LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp or no Matt Kemp? That is the most perplexing question when trying to predict the Dodgers' Opening Day 25-man roster this year.Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week, but Kemp figures to soon be the camp focal point after his surprising winter acquisition
LOS ANGELES -- Matt Kemp or no Matt Kemp? That is the most perplexing question when trying to predict the Dodgers' Opening Day 25-man roster this year.
Pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training next week, but Kemp figures to soon be the camp focal point after his surprising winter acquisition in a salary swap with the Braves. Although management has made no secret it wants to trade Kemp, the $43.5 million remaining on his contract makes that unlikely.
Trimmed down after a rigorous offseason, Kemp will report with the possibility of making the club as a left fielder. That would add a right-handed power bat to an already deep batting order, but it would complicate an already crowded outfield and make it that much tougher for Alvin Toles, Joc Pederson or Alex Verdugo to break with the club.
Otherwise, the starting rotation and infield are set, with the most robust competition in the bullpen, especially with a handful of contenders jockeying to replace departed free agent Brandon Morrow in the primary setup role.
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Unlike last spring, when the Dodgers had nine key players coming off injuries, they appear healthier at this point. Toles must prove he's sound after major knee surgery, reliever Yimi Garcia is reportedly ready after Tommy John surgery, and lefty Adam Liberatore is healed from a bad elbow strain. Pitcher Julio Urias is not expected to be game ready until midseason following last summer's shoulder surgery.
Austin Barnes, Yasmani Grandal. Barnes emerged as the postseason starter by outplaying Grandal down the stretch, but Grandal has the added motivation of pending free agency. A platoon is the likely result.
Cody Bellinger. After almost one full big league season, Bellinger's a superstar. He bulked up in the winter to avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
John Forsythe, Chase Utley. Forsythe was an offensive disappointment, yet the club picked up his option. If the bat doesn't awaken, Chris Taylor could move in from center to replace him. Meanwhile, free agent Utley isn't on the club yet, but there's a reason he was working out at Dodger Stadium this winter.
Justin Turner. The veteran Turner is the complete package: Clutch hitter, ironclad defender, silently plays hurt, a clubhouse presence.
Corey Seager. The only question is whether he can stay healthy as an oversized shortstop.
Enrique Hernandez, Trayce Thompson. Hernandez can play all over the diamond and can hit any left-handed pitcher. Thompson is healthy, can play center field and is out of options.
Yasiel Puig, Taylor, Pederson, Kemp. Puig starts in right, Taylor in center, then it gets fuzzy. Kemp's defensive deterioration makes him a left fielder with reverse offensive splits, so if he starts against righties, when would Pederson, Toles or Verdugo play? Toles could make the club if he's healthy, but that was a serious injury.
Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Alex Wood, Kenta Maeda, Hyun-Jin Ryu. No surprises here, but Walker Buehler is waiting in the wings if the club can keep him healthy. The same was said a year ago with Urias, but he injured his shoulder.
Kenley Jansen, Scott Alexander, Tony Cingrani, Tom Koehler, Pedro Baez, Josh Fields, Thomas Stripling. In theory, Alexander proves to be an upgrade from Luis Avilan and Koehler becomes the next Morrow, the fastball playing up for a starter-turned-reliever. Baez is the wild card as always, while Edward Paredes is a dark-horse candidate.
Ken Gurnick has covered the Dodgers for MLB.com since 2001.