LOS ANGELES -- There will be no shortcuts available to manager Dave Roberts when it comes to dealing with the traffic patterns that once again will emerge in the Los Angeles Dodgers' outfield.
His team has no less than seven outfield options at the present time, a situation not unlike a year ago -- until attrition thinned out the herd.
In 2016, Roberts' outfield decisions were simplified, although not necessarily made easier, when Andre Ethier broke his leg in spring training and missed nearly the entire season, Carl Crawford was released and Trayce Thompson bowed out essentially after two months with a serious back injury.
At first glance, the Dodgers' Opening Day starters (from left field to right field) could be Toles, Pederson and Ethier. But that makes the Dodgers very heavy on left-handed hitters again, since all three swing the bat from the left side and the lineup's struggles against left-handed pitching were historically bad in some categories last season.
This is where the right-handed hitting Puig could make a big difference by providing balance, but he could also end up elsewhere by the time April arrives. The Dodgers were willing to deal Puig last season, but did not find a deal to their liking, so the polarizing outfielder was sent to the minor leagues for a month before regaining his spot on the major league club.
With the trade market slowed -- possibly as teams reassess the market in the wake of the haul the White Sox received for pitcher Chris Sale and outfielder Adam Eaton -- a potential deal involving Puig could come later in the offseason.
But if they trade Puig, the Dodgers would be saying farewell to one of the few players who actually did some damage against left-handed pitching last season. Puig led the Dodgers with a .471 slugging percentage against lefties and a .784 OPS.
If Puig stays, and the Dodgers actually do start the season with seven outfield candidates, not only will roster options be limited, Roberts could be left with platoons aplenty. Toles and Van Slyke could split time in left, Thompson and Pederson could share time in center and Ethier and Puig could divide time in right. Hernandez might get minimal time in center, while also seeing action as a backup infielder.
Would Roberts prefer three top outfielders to emerge and play every day, or would he rather mix and match his personnel to the opposing pitcher?
"I think for me, it's more, as we sit here, in this day, it's ultimately how it shakes out," Roberts said from the winter meetings in December. "It's not really a preference thing. It's really how the roster is constructed, and at that point in time, when we break, how I'm going to use those guys.
"There's only so many at-bats to go around. As we sit here with six or possibly seven guys that are major league players, those at-bats are hard to divvy up right now.”
Adding an outfielder to a trade -- possibly to land second baseman Brian Dozier from Minnesota -- is an option to lighten the logjam. But playing-time issues do tend to find a way of working themselves out.
"You know, the depth last year, with the injuries to Trace, Andre, Van Slyke, we needed that depth, and we kind of leaned on that," Roberts said. "Right now, it's good to have that depth, and we'll see how it kind of plays out."
If Puig is part of that depth, a familiar refrain will emerge as the season gets closer. Just like last offseason, the club is requesting that their fifth-year outfielder loses some of his muscular bulk.
"I think there is a body-mass [reduction] thing that it would be helpful from a soft-tissue standpoint," team president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman said. "He didn’t really have [soft-tissue issues] last year, it was more two years ago. But I think it is a helpful thing, and I think you look at where he was in '13 and '14, it’s not like it would sap him of power. So I think it is always a good thing for guys to play this game, that many consecutive days, I think it is a good thing."