The countdown has begun, kids. Actually, it’s a little bit past. The opening series (well, the American version) is here, as the Dodgers take on the Padres down in San Diego. To prepare you for the regular season, MAMBINO will tackle 20 of the most important–and some not so important–questions that will get you set up for a year of almost unparalleled expectations. Let’s get it going:
Who is the team’s secret weapon?
With the league’s highest payroll and in the country’s second biggest media market, it’s hard for there to be an uncovered corner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Ordinarily, most team’s unheralded bulllpens could easily be their “secret weapons”, but seeing as GM Ned Colletti put together a group of relievers with big money guarantees and a ton of previous closing experience, I can’t put them under consideration here. After all, is there any situation in everyday life in which Brian Wilson can ever be considered “secret”?
I’d also usually point to the fourth and fifth starters in the rotation, but considering one is a former World Series MVP (Josh Beckett) and the other is a three-time All-Star with two top-10 Cy Young Award finishes (Dan Haren), they’re hardly quiet roster additions.
That leaves me with a surprising answer: Scott Van Slyke.
The back-up outfielder and first baseman isn’t going to be a regular in this line-up, even in the face of massive injuries. The Dodgers already have four regular outfielders, so in the case that any of them go down, there’s a replacement already in hand. Even in the case that first baseman Adrian Gonzalez goes down for a long period of time, I wouldn’t be surprised if coach Don Mattingly gave Andre Ethier a shot there. Whatever the situation, I’d be fairly shocked if Van Slyke found his way into regular playing time. But that doesn’t mean he’s not immensely valuable to this team.
Finding a back-up utility player who can sit out days at a time and still hit for power isn’t the easiest task. Despite just 152 plate appearances last season, Van Slyke still slugged .465 and jakked 7 homers. He went 4 for 10 in pinch hitting duties, to boot, a small sample size but indicative that he can come off the bench cold and perform in big spots.
Even so, what’s the big deal? He just looks like a reserve player with a little bit of pop. He’s not a defensive replacement in any regard, nor is he a platoon type of batter that’s going to substitute for any of the highly paid outfielders.
The big deal is that he’s essentially the only reserve player the Dodgers have that can provide any type of discernible offense off the bench. With Michael Young and Skip Schumaker gone, Van Slyke is going to be Mattingly’s first choice as a hitter for his pitchers, as well as a late game solution in extra innings. Knowing the health history of Ethier, Kemp and Crawford, he’s likely to get more than his fair share of playing time in the outfield, providing decent enough defense where he’s not going to hurt the team. If the Dodgers’s health report goes south, which I suspect it could very easily, Van Slyke could be the temporary solution that keeps the team afloat in the interim. To me, that’s a secret weapon worth having.