The Los Angeles Dodgers find themselves in an enviable yet difficult position in which they have too many good outfielders. There’s an awful lot of talent between the trio of Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, and Andre Ethier but injuries have limited the playing time and effectives of all three over the last couple seasons and it’s been rare to see a time when a spot on the disabled list isn’t occupied by at least one of them. Add in superstar slugger Yasiel Puig and top prospect Joc Pederson who’s ready at Triple-A and you presumably have five guys for three spots — and that isn’t including one Scott Van Slyke who could be a useful pick up for a team like the Seattle Mariners.
There’s no question that despite their seemingly limitless payroll the Dodgers would love to get out from one of Crawford, Kemp, or Ethier’s contracts. Not including what’s still owed for 2014, Crawford is due $62.25 million over the next three seasons, Kemp is owed $107 million through 2019, and Ethier is owed $56 million including a buyout of his vesting option for 2018. At one time or another all three of the outfielders were some of the best in baseball and would’ve garnered plenty of interest had they been available by trade. How quickly things change.
Normally having overpaid former superstars occupying roster spots wouldn’t be a problem for the Dodgers, but they appear to be very interested in getting Pederson to the big league level, ideally before the end of the 2014 season. He’s currently destroying Triple-A pitching to the tune of a .327/.452/.584 line and his defensive abilities are very highly regarded. Pederson is still just 22-years old but is in his fourth minor league season and it looks as though he’s done verything Los Angeles could’ve hoped for in the minors.
Obviously Puig isn’t going anywhere and manager Don Mattingly would be silly not to keep the enigmatic star in the lineup everyday, but that leaves two outfield spots between Crawford, Ethier, Kemp, and Van Slyke. At first glance that doesn’t appear to be such a problem considering the injury history of the aforementioned trio and the luxury of having a couple of very good bats on the bench late in the game, but it’d be very difficult to add Pederson to that mix and maintain much roster flexibility.
Now there’s always the possibility that the Dodgers could pull off a trade for Kemp in the coming week, he’s said to be very open to going elsewhere, but this situation is far more likely to be resolved in the offseason. So, could that hypothetically make Van Slyke the most likely current Dodger outfielder to go if and when Pederson is summoned? He certainly seems like he’d be the easiest to move.
[pullquote]This year the Dodgers have primarily employed Van Slyke in left field but he’s seen some action in center and has made five starts at first base where he’s logged just over 100 innings in his major league career.[/pullquote]
The soon to be 28-year old Van Slyke has put together a decent 2014 campaign with a .259/.387/.504 triple slash line and eight home runs while playing slightly above average defence in right field and average defence in center according to UZR. The son of current Mariners first base coach Andy Van Slyke may not be the flashy big-name offensive addition M’s fans have hoped for, but on paper he certainly could plug some holes. He’s shown some home run power during his time in the minors and for his short major league career has 17 in 143 games played. His right-handed bat would also help balance the glut of left-handed hitters the M’s have near the top of the order. More importantly he’s handled left-handed pitching very well this year with a 214 wRC+ while seeing the majority of his at bats in the fifth and sixth spot in the lineup.
Van Slyke excels in the on base department and boasts a 12.6 percent walk rate so far in his young career and a 15.3 percent mark in 2014 alone. Perhaps if he was able to hit for a higher batting average he’d be an excellent candidate to hit in the No. 2 spot in the lineup, but he’s the type of player that can fit practically anywhere in a lineup and his ability to get on base could play well for for the top of the order if he hit in the eighth or ninth spot.
In a way Van Slyke is similar to Michael Saunders: he’s good in the outfield, has a decent arm and decent speed, and some home run power while hitting for a passable average — he basically does everything well, but he doesn’t excel in one particular area. Van Slyke is also three months Saunders’ senior. The pair could make a very interesting platoon as Saunders has had better success against right-handed pitching in his career. It’s also fair to say that the M’s already have a player like Van Slyke in Saunders based on the reasons above and there’s no reason to double up.
Van Slyke would be an upgrade on Endy Chavez and Stefen Romero in right field and should have no problem taking at bats from Dustin Ackley in left. He doesn’t seem quite good enough in center to push incumbent James Jones to right field, but the outfield would definitely become more athletic. Depending on what’s happening with Corey Hart and Logan Morrison on any given day mostly depending on match ups, Van Slyke could hypothetically slot in at first and his bat is good enough to start as the team’s designated hitter.
The big question, as with any potential trade target, is what’s he going to cost to bring in? While the Dodgers don’t have any glaring holes on their ball club they could definitely use some bullpen depth and another option for the infield. Hanley Ramirez is a free agent after this season and Alexander Guerrero isn’t quite ready to play everyday in the majors, which could makes Nick Franklin an enticing piece to work with given Dee Gordon‘s flexibility. The Dodgers could also have interest in one of Seattle’s relievers, be it Brandon Maurer, Dominic Leone, Tom Wilhelmsen, or whomever, as a potential return as well. The Dodgers are also in a position were they could take on a prospect with some serious upside but is still several years away from the majors like a Gabriel Guerrero for instance.
Now Seattle is said to be pursing Marlon Byrd as an outfield upgrade but the major hitch in a potential deal is the Philadelphia Philles asking price for the veteran. Not to mention that 2016 vesting option Byrd wants guaranteed in exchange for waiving his no-trade clause to come to Seattle. Compared with Van Slyke, Byrd is the superior hitter and had a very impressive age-35 season in which he amassed 4.1 fWAR and a 143 wRC+ in 2013. The now 36-year old isn’t a great defender, but he’s not a complete liability in the outfield. He will be owed $8 million in 2015 and 2016 however, should his option be exercised.
Van Slyke won’t be arbitration eligible until after the 2015 season so he’s a cost-controlled asset, and should the Mariners want to get really creative they could possibly explore using him in an offseason trade for a bigger fish should they acquire the 27-year old prior to the trade deadline. Or, they could really upgrade the offence and pick up both Van Slyke and Byrd. Again, they’re not perfect players, but they’re very usable within the M’s lineup.
There’s no reason to believe that the Dodgers are ready to deal Van Slyke, Mattingly has recently described him as the team’s best defensive outfielder, but he’d definitely be the easiest outfielder to move should the club decide to do so. Reports indicate that Seattle has many conversations on the go about several outfielders, and should Van Slyke become available he could be a solid fit.