In the past it seemed as though one of Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti’s first order of business each off-season was filling utility bench player vacancies on his roster with guys like Jamey Carroll, Aaron Miles, Skip Schumaker, and Jerry Hairston Jr. – just to name a few. From there, Colletti would then go to work filling out his everyday roster with returning veterans or players acquired via trade or free agency, and in extremely rare instances by bringing up prospects from the Dodgers’ minor league system. But this off-season, things have been different for Colletti and the Dodgers – a lot different, in fact.
Even though most of the Dodger regulars from 2013 are returning in 2014 season (which is usually a very good thing for teams that made it into the playoffs), as of this morning, December 16, 2013, the Dodgers officially have exactly zero utility bench players on their 25-man roster – none, zip, zilch, nada.
Gone are Skip Schumaker (to the Reds), Nick Punto (to the A’s), Mark Ellis ([who the Dodgers were hoping to re-sign as a utility infielder] to the Cardinals) and Jerry Hairston Jr. (to retirement). And though you can argue that Scott Van Slyke is a utility infielder/outfielder, he will most likely begin the 2014 season at Triple-A Albuquerque if Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier, Yasiel Puig and Matt Kemp come out of spring training healthy (and still wearing a Dodger uniform). And even if one of them is traded, there is still the possibility that top Dodgers outfield prospect Joc Pederson might emerge from spring training ahead of Van Slyke on the Dodgers outfield depth chart.
It would be unfair to criticize Colletti for being this far into the off-season without having signed any bench players – Heaven knows he has had his hands full re-signing Brian Wilson and even more so Juan Uribe. He also has contract extensions to work out with Clayton Kershaw and Hanley Ramirez and is still working on re-signing left-hander J.P. Howell – all of whom will be essential for the Dodgers success in 2014.
It is generally assumed that there are always an abundance of free agent utility bench players each off-season, most of whom are veteran MLB players nearing the end of their careers; and while this may be true, the best of them have already been scooped up by other teams – guys like Skip Schumaker, Nick Punto and Mark Ellis. But as it seems to happen every off-season, there are always a few hidden golden nuggets out there that always seem to play a huge role for successful teams. They are often referred to as the ‘glue guys’ – the guys that hold a team together when the regulars are injured or are struggling, or just need a break. And though the Dodgers’ minor league system is lacking significantly in MLB-ready position players, there are always a few guys in the minors (usually at the Triple-A level) who could conceivably be brought up in a utility bench role, should push come to shove once the minor league rosters are set. Guys who have filled this role in the past have included Luis Cruz, Elian Herrera, Justin Sellers and Dee Gordon – to name only a few.
Regardless of where they come from, look for Colletti to be extremely busy over the next few weeks either signing utility bench players to a guaranteed one-year contract (or perhaps even a two-year contract) and/or signing guys to minor league contracts with invitations to spring training to compete for one (or more) of these essential utility bench player vacancies.
All of this said, it is reassuring to know that the heart of the Dodgers regular line-up is already set – something that hasn’t happened before Christmas in many years.
Thank you Santa!