02/13/08 9:00 AM ET
Around the Horn: Bench
Dodgers depth will feature a new look in 2008
By Ken Gurnick / MLB.com
LOS ANGELES -- It's not exactly a focal point, but no part of the Dodgers roster changed more over the winter than the bench.Olmedo Saenz, the primary right-handed pinch-hitter for the past four years, is gone and signed as a free agent with the Mets. Backup catcher Mike Lieberthal, retired. Utility infielders Wilson Valdez and Shea Hillenbrand, gone. Left-handed pinch-hitter Mark Sweeney, acquired in August from the Giants to fill the gaping hole left by the release of Marlon Anderson, was nearly gone, too, until he re-signed on Tuesday. Ramon Martinez, the primary utility infielder, is back only if he makes the club as a non-roster invitee, who signed one week ago. The bench has been impacted by the youth movement. Most of this year's extra players will either be young (as in Delwyn Young) or veterans (like Nomar Garciaparra or Juan Pierre) displaced by younger players. Martinez had a guaranteed contract a year ago, but this spring, he could lose his role to Tony Abreu or Chin-Lung Hu. A year ago, Garciaparra came to camp as the starting first baseman. This year, he's in a dogfight with Andy LaRoche, 10 years his junior, at third, and it's not inconceivable that LaRoche could win the job and relegate Garciaparra to a super-utility man capable of playing all four infield positions and replacing Saenz as the money hitter in late-game situations. From the left side, barring a trade, it's likely the Dodgers will always have either Pierre or Andre Ethier on the bench, depending on which one wins the starting left-fielder job, to go with Sweeney, who is second on the all-time pinch-hit list. Behind the plate, the Dodgers signed Gary Bennett to replace Lieberthal less than a week after Bennett was named in The Mitchell Report.
Los Angeles Dodgers
Young is an intriguing component. He's hit everywhere, and he's out of options, so management believes he must make the club or be lost to another team. As a switch-hitter, he can be particularly valuable pinch-hitting if he can handle a role best suited to a veteran.Young also can play the outfield, where he was moved three years ago after struggling defensively at second base. Another bench candidate is Jason Repko, again trying to get his career back on track after being derailed by another injury. He blew out his hamstring last Spring Training and needed surgery that cost him the entire season. While recovering, he suffered a stress fracture of the ankle he injured two years ago. He says he's completely healthy. Besides Martinez, the non-roster list of bench contenders includes outfielders John-Ford Griffin and George Lombard, infielders Angel Chavez, John Lindsey and Terry Tiffee and catchers Danny Ardoin, Rene Rivera, A.J. Ellis and Gabriel Gutierrez.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.