Dodgers: Year Two Poses Another Challenge for Manager Dave Roberts
By Ryan Vargas
The Dodgers’ 2015 season ended with a disappointing loss to the New York Mets in the NLDS. The front office decided that changes needed to be made and they parted ways with manager Don Mattingly after 5 seasons. This came as no surprise as Mattingly failed to lead the Dodgers to the World Series despite three straight National League West titles.
On November 23, 2015, the Dodgers announced the hiring of Dave Roberts, former Dodgers’ player and San Diego Padres bench coach, to a three-year deal with an option for a fourth year.
Roberts had lofty expectations when he took over the Dodgers and the rookie manager did not disappoint. He looked like a seasoned manager in his first year. He was able to turn the Dodgers’ bullpen, which had been unreliable under Mattingly, into one of the best in baseball, with basically the same personnel.
The Dodgers did not miss a beat under Roberts en route to their fourth consecutive National League West title. This success did not go unnoticed, as Roberts was named the 2016 National League Manager of the Year, the first for the Dodgers since Tommy Lasorda in 1988.
Coming into his second season at the helm, Roberts will be facing another tough challenge. This year he will be tasked with limiting the innings of the young phenom Julio Urias, managing the workload of key veteran players, and utilizing the depth of the roster, all while keeping everyone happy.
There is little doubt that Julio Urias is one of the Dodgers’ top 5 starting pitchers. That being said, the 20-year-old is still developing and cannot handle the workload of an entire 162 game season. To address this issue, Roberts announced that Urias will remain at Camelback Ranch when the season begins, and to continue to work in sort of an extended spring training. This will allow Urias to continue building strength in a less stressful environment.
I completely agree with this decision by the Roberts and the Dodgers’ front office. The last thing the Dodgers want is to have Urias get injured due to an increased workload that is beyond his body’s capabilities at his young age. Urias, in the four years he has been a professional, has only pitched a combined 344.1 innings. If he were to start the season in the rotation he would most likely get close to 180 innings pitched, which is far too many.
The next challenges Roberts faces, in managing the workload of key veterans and utilizing Dodgers’ depth, go hand in hand. It is no secret that veterans such as Adrian Gonzalez and Chase Utley are aging. However, the Dodgers will need to rely on these veterans as the season goes on.
While Utley’s role will be that of a bench player, Gonzalez will still be relied upon to shoulder the majority of the role at first base. Gonzalez will be turning 35-years-old this season and there are signs that he is beginning to slow down at the plate. Last season he only hit 18 home runs, which was his lowest total since the 2011 season.
In order to keep him fresh and productive, Roberts will need to give Gonzalez more regular days off. I think that the Dodgers should move Grandal out from behind home plate once a week to play first base. This would be effective because it gives Gonzalez the day off and allows for Austin Barnes to get some playing time behind the plate as well.
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The Dodgers can use the tactic of scheduled rest for their more veteran players because of the great depth that they have, especially in the outfield. The Dodgers’ outfield is crowded, with Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Franklin Gutierrez, Andrew Toles, Trayce Thompson, Kiké Hernandez, and Andre Ethier all vying for playing time.
While depth is great on paper, it is a very tricky situation to handle. Roberts will have a tough task managing the egos of these players and getting them to buy into the team-first mentality. Only three players get to start in the outfield and there is no way around that fact.
I think this will be the toughest challenge for manager Dave Roberts this season. Hopefully, three of these players will separate themselves from the rest in terms of their production. This will make the decision a very easy one but, it is unlikely that it happens.
In my opinion, the Dodgers should use a starting outfield of Toles, Pederson, and Puig, with Gutierrez off the bench. Pederson, Puig, and Gutierrez have all shown they can produce at the major league level. Toles, on the other hand, is the least experienced of the group, but he brings base stealing, something the Dodgers sorely lack, to the table.
Dave Roberts has a tough task on his hands for the 2017 season but I believe that he has the right temperament and communication skills to make it work. He will get the players to buy into the team-first mentality and I predict that he will once again finish in the top-3 in Manager of the Year voting.