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Dodgers mailbag: Shortstop playing time, roster additions, and NRIs

Answering your questions on the podcast

Division Series - Los Angeles Dodgers v San Diego Padres - Game Four Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

We asked for questions earlier this week, and you came through. So today’s episode of the Leading Off with True Blue LA podcast answers a handful of those questions in our first mailbag episode of the year as we inch closer to the start of Dodgers spring training.

Now, onto the questions.

Dovregubben86: Who will have more PAs as a SS, Lux or Rojas?

Jacob Burch and I tried to answer this on The Lineup podcast last week. But what started as an exercise in picking the players with the most defensive innings at shortstop, second base, third base, left field, and center field ended up as us talking through the various scenarios at each position.

On that podcast, I picked Rojas to play the most at shortstop, since his defense at the position is stellar, but I do think the playing time split could be pretty close. Complicating matters is the wrist surgery Rojas had in October, and whether the wrist things he needs to “figure out” before spring training might affect his availability for opening day.

I could see the Dodgers starting the season with Rojas and shortstop and Lux at second base, but then at some point maybe Michael Busch comes up to add his bat to the lineup, and he take the bulk of time at second base.

The best version of the 2023 Dodgers probably has Lux at shortstop and Rojas as the semi-regular fill-in at various positions. It’s just a matter of how long it takes to get to that configuration.

JB 8: Do you believe there will be any 40-man roster additions prior to the first full squad workout on Feb 20?

68elcamino427: Will the Dodgers add another bat prior to Opening Day? Will the Dodgers add another SP prior to Opening Day?

I lumped these roster questions together because they are related, and I think the answer to all three is yes.

As to the first question, perhaps that ends up more of a technicality, because players can be placed on the 60-day injured list once spring training starts. The first (non-WBC) pitchers and catchers workout for the Dodgers is February 16, with those players presumably reporting the previous day. That gives the team four, maybe five days to add someone prior to the first full-squad workout.

The Dodgers have three pitchers who aren’t expected to pitch until very late in the season if at all in 2023 — Walker Buehler, Blake Treinen, and newcomer J.P. Feyereisen — so they can be placed on the 60-day IL to make roster room if needed. Another such pitcher might fulfill both roles, since free agent reliever Chad Green is recovering from Tommy John surgery, and could follow the Tommy Kahnle path of coming from the Yankees to Los Angeles on a two-year deal, with most of the expected production coming in 2024. Green’s surgery was last June, compared to August 2020 for Kahnle, so it’s feasible that Green would be available at some point this year, after the All-Star break.

If Green is signed, he could also eventually be placed on the 60-day IL himself to make room for another move, if needed.

I think the Dodgers will add a bat because the current projected 13 active position players from the 40-man roster include — by my estimation — James Outman and Yonny Hernández. More depth would be welcome, even if non-roster invitee Jason Hewyard has an inside track to one of those roster spots.

Even with five starting pitchers currently occupying rotation spots — Julio Urías, Clayton Kershaw, Tony Gonsolin, Dustin May, Noah Syndergaard — plus Ryan Pepiot and Michael Grove in reserve (and Bobby Miller and Gavin Stone both likely to pitch their way onto the 40-man roster at some point later in the season), getting yet another starting pitcher usually fits how the Dodgers operate. Whether that “extra” pitcher ends up leading the team in innings pitched remains to be seen.

Underdog: Which non roster guy do you give the best chance at making the OD roster? Any sleepers in the system who could make an impact this year not currently on 40 man roster?

Jason Heyward sure seems like the best guess to make the roster, but it’s all dependent on health, after two injury-plagued bad years in Chicago. He missed the last three months in 2022 with a knee injury. But I think if he shows anything during spring, he’ll end up making the Dodgers roster.

As a caveat, the Dodgers haven’t yet announced any non-roster invitees besides Heyward, so some of this is guesswork.

But looking elsewhere, it would be a nice twist if Jake Reed, who was designated for assignment five times in a five-month span at the end of 2022, ends up earning an opening day spot in the bullpen for the first time in his career. It would be a moment of uncommon stability for the vagabond pitcher.

Hollywood Joe: If you could add any position player from Dodger history to this roster (who was never even once an all-star or a HOFer) who would it be? Same question for pitchers.

I love this question, and we’ll ignore Kirk Gibson, to whom Joe referred in a later comment, because Gibson was actually asked to join the National League All-Star team in 1988 but declined the honor. I’m adding another stipulation, in that if a player won an MVP — as Gibson did that year — or Cy Young Award, they should also be disqualified from Joe’s question.

Eric Karros jumps to mind here, as he has the most plate appearances (6,624) among All-Star-eligible Dodgers by far. Karros excelled at an interesting time for me in baseball fandom. He put up 30 home runs and 100 RBI five times in a six-year stretch, but it was an offensive-friendly era, such that his OPS+ with the Dodgers was 109, which was still above average but not markedly so, especially for a first baseman.

Karros also wouldn’t fit on the 2023 Dodgers, with everyday Freddie Freeman at first base. Freeman started the first 141 games last season, and ended with 159 starts at first base, the most since Karros a quarter-century earlier. With J.D. Martinez taking most of the starts at designated hitter, there isn’t really a place for Karros to play on this Dodgers team. Wes Parker, who has the next-most Dodgers PA among non-All-Stars, also played first base, but he did mix in very limited time in the outfield, too.

But I’m going with a different utility player. And not Lee Lacy — this week’s Dodgers rewind — though he could also be a nice fit.

Enrique Hernández can play center field, a position the Dodgers have been trying to fill defensively since jettisoning Cody Bellinger, and Hernández also plays all over the middle infield. He’d be the perfect addition to the 2023 Dodgers, filling in wherever needed while providing plus defense along the way. And he might even mix in a home run or three in a pennant-clinching game along the way.

On the pitching side, the most innings pitched for the Dodgers by a non-All-Star was Doug Rau, who was the Chad Billingsley of the 1970s — an above-average homegrown starting pitcher who most people view as an also-ran. Rau won 73 games in a five-year stretch that saw the Dodgers win three pennants, and has a 106 ERA+ in 1,250⅔ innings with Los Angeles.

Rau also had a 6.55 postseason ERA in 11 innings over six games, including most famously being on the business end of a classic Tommy Lasorda rant on the mound during in Game 4 of the 1977 World Series. I thought about Ismael Valdez as well, a personal favorite of mine in the 1990s, with a 115 ERA+ in 1,065 innings. Bringing this full circle, he’s linked to Karros, as the two tussled in the shower after a bad start in Miami in 1997.

But for me, the pitcher I’m adding to this year’s Dodgers is Ron Perranoski, the ace reliever for the bulk of the 1960s who pitched on three pennant winners and two championship squads. In seven years with the Dodgers from 1961-67, the left-hander averaged 107 innings with a 2.56 ERA and a 132 ERA+. In those seven years, Perranoski led the majors in games pitched (448) and was second in innings pitched among relievers (750), behind only Hoyt Wilhelm. Saves didn’t become an official statistic until 1969, but retroactively, Perranoski’s 100 would-be saves in his first seven years was tied for the most in the National League, then later while with the Twins led the league in saves in the first two years they were recognized.

Add in Perranoski’s 14 years as Dodgers pitching coach, and he could impart some wisdom to his bullpen mates when he’s not pitching. A perfect addition to this year’s bullpen in any role.

Berry2020: Take the over or under 91 wins next season?

Two things can be true here:

So while I wouldn’t necessarily argue with someone who says the Padres are the favorites to win the National League West, I think the Dodgers can clear 91 wins with their current roster, as is. So this is a clear over bet for me.

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