30 Questions: Who's the odd man out in the Dodgers OF?
Thirty teams, 30 burning fantasy questions. Throughout the preseason, we put one of these questions to an ESPN.com analyst for an in-depth look at the most interesting, perplexing or dumbfounding fantasy facet of each major league team.
Shortly after Joe Torre was named manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers, he was asked what he planned to do with his outfield situation. The team had just signed Andruw Jones to play center field, displacing Juan Pierre and raising questions about whether one or both of the team's two promising youngsters, Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier, might be called upon by the new skipper once April rolled around. This is what Torre had to say on the Dodgers' official Web site at that time: "I really haven't given it any thought. I know there are more bodies than positions We'll do what's best for the team. We'll leave for spring training with three guys to give it their best shot."
We now find ourselves in the last of the spring training games, and at least publicly, Joe Torre has still not said what his plans are. The rumors though are rampant Kemp and Ethier will platoon in right Ethier and Pierre will platoon in left Ethier is going to be traded Kemp is going to be traded Pierre is being benched nobody seems to know for sure. And so the question remains: What will Joe Torre do with Matt Kemp, Juan Pierre and Andre Ethier?
To answer that, first let's take a look at each player, what they bring to the table, and how they've done this spring:
Juan Pierre: The 30-year-old veteran left-handed hitter is, in a word, fast. Since becoming an everyday major league outfielder in 2001, Juan has averaged close to 10 triples and more than 50 steals per season. He was in the Top 10 in the National League in hitting in 2001 and 2004, and has been in the NL's Top 10 in hits every year since 2003. Of course, he brings absolutely no power to the table. He has only 12 career home runs, and that's with several years in both Coors Field and Wrigley Field under his belt. Left field would be a new position for Pierre, and his defensive track record in center field (27 career errors) and poor arm strength leaves a lot to be desired. This spring Pierre hit only .196 in 51 at-bats, primarily from the leadoff spot, though he did steal six bases.
Andre Ethier: Ethier is also a left-handed hitter. The 26-year-old has averaged 12 home runs in his two major league seasons but needs a little more work on the basepaths. Ethier got skunked, going 0-for-4 in stolen base attempts last season. He's far more comfortable in left field than Pierre, and had 10 outfield assists in 2007. Ethier certainly has been the best of the trio in spring training, hitting.354 with five home runs and 13 RBIs. In addition, he also went 2-for-3 in attempted steals.
Matt Kemp: Kemp will turn 23 this season and is the lone right-handed hitter of the trio. In a limited big league sample, the numbers certainly are impressive for Kemp. He hit .342 for the Dodgers last season and showed he has a lot of speed as well. Kemp stole 10 bases in 15 attempts and added five triples. He has also showcased some power to go along with that speed. Kemp has seven fewer career home runs than Ethier, but in about half as many at-bats. Kemp seems to be a hybrid of his two competitors: He's got Pierre's speed and Ethier's power, only all in the same package. Plus, he has a very strong throwing arm. This spring, Kemp hit .310 with two home runs and 12 RBIs and went a perfect 3-for-3 in stolen bases.
Kemp's skill set and spring performance seem to indicate that he's going to get the right-field job. While Torre hasn't tipped his hand, actions speak louder than words. When the Dodgers split up into two separate teams this past week, with one group joining Torre in China and the other staying home in Vero Beach, he took Andruw Jones and Matt Kemp with him. It would seem that Pierre and Ethier were left behind to battle it out, under the same set of conditions, for the remaining outfield spot.
So who will win the head-to-head battle? Who will Torre pick? I think the answer to those questions are not one and the same. Clearly, Ethier has won the spring battle, but Pierre is going to win the war and be the left fielder to start the season. It's not that Torre is opposed to playing young outfielders. Exhibit A: Melky Cabrera. However, with Kemp already filling right field, it's unlikely that Torre will be willing to start Ethier as well. That's why he always supported Cabrera with the likes of Bernie Williams, Johnny Damon, Bobby Abreu and Hideki Matsui. Say what you want about Pierre, he is a veteran presence.
Some skeptics will say that Pierre will get the job only because of his big five-year, $44 million contract. I don't think that's it. Joe is no longer living in the Land of George. He didn't sign on with the Dodgers to have dollars dictate his decisions. The fact is that Pierre is more of a fit with Torre's baseball philosophy. Torre likes to have speed at the top of the lineup to distract the opposing pitcher. That's Pierre, not Ethier. And if Pierre isn't in the starting lineup, he's really of no use to the team. You can see Ethier coming off the bench in a key late-inning situation when the team is in need of a big hit. What will Pierre do for you there?
At least for now, Ethier appears to be on the outside looking in. Whether that ends up being remedied by a trade, or by Pierre failing to crack the Mendoza Line by mid-May, remains to be seen. But as a starting point, I think that's how it's going to be. Draft accordingly.
A.J. Mass is a fantasy football, baseball and college basketball analyst for ESPN.com. You can e-mail him here.