boston to turn this down.
With six outfielders fighting for three outfield spots, the Dodgers have some tough decisions to make. If they play their cards right, Joc Pederson, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig could make up the most talented outfield in baseball for the foreseeable future.