Though it’s been a topic of conversation for some time, I’ve been trying to avoid thinking ahead to the playoff roster until the division was clinched. Now that it is and the Dodgers have a quiet day off as they head to San Francisco… okay, now it’s time. For the NLDS 25-man roster, barring injury, I consider 23 guys to be total locks:
C — A.J. Ellis
C — Tim Federowicz
1B — Adrian Gonzalez
2B — Mark Ellis
SS — Hanley Ramirez
3B — Juan Uribe
IF — Nick Punto
IF — Michael Young
LF — Carl Crawford
CF — Matt Kemp
RF — Yasiel Puig
OF — Andre Ethier
OF — Skip Schumaker
Yes, Punto and Young are locks. You can make some half-hearted arguments against each, but don’t even bother. Punto is obviously the only other shortstop option should Ramirez get injured — always a very real possibility — and you just don’t go out and get Young’s “veteran presence” and then not have him on the playoff roster; he has, anyway, in an extremely limited sample size, been relatively useful as a Dodger. As for Ethier, we can argue who actually is the “fourth outfielder” on a day-by-day basis — my vote might just be for Crawford — but of course all four make it if healthy.
Schumaker… well, he’s not a lock on my roster, but I would be surprised if he’s not on the team’s roster, just because of his intriguing ability to cover second base (terribly, of course) as well as all three outfield spots.
SP — Clayton Kershaw
SP — Zack Greinke
SP — Hyun-jin Ryu
SP — Ricky Nolasco
CL — Kenley Jansen
RP — J.P. Howell
RP — Ronald Belisario
RP — Paco Rodriguez
RP — Brian Wilson
RP — Chris Withrow
On these… yes, Wilson is a lock if only due to a 0.79 ERA. He’s not as good as that, of course, but he’s been good enough. I have real concerns about Belisario, but I still have a pretty hard time thinking that they would actually leave him off entirely.
So that’s 23 guys, and that leaves two spots left. If it were up to me, I would take just 11 pitchers, because you don’t need a fifth starter, but that’s not always how it plays out. Washington kept 12 pitchers on their NLDS roster last year, and so did St. Louis and San Francisco, while only Cincinnati kept 11. In the American League, Baltimore and Oakland kept 12, while Detroit and New York kept 11; obviously, there’s some consideration about schedule leading up to the Division Series for those teams, including whether they had to come out of the wild card game, so keep that in mind.
The Dodgers kept 11 pitchers for both the 2008 and 2009 NLDS rosters, though that was a while ago and under Joe Torre, so it’s not super relevant. However, Ken Gurnick reported that Mattingly “hinted at a total of 11 pitchers,” so take that for what it’s worth.
Anyway, there’s 10 pitchers above, so at the very least, one more is coming. Our remaining competitors are: Chris Capuano, Carlos Marmol, Brandon League, Edinson Volquez, Peter Moylan, Stephen Fife, & Onelki Garcia.
Let’s cross Moylan, Fife, & Garcia off right away, and actually let’s throw Capuano on that list too, because there’s really just not a role for him here and that groin injury still doesn’t sound like it’s healed.
That leaves Marmol, League, & Volquez, and… this is actually harder than you’d think. I feel like every time I look up, Volquez has been awful, and that’s probably because he’s allowed five homers in just 23 innings. But he’s also got a 22/5 K/BB, and that’s really, really good, especially for a guy who usually has to battle with his control. He’s also got almost no experience out of the bullpen, so his role would only be as a long man, just in case a starter blows up or gets injured. If you need a long man, you’re so happy to have one. If you don’t, it’s a wasted roster spot.
We’ll table that for a minute and move on to the duo of failed closers, League & Marmol. League briefly looked like he had managed to pull it together in July, when he held opponents to a .200/.263/.286 line and had seven consecutive scoreless outings. But in August, he allowed a .947 OPS, and in September, it’s been .985, and he’s allowed 23 baserunners over his last 11 outings, and would we even be discussing this if not for his contract or unless there were literally no other ambulatory relievers? No, right? Sorry, Brandon. You’re out.
As for Marmol, he’s pulling his usual act, striking out a ton of guys (24 in 19.1 innings as a Dodger) while walking nearly as many (17.1). I prefer him over League, I suppose, because he could get a strikeout in a big spot, but he’s also far too terrifying to use in a big spot. Which means you’re using him in low-leverage situations, and then maybe isn’t it just better to have a guy who can go multiple innings like Volquez? I think I might go 24) Volquez, but I think the team will go 24) Marmol.
We’re now down to the 25th spot, and here’s where it gets interesting. Do you take League or Marmol/Volquez as a 12th pitcher? Do you take the obvious choice, Jerry Hairston, just because he’s a flexible veteran who has “been there before” and has been on the team all season? Or do you think outside the box and add a younger, one-dimensional tool like Dee Gordon (speed) or Scott Van Slyke (power)?
My expectation — my fear, really — is that they’ll go with Hairston. That’s even though Hairston has been awful this year – .216/.271/.281 — and just unplayable in the second half, at .152/.200/.190. His value has been that he can play all over, and that’s fine when you are crushed by injuries and need him to play third base one night and right field the next night and first base the next night, etc. But everyone’s healthy now, so there’s not much need for him in the outfield, and the acquisition of Young really diminished his remaining role, because Young plays first and third as well. If Young’s not here, maybe we’re not having this conversation about Hairston.
Besides, Van Slyke can play first and the corner outfield spots, too, so the question there is, does Hairston’s ability to play third outweigh Van Slyke’s ability to come off the bench and put the ball out of the yard? I’m not even a big Van Slyke fan, but for me, it’s not even close. Behind Uribe, Young & Punto can both play third base. There’s no argument to be made that Hairston is a more dangerous hitter, and you don’t need a fourth third baseman. This choice seems obvious.
But there is a question about whether Gordon might be more useful, because we’ve already seen what kind of an impact Billy Hamilton has had in Cincinnati, almost exclusively as a pinch-runner. Speed like that can be such a disruptive presence, and I think we’re all envisioning the spot where Adrian Gonzalez is the runner in a tie game and he either has to run himself or his replacement is someone like Young, who is hardly speedy. Gordon should never, ever, be allowed to field, or probably to bat, but the idea of having him around to run every night is appealing.
Still, I lean towards Van Slyke, if only because if Crawford & Schumaker are on the bench, you can bring in some speed, while there’s really no one who can provide power. So for me, it’s 25) Van Slyke. There’s an argument for 25) Gordon. And I worry terribly that it will be 25) Hairston.
Of course, there’s still more than a week to go, so I’m sure this will all change when four more injuries pop up. They always do.