Today is the day for Dodgers position players to report to spring training, although many of them (at least 16 of the 24, by my quick count) have already showed up to Camelback Ranch. There has already been some news in camp today, as Don Mattingly said Matt Kemp is his cleanup hitter. In addition, Hong-Chih Kuo threw his first bullpen session of the spring today.
Here's a quick look at the players due in camp by today:
- Under Contract (5): Casey Blake, Jamey Carroll, Rafael Furcal, James Loney, Juan Uribe
- On 40-Man Roster (3): Ivan DeJesus, John Lindsey, Russ Mitchell
- Non-Roster Invitees (4): Juan Castro, Dee Gordon, Aaron Miles, Justin Sellers
- Under Contract (5): Andre Ethier, Jay Gibbons, Tony Gwynn Jr., Matt Kemp, Marcus Thames
- On 40-Man Roster (3): Jamie Hoffmann, Xavier Paul, Trayvon Robinson
- Non-Roster Invitees (4): Gabe Kapler, Trent Oeltjen, Jerry Sands, Eugenio Velez
If the Dodgers carry 12 pitchers, that means they have room for 13 position players, including two catchers. Given that 10 players are signed to guaranteed contracts, it appears that several players are fighting for only one spot on the bench.
I'm willing to concede that Gibbons' roster spot is tenuous, or at least less guaranteed than the rest, if only for the fact that his full $650,000 contract isn't all guaranteed. However, Gibbons is guaranteed at least the major league minimum salary of $414,000 (he gets the other $236,000 for making the opening day roster), and I simply cannot remember the last time the Dodgers signed a free agent in the winter, only to cut him during the same spring. It doesn't take much to convince me that Gibbons, who was out of baseball for three seasons and is clinging to all of 80 plate appearances of major league success last year, won't be very good going forward. But in determining what the Dodgers will do as opposed to what they should do, it's easy to see that Gibbons has a very firm grasp on a roster spot.
So about that last bench spot...
Castro or Miles seem destined for this spot (again, what the Dodgers will do, not what they should do), given that (a) they are veterans; and (b) the Dodgers have five outfielders. Then again, at least in the case of Castro, the Dodgers don't necessarily need a shortstop since they have Carroll and Uribe behind Furcal. But the middle infielders on the roster are Furcal, Uribe, and Carroll, and the Dodgers will need someone to play third when giving Casey Blake his regular rest.
- Paul is out of options, so he is likely on his way out via trade at some point (think Chin-Lung Hu for Michael Antonini or Delwyn Young for Eric Krebs and $1 here), but there is an outside chance Paul could force his way onto the roster with a strong spring, coupled with an injury to an outfielder, or possibly Gibbons completely collapsing
- Mitchell has the perceived versatility of a backup corner man in both the infield and outfield, so he has a chance at the final bench spot. But he also has options remaining, so don't be surprised if he starts the year in Albuquerque.
- If the Dodgers do take a sixth outfielder, I have to think Paul would get the call, but don't count out Kapler, who fits the "guy from Southern California happy to be a Dodger" role that Gibbons and Rod Barajas mastered late last season.
Velez is another option, but likely below Kapler on the depth chart. I would say Velez has the versatility to play second base in addition to the outfield (he has played 105 major league games at second base), but Velez has never been much defensively in the infield.
- Sands is a longshot for the opening day roster, if only that the Dodgers want him to play everyday, and that's not going to happen in Los Angeles. Then again, a pulled hamstring here, a sprained ankle there, and Sands raking in Arizona could accelerate his timetable.
- DeJesus is another longshot. Two things to remember with DeJesus: (1) the Dodgers did not recall him from Albuquerque last September when rosters expanded; and (2) have options, will travel.