Dodgers: Should LA Carry Three Catchers This Season?

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Yasmani Grandal
LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 26: Yasmani Grandal /

On a team like the Los Angeles Dodgers, where depth is valued like water in the desert, each of the 25 spots on the active roster is carefully examined and evaluated before determining how many of each position to carry on the Opening Day roster.

In my day (the 1970s and 80s), teams carried five starting pitchers, five relievers, and any combination of 15 position players.  As the 80s turned into the 90s and the 90s turned into the 2000s, the 2000s then turned into everything Sabermetric.

Billy Beane turned baseball on its collective ear in 2004 when he decided that things like on-base percentage were more important than batting average, thus opening the floodgates for teams to evaluate talent in a way like never before.

With the hiring of Andrew Friedman as President of Baseball Operations on Oct. 14, 2014, the Dodgers have embraced the forward thinking of Beane and have come as close to perfecting the art as any organization in baseball.

Today, teams sometimes carry as many as 13 pitchers and only 12 position players, which has led to the four-innings-and-a-cloud-of-dust mentality from many managers.  This is where predicting the Dodgers’ Opening Day 25 becomes tricky. The Dodgers love versatility because versatility equals depth, and depth equals winning. No other team, not even last year’s World Series winners, can match the Dodgers’ depth.

Guys like Kike Hernandez can play pretty much any position on the field except pitcher and catcher. Chris Taylor can play second, third, short or any outfield position.  Cody Bellinger showed as much defensive prowess in the outfield as he did at first base last season.

Even Justin Turner, who most people probably think only plays third base, started more games at second base (89) than he did at third base (50) between his call-up to the Majors in 2009 and joining the Dodgers in 2014.

The Dodgers currently have three catchers listed on their 40-man roster: Yasmani Grandal, Austin Barnes, and Kyle Farmer.  Should they carry all three on the 25-man Opening Day roster?

Here’s the rub: Grandal may still be the best of the three (and he can play a little first base in a pinch), but both Barnes and Farmer are more likely to play multiple positions, making them far more valuable in the long run.

In his three seasons with L.A., the 28-year-old Barnes, in addition to his 75 games behind the plate, has played second base 29 times and third base three times. That’s versatility.  Farmer played in the field in eight of his 11 appearances last season: four times at third base, thrice at catcher, and once at first base.

Grandal, entering his age 29 season, will make $7.9 million in 2018 after avoiding arbitration in the off-season. Barnes will make $555,000. Farmer, 27, will make 547,500 if he breaks camp with the big club.

Dodgers Way’s Michael Wittman wrote a great piece on Grandal in which Manager Dave Roberts said Grandal would enter 2018 as the “starting catcher.”

Wittman made a very good point in that 2018 will be Grandal’s last chance to impress potential suitors as a free agent next fall when it seems, everyone and their brother will be available on the free agent market.

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Wittman also wrote a piece on Farmer in which he points out that Farmer played catcher, first base, second base, third base, and even shortstop at AAA Oklahoma City last season.

Andy McCullough of the Los Angeles Times points out here that the Dodgers not only have two catchers (Grandal and Barnes) who could start on most teams, but they have a plethora of very young talent moving quickly through the minor league ranks.

Expect Grandal, a switch-hitter who has struggled to find his power stroke from the right side of the plate for most of his career, to start against most right-handed starters.  If Grandal continues his second-half slump, expect Barnes to see most of the playing time regardless of which hand the pitcher delivers the ball.

Barnes played himself into the full-time starter’s role late last season and into the post-season with a .289/.408/.486 slash line with a 137 OPS+ (where 100 is league average).  Grandal, on the other hand, hit a robust .267/.319/.469 with 19 doubles and 11 home runs before the All-Star break, but only .217/.292/.444 with eight doubles and 11 home runs following a thumb injury after the break.

Grandal hit only .157 in 24 September/October games, and then was 0-for-8 in the playoffs and World Series combined.  In very limited action, Farmer was six for 20 (.300) in 20 regular-season games but was 0-for-4 in the playoffs. And, of course, he did do this in his Major League debut.

So, should the Dodgers carry three catchers on March 29? The answer isn’t as easy as a yes or no.

Grandal is still one of the best pitch framers in the game, which is highly valued by the Dodgers’ front office, and Barnes has terrific versatility. Farmer will get plenty of experience at Oklahoma City, but he will eventually get pushed by Keibert Ruiz (No. 3 on the Dodgers’ top prospect list) and Will Smith (No. 9).

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The Dodgers most likely will choose to get their versatility from positions other than catcher. So, barring an injury, Grandal and Barnes should be your two Opening Day rostered catchers, with Kyle Farmer but a phone call away in Oklahoma City.