Around the Horn: Outfielders

Dodgers sporting new-look outfield for 2007

The following is the fourth in a series of weekly stories on examining each Major League club, position by position. Each Wednesday until Spring Training camps open, we'll preview a different position. Today: Outfielders.

LOS ANGELES -- No Manny Ramirez, no Vernon Wells, no Andruw Jones.

Wild dreams of Dodgers fans went unfulfilled during the offseason roster changes. When the dust settled on free agency and the relatively few trades of impact players, the Dodgers wound up with an outfield lineup looking nothing like last year's.

J.D. Drew, the most productive of last year's outfielders, blindsided management by escaping through a contract loophole after saying he wouldn't. General manager Ned Colletti's reaction was to replace Kenny Lofton with a younger version, signing free agent Juan Pierre to a five-year, $44 million contract, even though he already had a fine leadoff hitter in Rafael Furcal.

Not convinced that 22-year-old Matt Kemp is a Major League regular yet, Colletti rented 39-year-old Luis Gonzalez for a year. Gonzalez and his surgically repaired elbow will play left field, with Andre Ethier moving to right field.

Remember Ethier? He didn't even start the 2006 season in the Major Leagues, but he carried the offense through the middle of the season after taking over left field. Then he hit the wall in September and disappeared when he was needed most, mostly watching the playoffs from the bench.

The Dodgers assume they will get clutch hitting and adequate defense from Gonzalez, assuming he doesn't turn old all of a sudden. His 57-homer and 100-plus RBI days are long behind him, but he plays every day.

With Ethier, nobody knows. Acquired in the Milton Bradley trade with Oakland, Ethier spent only one month at Triple-A before his promotion, which was accelerated by the lack of production from Jose Cruz Jr., the bad groin pull suffered by Ricky Ledee and the worse ankle injury suffered by Jason Repko.

From May 19 to Sept. 2, Ethier was the best hitter in the league, batting .348. He had a 16-game hitting streak, started 99 games, committed six errors and led the club with eight outfield assists. He hit .337 at Dodger Stadium and showed no fear against left-handed pitching, batting .351.

The problem for Ethier was that the Minor League season was ending Sept. 2, not the Major League season. He hit .132 the rest of the way with no homers and only two RBIs. He didn't start in the playoffs and was retired in his only at-bat. Asked frequently to explain what happened, he made vague references to some sort of mental and physical exhaustion.

Others say Ethier actually was troubled by a sore shoulder, although he never offered that up as an excuse. According to club officials, he did not undergo any offseason operation and is expected to be healthy when Spring Training opens.

Los Angeles Dodgers
Catchers: Future is now for Martin
Corner IF: Hot debate at corners
Middle IF: Kent hopes to rebound
Outfielders: New-look outfield
Starters: Schmidt tops deep five
Bullpen: Stability vital to hopes
DH/Bench: Depth remains a strength

He finished with a .308 average, 11 homers and 55 RBIs in 126 games. He'll turn 25 in April.

Repko, said to be completely healthy from the ankle injury and a winter ultrasound procedure to address plantar fasciitis, is looked upon as the fourth outfielder. He's probably the best of the bunch defensively when he's healthy, he can play all three positions and he's exciting offensively when he gets the chance.

Marlon Anderson was acquired down the stretch for left-handed pinch-hitting and he wound up assuming Ethier's starting role over the final five weeks, hitting an astounding .375 with seven home runs in 25 games. He's a nice insurance policy if there's a repeat of Ethier's collapse, but the club does not believe at age 33 that Anderson has suddenly become an everyday outfielder with 35-homer power. He had offseason surgery to remove bone chips from his elbow.

Kemp remains the intriguing prospect, with nobody really knowing when the future will be here. It looked like it might have been last June, when he hit seven homers in his first 18 games in the Major Leagues. But by the middle of July, he was back in the Minor Leagues. He struck out in more than one-third of his at-bats and never adjusted after pitchers adjusted to him.

A greater wild card in the outfield picture is James Loney, a natural first baseman left positionless by the re-signing of Nomar Garciaparra. If the club keeps Garciaparra at first base, as it has said it will, there has been discussion about testing Loney in the outfield in the spring. He played a handful of games there last year at Triple-A, but did not play outfield this winter in the Dominican Republic.

The only other outfielder on the roster is Delwyn Young, a converted switch-hitting second baseman who had 18 homers and 98 RBIs at Triple-A, but whose future with the club is not clear.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.