GLENDALE -- Saturday involved two games at Camelback Ranch - we are in the middle of the second game now - and the Dodgers still have a game on Sunday to close out their Cactus League schedule. But for the most part, pretty much everyone here has eyes on the trip to Australia.
For the most part the players know where they stand, though nobody will really say much before the team leaves for Australia on Sunday. Here's what we know for now.
On Friday, March 21 at 7 p.m. PT, six hours before the first game in Sydney, the Dodgers must name their opening day 28-man roster, and simultaneously name three exempt players. The three players with exempt status will be ineligible to play in either game in Australia, even as a replacement for an injured player, so look for all three to stay behind in Arizona.
Candidates for exempt status include Dan Haren, Zack Greinke, Josh Beckett and Brandon League.
The Dodgers can actually take 30 players on the trip, which means five extra guys they might need just in case of injury or someone they need to play in or pitch the exhibition game on Thursday against Team Australia. The starting pitcher for the exhibition game will almost certainly be someone not on the active roster, a Zach Lee for instance.
There's nothing we know more than the fact that managers or completely risk averse when it comes to catchers. So few capable backstops actually exist that managers will almost never risk using their backup catcher as a pinch hitter, if only because they don't want to only have one catcher in case of injury. You can bet that the Dodgers will take three catchers to Australia.
"You have to consider three catchers, just in case. In the exhibition game, I still want my guys to play. We're leaving here, not playing for a few days. I'm sure my guys would want to play," manager Don Mattingly said. "If something were to happen during that game, an extra catcher would be part of it."
It becomes more complicated because Drew Butera is out of options. If he doesn't win the backup job outright over Tim Federowicz, who has an option remaining, then the Dodgers could try to outright Butera to Triple-A, if he accepts the assignment (and his $700,000 salary), his right with three years of major league service time. Butera must also clear waivers, which might be easier to do on the final weekend of spring for everybody rather than when 28 other teams have two weeks left in camp and rosters not yet fully set.
Figgins is likely going to make the team
Justin Turner has one utility spot on lock down, and another seems headed for Chone Figgins, attempting a comeback after a season away from playing. We talked earlier in the week about Alexander Guerrero and his need for at-bats. At the very least, staying back in Arizona would help him if only to play two more weeks worth of games.
If the team thought Figgins had anything left, he would make the team over Guerrero, who will likely open the year in the minors. Well, Mattingly on Friday certainly sounded like he thought Figgins has more in the tank.
"We like where Figgy is at, I like what he can do. I still think the more at-bats he gets, the better he gets. He continues to make guys work," Mattingly said. "His at-bats have gotten a little bit better, average-wise not so much but more the at-bats have been good, and we feel like that will get better as time goes."
Don't forget about Garcia
Onelki Garcia has been sidelined pretty much all camp, recovering quite slowly from the arthroscopic surgery on his left elbow on Nov. 8. He is definitely a candidate to be placed on the 60-day disabled list, which would make him ineligible to pitch in the majors before May 18. It would also open up a spot on the 40-man roster, needed with the likely additions of non-roster invitees Turner and Figgins.
"It's really more about where he's at physically, and how long this is going to take," Mattingly said of Garcia. "Obviously we haven't seen him off the mound, we've had setbacks, we've had lots of different problems so far. [The 60-day DL] is a possibility."
Don't lose a player unless you have to (delay the decision)
Remember we are talking about the Australia roster and not the domestic opening roster in San Diego, two weeks from today. By keeping Butera for Australia, the Dodgers don't have to risk losing him until closer to the regular season, when he might be easier to pass through waivers. Or if something happens to one of the other catchers in the interim, they would still have Butera around.
The same logic applies for relief pitcher Javy Guerra, also out of options, and for Rule 5 pick Seth Rosin, who has to remain on the active roster or be placed on waivers and potentially offered back to the Phillies. The Dodgers could also work out a trade with Philadelphia to keep Rosin permanently, which would then allow them to option the pitcher.
Keeping Rosin or Guerra for now gives the Dodgers more time to work out a trade to either keep or lose the player. Even if one or neither player makes the trip to Australia, the Dodgers still technically have until next Friday at 7 p.m. PT (when rosters are officially due) to work out a deal, or even use the exempt status on one of them though the latter seems unlikely.
The DL doesn't have to be that long
The Dodgers and Diamondbacks are allowed to back date their disabled list stints back to March 19, two days earlier than the other 28 major league teams. This means a player on the DL would be able to return to the Dodgers by the home opener on April 4 (really, it's April 3, but the Dodgers are off that day), missing potentially five games.
Matt Kemp (ankle), Chad Billingsley (recovery from Tommy John surgery) and Josh Beckett (thumb contusion, not needing a fifth starter until mid-April) are the most likely candidates to open the year on the DL.
Greinke (right calf) might also be a candidate, but he is also scheduled to start Monday in a minor league game. If he remains on regular rest, he could pitch on March 22 and March 27 as well, then be ready to go on full rest on April 1 in San Diego, the second game of the season.
Keeping in mind that I have sort of been obsessing over this for several days, and that I may be punch drunk after 36 days in Arizona, here is my guess for the Dodgers roster in Australia:
- Catchers (3): A.J. Ellis, Federowicz, Butera
- Infielders (6): Adrian Gonzalez, Dee Gordon, Juan Uribe, Hanley Ramirez, Turner*, Figgins*
- Outfielders (4): Yasiel Puig, Andre Ethier, Scott Van Slyke, Mike Baxter
- Starting pitchers (3): Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Paul Maholm
- Relief pitchers (9): Kenley Jansen, Brian Wilson, J.P. Howell, Chris Perez, Paco Rodriguez, Jamey Wright, Chris Withrow, Jose Dominguez, Rosin
- Exempt players (3): Greinke, Haren, League
- Paternity leave (1): Carl Crawford
- Disabled list (5): Kemp, Billingsley, Beckett, Scott Elbert (60-day), Garcia (60-day)*
- Others on the plane (5): Lee (starting exhibition game), Joc Pederson, Miguel Rojas, Nick Buss, Red Patterson
*The moves to get Turner and Figgins on the DL would be Garcia to the 60-day DL and trading the out-of-options Guerra
Given how many times I have gone over this roster backward and forward, I expect this to change many times between now and Sunday night. But that's where I'm at for now.