Today is the first day of 2019 season for the Los Angeles Dodgers. Pitchers and catchers will be walking into the clubhouse at Camelback Ranch. Some, like Dustin May, will be taking another step in their professional career. Others will just be trying to secure a position in the Dodger organization.
When manager Dave Roberts meets with the media later this morning, that will mark his fourth season with the Dodgers. Roberts became the first Dodger manager to be at the helm of three-straight postseason appearances in his first three seasons as leader of the team.
Roberts signed a four-year extension last December and that removed any question for now of his status with the team.
2019 team will look a lot like 2018 team
Last month, Andrew Friedman, President of Baseball Operations said that he believed the 2018 team was the most talented team he had overseen. And just the fact that the team led the National League in both runs scored and runs allowed was just a small bit of evidence to put on the table.
When the 2018 season was over, the Dodgers had 46 players on their 40-man roster. Eric Stephen broke the roster down in this October article and now we can take a look at what has happened in the past months.
- Chase Utley was released into retirement.
- The Dodgers had seven free-agents. Five of them they either could not give a qualifying offer to or they chose not to give one. Those five, infielders Brian Dozier and Manny Machado and pitchers John Axford, Ryan Madson and Daniel Hudson, took their skills to the open market. The Dodgers did give qualifying offers to catcher Yasmani Grandal and left-handed pitcher Hyun-jin Ryu. Ryu accepted his offer while Grandal would eventually sign with the Brewers.
- Two players had options available to them, pitcher Clayton Kershaw and infielder David Freese. The Dodgers negotiated contracts with both players, Kershaw was extended through 2021 and Freese signed a one-year deal.
- Of the five players under contract, outfielder Matt Kemp was traded along Yasiel Puig, Alex Wood and Kyle Farmer to the Reds. Infielder Justin Turner and pitchers Rich Hill, Kenley Jansen and Kenta Maeda, are all returning.
- The Dodgers had 13 players that were arbitration-eligible. Two of them, Puig and Wood, were as mentioned above, traded to the Reds. Pitchers Tom Koehler, Eric Goeddel and Zac Rosscup were released. The other eight players, pitchers Pedro Baez, Tony Cingrani, Josh Fields and Yimi Garcia, infielder Corey Seager, outfielder Joc Pederson and the multi-positioned Kiké Hernández and Chris Taylor all came to terms at the arbitration deadline in January.
- Finally, the Dodgers had 18 players on that October 2018 40-man roster that were not yet arbitration-eligible. Kyle Farmer, as mentioned, was traded to the Reds. Utility player Tim Locastro was traded to the Yankees and pitcher Pat Venditte was designated for assignment. The other 15 players remain in the organization.
So that means 30 players remained from the 40-man roster at the end of last season.
The Dodgers added five players to their roster from their minor-league organization prior to the Rule 5 draft. Catcher Keibert Ruiz, infielders Matt Beaty and Edwin Rios and pitchers Yadier Alvarez and Josh Sborz. They acquired pitchers Adam McCreery and Jaime Schultz from Atlanta and Tampa Bay.
Old friend catcher Russell Martin was also acquired via a trade with the Blue Jays. Martin will look to pair with Austin Barnes this season.
Finally, the Dodgers signed free agents, pitcher Joe Kelly and outfielder A.J. Pollock, both will be counted on to play key roles this season.
Russell Martin returns to where it all began
At some point this month, Clayton Kershaw will throw a pitch and Russell Martin will catch it. The last game Kershaw and Martin played together was August 1, 2010. That was the 61st time Martin caught Kershaw and it was two games before Martin played his last game for the Dodgers that season.
Martin’s 61 Kershaw games caught ranks third, just behind Grandal’s 62 and well behind the just retired A.J. Ellis who caught nearly twice as many, 119 games pitched by his good friend Clayton Kershaw.
Martin will recognize few faces in the clubhouse, besides Kershaw, there is one other player whom he caught once just days after he arrived to the big leagues, Kenley Jansen, who was on that 2010 Dodger team. He’ll hope for more games like the only game he caught Jansen, on July 25, 2010, Kershaw and Jansen combined for a 1-0 shutout over the Mets. That was Jansen’s first career save.
What to look for this spring training
Although anything could happen, for now, the starting rotation and most of the position player slots seemed filled. The bullpen, as always, will be a work in progress.
How Corey Seager and to maybe a lesser extent, Kenley Jansen, progress health-wise will be something to watch. Seager has not played many spring training games in the past two years so for him, it could be seeing if gets a lot of minor-league spring training games where he can get more plate appearances. Jansen said last month he plans to pitch more regularly this spring.
If Seager can play right away, that could mean Chris Taylor and Kiké Hernández will be splitting time at second and in the outfield. With both Pollock and Bellinger scheduled for playing time in the outfield, that will increase competition for Joc Pederson, Alex Verdugo and Andrew Toles. Depending on how many relievers the Dodgers plan to carry, the battle for that last few position player spots will be fierce.