By Jon Weisman
Though the Dodgers might not know exactly which three of their outfielders will start Opening Day, injuries aside, they should return seven of their eight position players from the starting lineup that ended last season. Only at second base, where Mark Ellis will be supplanted (the leading candidate, Cuban newcomer Alexander Guerrero) should we expect turnover.
That level of stability initially struck me as somewhat rare over the past decade, and in some ways, it is. Though at this time last year, the Dodgers had only one significant lineup change (replacing Shane Victorino in left), that only came after the tumultuous changes in the second half of 2012. There’s a parallel with what happened in the second half of 2008, when the Dodgers made the dramatic acquisitions of Manny Ramirez and Casey Blake, then held things relatively steady into 2010.
Certainly, you can be excused for thinking that every couple of years, there is a pretty significant reboot of the Dodger starting lineup. The chart above will take you down Lineup Memory Lane, a trip that became kind of foggy for me fairly quickly. (Who was the regular left fielder as 2010 was ending? You tell me.)
Don’t blame Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, however. If health and circumstances allow them to play alongside each other this season, they’ll become the first Dodger teammates to each tally 1,000 games together since the Garvey-Lopes-Russell-Cey infield. (Pedro Guerrero, Steve Sax and Mike Scioscia almost did so, but weren’t quite in sync.)
James Loney nearly made it a trio with Ethier and Kemp, before being traded away in 2012, but even so, first base has been fairly stable for the Dodgers. The Dodgers have relied upon four principal starting first basemen in the past 10 years (Hee Seop Choi, Nomar Garciaparra, Loney and Adrian Gonzalez) and the same number of catchers (Dioner Navarro, Russell Martin, Rod Barajas and A.J. Ellis). Rafael Furcal’s presence, healthy or not, also helped limit the number of shortstops the Dodgers have needed since 2005.
On the other hand, left field has been a spin of the wheel more often than not. If Carl Crawford remains the regular in left this season, he’ll be the first in the past decade to hold that position down for two consecutive full seasons, with Manny Ramirez, among others, just falling short).
Third base and second base (particularly since Jeff Kent’s retirement) have also been places of change, which is what makes the Guerrero signing so intriguing. If you were to guess which Dodgers are most likely to become the next 1,000-game teammates, are there any more likely choices today than Yasiel Puig and Guerrero? At least, they have better odds than Oscar Robles and Willy Aybar had.