On the heels of Los Angeles Dodgers manager Dave Roberts indicating he anticipated playing Cody Bellinger on a daily basis during the 2019 season, the young star said it’s what should be the case.
On the surface, there’s nothing surprising here. Bellinger has hit 64 home runs in his first two Major League seasons, with an .869 on-base plus slugging percentage. Add in the fact that he’s an elite defender with positional versatility and that he’s just 23, it begins to make even more sense.
So what’s the problem?
Well, with the recent signing of A.J. Pollock — to a contract that only makes sense for an every day player — the Dodgers are beginning to create a playing time problem.
As it stands, the Dodgers have the following players locked into everyday spots: Justin Turner (third base), Corey Seager (shorstop) and Pollock (center field). We’ll ignore catcher for the time being simply because it’ll be split somehow between Austin Barnes and Russell Martin.
That all means that as the Dodgers think about what to do at first base and second base, and in right field and left field, they have the following options: Bellinger (LF, RF, 1B), Alex Verdugo (RF, LF), Joc Pederson (LF), Chris Taylor (2B, LF), Kiké Hernandez (2B, LF), Andrew Toles (LF), Max Muncy (2B, 1B) and David Freese (1B).
On most teams, every one of these players would be starting. But on the Dodgers?
We’re talking about eight candidates for four spots, and every single one of them (except for Freese) probably envionsions themselves the same way Bellinger does.
So what should the Dodgers do? That’s difficult to say. When you look at the splits, it doesn’t really help anything.
Sure, we can pencil in Freese and Toles as bench options. And maybe even take Muncy out against lefties (he struggled in the second half of 2018, particularly against southpaws) and Hernandez against righties (even though he has improved, time will tell if 2018 was an aberration).
Even then, you’re still left with five options for four positions on both days. If Bellinger is an everyday player (either in the outfield or at first base when Muncy sits), then you’ve got four players for three spots.
But either way, not everybody is going to be happy.
While depth certainly proves to be immensely valuable, at some point clubhouse chemistry and consistency has to matter. There’s something to be said about knowing whether or not you’re playing the next day. Not to mention getting to see live pitching every single day.
While these things haven’t created issues in the past, it can be reasoned that the longer this group is together, the more potential for problems there are. Taylor isn’t “just happy to be here” like he was in 2017.
Hernandez can’t possibly view himself as a platoon player anymore. Pederson knows he’s just a couple seasons away from free agency and he’s going to want a chance to prove he can be in the lineup every day.
And that doesn’t even mention the likes of Verdugo, who probably deserved to be a Major Leaguer a year ago, or Toles, who might be the most desperate to prove he belongs, and Freese.
On one hand, the Dodgers are better prepared for injuries than just about anyone. On the other? Manager Dave Roberts has his hands full.
The question for 2019: Which one of those storylines is more likely to steal the show?