The Dodgers have opted to go for depth rather than flash this offseason, building a roster that can compete in the NL West and hopefully withstand the rigors of a full season instead of spending big on a name. It’s a calculated strategy that the Dodgers hope will give them one of the strongest all-around teams in the league.
That strategy was on full display when Los Angeles brought back Howie Kendrick on a two-year, $20 million contract. The Dodgers seemed to have a full compliment of infielders before the signing, yet bringing Kendrick back makes them stronger for a number of reasons.
For one thing, the Dodgers may have had a lot of infielders already but their second base situation wasn’t exactly settled. Before Kendrick came back, a platoon of Kike Hernandez and Chase Utley seemed to be in the cards. While Hernandez had some impressive moments last year, he doesn’t yet look like the kind of player who might take the job and run with it (he can’t hit right handed pitching, for instance). And while Utley has an impressive resume, he’s near the end of his career and struggled badly last year. Kendrick is an obvious upgrade here.
Kendrick also expressed a willingness to play third, and that may come in handy with Justin Turner coming off of knee surgery. They lacked a suitable replacement there, with Alex Guerrero looking like he can’t hit in the big leagues and no one else qualified to play there on a regular basis. With Kendrick in the fold, he can sub in for Turner on occasion and let Utley get his at bats. It also allows Hernandez to concentrate on backing up at second base and shortstop rather than being stretched thin across the infield.
Having Kendrick back also gives the Dodgers another piece to add to an already strong offense, and his ability to hit anywhere in the lineup gives them more versatility. There’s a caveat to the strength of their lineup, though: the Dodgers didn’t add any significant offensive pieces this offseason, so they’re hoping for another step forward from Corey Seager, massive improvement from Joc Pederson, and a return to form from Yasiel Puig in order to succeed. Writing Kendrick’s name on the lineup card every day is one less question mark they’ll have to contend with. Instead of a shaky platoon, they’ll have a solid hitter who can hit from wherever they ask him to in the lineup.
Signing Kendrick makes the Dodgers better, and in an ultra-competitive NL West even the slightest advantage can mean the difference between hosting a playoff series, fighting for your life in the Wild Card game, or missing the postseason entirely. Depth signings aren’t always sexy, but oftentimes they’re the reason a team advances far into October. The Dodgers certainly hope that’s the case for them this season.