Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp and Yasiel Puig -- all are starting outfielders in Major League Baseball. Except, all four play on the same team -- for now.
Mike Petriello broke down the conundrum last week at FanGraphs. He nails it, as all six options are viable. However, it's time for the Dodgers to make a decision.
They just can't do this anymore. They simply cannot have four starting outfielders on their team when there are only three playing spots.
It isn't fair to the outfielders and it isn't fair to the rest of the team. The Dodgers must trade one of the four outfielders this winter.
Yes, the quartet was only together for four whole games last season, thus delaying any potential playing time issues. But what if the Dodgers' outfielders are relatively healthy in 2014? Will Crawford or Ethier be content playing 80-90 games each? Unlikely.
The best bet is to trade one of those two (or both, if you can find a taker), and, as the Tigers showed last week by sending Prince Fielder to the Rangers for Ian Kinsler, no contract is untradeable.
Who to trade?
Obviously, the Dodgers wouldn't trade Puig unless they were completely blown away (like, Mike Trout for Puig). So, cross him off the list.
Kemp is the best outfielder the Dodgers have, but he's also the most uncertain. His trade value is at an all-time low and he's owed almost $130 million for the next six years. If he was 2009 or 2011 Matt Kemp, that'd be a steal. The fact is, he isn't and he'll likely not be the '11 version again. The Dodgers wouldn't get anything close to fair value in return (rightfully so). That leaves Crawford and Ethier.
Crawford is owed $82.5 million over the next four years. He had a solid 2013 season, but he also missed time with a hamstring injury. He hit 10 home runs (six in the regular season, four in the postseason), which was surprising. He can still get hits, but he doesn't walk much (and never really has). He still has above-average speed, but he didn't use it enough to be a menace on the basepaths as he was so many years ago.
He's only going to slow down going forward, but there's still value there. He has an average center fielder's range in left field, giving him the ability to be a plus -defender in left. His arm is his worst tool.
An outfield-desperate team that doesn't want to give up a draft pick for guys like Carlos Beltran, Shin-Soo Choo and Curtis Granderson might take a shot on Crawford, if the price is right.
Ethier is due $71.5 million over the next four years. His platoon splits are bad (.235/.294/.351) against left-handed pitching. Ideally, he's a platoon outfielder. However, he's paid like a starter and is good enough against righties that his playing against lefties occasionally is palatable.
Ethier's power has decreased in recent years. He still hit 12 home runs and 33 doubles this season, but he's not the player he was a few years ago. He's never been a threat with his legs, but he's an average runner who won't clog the basepaths.
His ability to play center field at least somewhat passably increases his value. He can fill in as a center fielder, but his best position is still in a corner (likely left field).
I'd see Ethier is more likely to be traded than Crawford, but one of them must be traded. Not just for the Dodgers, but for the player. They deserve a chance to start somewhere without having to worry about a guy on the bench taking significant playing time away from them.
Some say the Dodgers need to keep all four in case of injuries. I understand that notion, but the Dodgers already have viable backup options.
Scott Van Slyke showed last season he doesn't just have "slider bat speed" anymore. He lost some weight and it clearly helped him. He's the best power threat off the Dodgers' bench. He's capable defensively in a corner and can play a little first base.
Joc Pederson is just about MLB-ready, but it doesn't make sense to put him on the bench. Instead, he'll go to Triple-A and wait his turn. If any of the outfielders suffer a long-term injury, Pederson could get the call. Keeping Van Slyke in a part-time role would be best.
Also, the Dodgers should sign a true center fielder this winter. My original pick was Chris Young. Now, I'm pining for Franklin Gutierrez.
The Dodgers have Mike Baxter and Nick Buss on the 40-man roster, both of whom are capable of playing center field. They're not typical 25-man roster guys, but they could be on the active roster for a week or two without really hurting the team.
The Dodgers have a chance to add some kind of valuable piece by trading Crawford and/or Ethier. They could either land second-tier prospects who have a chance to be a little more, or they can reallocate their money by taking on another big contract in return for the big contract of Crawford or Ethier. An Ethier-for-Kinsler swap made some sense, but that won't happen now.
Elvis Andrus. While Andrus is a plus-plus defender at shortstop -- something that can't be overlooked -- he's owed almost as much as Kemp is over the next six years. Andrus is a singles hitter who can take a walk every once in awhile and steal some bases. He isn't the worst player the Dodgers could acquire, but I wouldn't move Kemp for him. Kemp's potential outweighs Andrus' limited offensive ceiling.
Now, if you're talking an Ethier-for-Andrus deal, that might be a bit more doable. Some money and other pieces would probably have to be involved, though.
The Rangers, despite trading Kinsler, still have middle infield depth to trade and an outfield spot or two to fill. There could be something there, but I wouldn't call it a sure thing.
For everyone worried about injuries, don't worry. Yes, they're part of the game, but the Dodgers have more than enough outfield depth to make up for injuries -- minor or major.
This situation needs to come to head. The Dodgers cannot continue this dance next season. The time to trade at least one of the outfielders is now. It will make the team better and more functional while allowing a guy to get consistent playing time without having to look over his shoulder.
Photo credits: Dustin Nosler, Feelin' Kinda Blue