A.J. Ellis knee injury exposes Dodgers’ lack of catching depth

Bench depth looked to be an issue for the Dodgers going into this season. Among the positions that could be seriously affected by injury was catcher. The team didn’t sign a viable backup for A.J. Ellis during the winter, creating a potential vulnerability. That’s now been exposed as Ellis will be sidelined for at least a month after undergoing arthroscopic surgery for a torn meniscus in his left knee.

According to the Los Angeles Times‘ Dylan Hernandez, Ellis is expected to miss four to six weeks because of the injury. But the catcher could actually be out for a longer period if doctors find more damage in his left knee during the arthroscopic procedure. Tim Federowicz will be called up from Triple-A Alburquerque to take Ellis’ spot on the roster, and is expected to be the starting catcher when the Dodgers begin a two-game series with the Tigers Tuesday night.

The Dodgers had previously shown interest in A.J. Pierzynski and many thought Brian McCann would be a good fit in Chavez Ravine. There were plenty of other catchers available on the free agent market this winter, such as Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Carlos Ruiz and Dioner Navarro. But the team wasn’t going to sign a starting catcher with Ellis in place. Yet even under those circumstances, players like Jose Molina, Brayan Pena, J.P. Arencibia and Kurt Suzuki were available. Additionally, Ryan Hanigan and Jose Lobaton were available in trade and switched teams during the offseason.

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Kelvin Kuo-USA TODAY Sports

Until they know how long Ellis will be out, the Dodgers seem content to go with Federowicz and Drew Butera at catcher. But will that be good enough? Federowicz has hit well in the minors, but hasn’t been able to do so in the majors. Last season, he batted .231 with a .605 OPS in 173 plate appearances. Butera is a career .180 hitter with a .488 OPS.

Both players are good defensively, and maybe that will be enough in a lineup that should be more powerful with Matt Kemp’s return. However, catcher looks to be a major hole in the Dodgers lineup — especially if Ellis is sidelined for more than a month. The team also has Miguel Olivo in Triple-A, if needed. Ramon Hernandez, Chris Gimenez, Kelly Shoppach and Yorvit Torrealba are available free agents. But if the Dodgers need a longer-term solution, a trade is probably necessary.

Who has catchers to offer the Dodgers? The Padres are carrying Yasmani Grandal, Nick Hundley and Rene Rivera on their major league roster and have Austin Hedges in the minors. Would they make a trade within the division? Perhaps Pierzynski or Ruiz could become available later in the season, depending on where their respective teams stand in the race and how their minor league backstops are developing. However, the Dodgers may not be able to wait that long if Federowicz and Butera can’t provide any offense.

About Ian Casselberry

Ian is an editor for Awful Announcing and The Comeback. He has covered baseball for Yahoo! Sports, MLive.com, Bleacher Report and SB Nation, and provides analysis for several sports talk radio shows each week. He currently lives in Asheville, NC.