While the Dodgers are world beaters and a lock for the post season, they still have to sort out their bench. A big part of the equation will be solved if Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez are able to return and show they’re healthy.
The Dodgers currently are getting by with a four man bench that consists of Chase Utley, Kike Hernandez, Austin Barnes, and Kyle Farmer. Last year the Dodgers had 14 position players on their NLDS roster which meant the bench had six position players on it. Given the versatility of their bench players they could choose to stock up on pitchers but more than likely there will be at least five players on the bench again.
Kyle Farmer is a third catcher, so in all likelihood, he will not be part of the Dodgers playoff roster. That means there are at least two bench spots up for grabs and possibly even three if the Dodgers roll with a six man bench like last year. Chase Utley, Kike Hernandez, and Austin Barnes are locks for the playoff bench, but outside of them, there is still a lot to be determined. Last week Andre Ethier and Adrian Gonzalez took batting practice for the first time in a while, and both could be significant additions to the playoff bench if they’re healthy and can stay healthy.
Of the two, Andre Ethier is better suited to be a pinch hitter as he has a 318 average with 14 RBI as a pinch hitter over the past three seasons. Adrian Gonzalez only has a .059 average as a pinch hitter, but he could fill the DH role if the Dodgers were to make the World Series. Gonzalez could possibly start at first base in the playoffs if he is able to return and show his prior form but if he can’t then, he will be relegated to a bench role. Given Ethier’s back and leg injuries over the past two seasons he would most likely only be a pinch hitter unless he is able to play the field in September. Given his clutch moments in the past, Ethier could still provide one more big moment or two before his Dodger tenure is over.
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Adrian could re-claim his first base job if he comes back and tears the cover off the ball. That would only deepen the Dodger lineup and move Cody Bellinger to left field with Taylor taking over for Joc or possibly Forsythe. That is IF and only IF Gonzalez shows his bat still has some life in it. At worst he would give the Dodgers a professional at bat off the bench in a playoff game and with a career average of .322 with RISP he would be a clutch pinch hitter. If Gonzalez and Ethier could get back on the field, they would fill holes in the Dodgers potential playoff bench and make the Dodgers that much more dangerous.
If the Dodgers veteran duo cannot come back or suffer a setback, the Dodgers will likely use September to hold a competition for their final few bench spots. Franklin Gutierrez and Rob Segedin are another pair of veterans who have shown the potential to get some big hits off the bench, but they are also on the disabled list. Gutierrez is dealing with his autoimmune disease, and Segedin had wrist surgery. An intriguing possibility would be Alex Verdugo becoming a lethal weapon off the bench. He could be a lefty bat off the bench, a pinch runner capable of stealing bases, or a defensive replacement in the outfield for Joc or Taylor.
Outside of the players mentioned above, some other possibilities for the playoff bench are Trayce Thompson, Kyle Farmer or Mike Freeman. Farmer has only been up for less than a week but showed he’s clutch with a walk-off single in his first ever MLB at bat. Freeman and Thompson both are hitting below .120, so neither are good options, and Farmer still has a lot to prove at the ML level although like Barnes he can play multiple positions, so he has a good shot to stick. On Waivers, the biggest names will likely be Curtis Granderson and Jed Lowrie but neither are worth giving up anything besides money for, and the Dodgers have better options in house. The next couple of months may not mean much in the standings for the Dodgers, but for their playoff bench, it is time to have a battle royale.