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Dodgers bench is a strength again

Position-player depth has been augmented by additions and health

San Diego Padres v. Los Angeles Dodgers Photo by Rob Leiter/MLB Photos via Getty Images

Over the last few seasons, Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has enjoyed using the term “high-class problem,” about his options to deploy among the team’s largesse of talented players. Position player depth took a hit since 2020 with free agent departures, underperformance, and injuries, but it’s looking very much like a strength of the team this season.

In under two weeks the Dodgers traded for Joey Gallo, and got both Chris Taylor and Justin Turner back from injured list stints. That Taylor, who had offseason elbow surgery, has been cleared for infield duty again is a boon that adds to the team’s flexibility, a central tenet of the last half-decade plus.

Edwin Ríos, working his way back from a severe hamstring injury that cost him over two months, has played eleven games so far on his minor league rehab assignment with Triple-A Oklahoma City. He’s alternated between third base and designated hitter in Triple-A, playing in the field on consecutive days only once, and playing in three straight games also once.

Ríos was second on the Dodgers in home runs when he landed on the injured list at the start of June. Now, there might not be room for him on the roster until September, when active limits expand from 26 to 28 players.

A high-class problem.

Think about it — if everyone is healthy, and Ríos is ready to return, who would the Dodgers send down to make room? Mookie Betts, Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, Justin Turner, Max Muncy, Cody Bellinger, and Taylor aren’t going anywhere. Will Smith and Austin Barnes are the two catchers, though Barnes is currently on family medical emergency leave. That’s nine position players.

Gallo since activated has started four of six games against right-handed pitchers, and on Wednesday hit a three-run, pinch-hit home run against Twins right-hander Griffin Jax to put that game to bed.

Trayce Thompson, who buoyed the outfield through injuries to Mookie Betts and Taylor, has been limited to starting mostly against lefties, with just one start in the club’s last eight games against righties. But he’s often used late in games thanks to his defensive abilities, and in the last two games excelled late against a right-hander — his double Wednesday off Emilio Pagan impressed Steph Curry, and on Friday Thompson’s three-run homer in the eighth blew open an already not-so-close game.

Neither Gallo now Thompson could be removed from the roster without getting placed on waivers, even if the Dodgers wanted to, which they don’t. They didn’t trade for Gallo two dump him inside of two weeks.

Gavin Lux has proven to be an integral part of the lineup this season, hitting .296/.372/.423 with a 127 wRC+, ranking fifth in the National League in on-base percentage and ninth in batting average. His defensive versatility, alternating between second base and left field, makes Lux invaluable. He’s going nowhere.

That leaves only Hanser Alberto as a potential roster casualty if Ríos is activated in August. Alberto is out of options, so he’d have to be designated for assignment to be sent down. I have a hard time seeing that happening considering his popularity in the clubhouse. He’s hitting .250/.277/.384, though that’s been better of late, with hits in seven of his last nine starts. He provides defensive coverage at second and third base, plus the occasional inning or two at shortstop when Trea Turner gets a rare few minutes off of his feet during a game.

I doubt the Dodgers would jettison Alberto for what might be four or five extra Ríos starts, when they could just wait two weeks and still have both players.

One of Taylor, Gallo, or Thompson figure to start in left field most days. Lux started 24 times in left this season, but none since Gallo and Taylor were activated. Taylor hasn’t yet started three straight days since his return, but homered Wednesday, and has played second base and third base in addition to left field.

The point is, the Dodgers have options again, and are at a point where the bench will always have one or two starting-level players at the ready. That’s a good place to be.