Clock is ticking for Dodgers' decision makers
Shortened Spring Training causes crunch time before Opening Series
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Dodgers won't play a Spring Training game for another six days, but time is already running short for some roster decisions.
The impact of opening the season against the D-backs in Australia, and the compressed Cactus League it necessitates, will soon hit every Dodgers' player with a nagging injury, the cattle-call of candidates looking for playing time at second base and the front-office decision makers who are forced to make cuts two weeks before 28 other teams.
The bizarre schedule not only has the Dodgers uncertain if Clayton Kershaw will pitch Opening Day (or in Australia at all), but formulating contingency plans on how to construct a roster with the challenging logistics and tight timetable.
Of course, the Arizona Diamondbacks face exactly the same restrictions, but that doesn't make it easy when the evaluation period is essentially chopped in half.
The Dodgers will have only 19 days of Spring Training games to make nearly all of their decisions. Last spring, they played 36 games before Opening Day.
"It's not a perfect situation," said manager Don Mattingly, "but it's good for the game."
Even though the 25-man roster officially doesn't need to be submitted until March 21 at 1 p.m. PT, the Dodgers and D-backs will break camp on March 16 and take a maximum of 30 players to Australia from which to draw their 25-man Opening Day rosters.
Players on the disabled list can be back-dated to March 19, but those decisions might be made before the flight west, if not announced.
From the 30 players who can make the flight across the Pacific Ocean, three will be designated as "exempt" before Opening Day and would otherwise be active, be they starting pitchers left behind, players out of options (like Javy Guerra or Drew Butera) or Rule 5 selections (like Seth Rosin). Corresponding moves would need to be made to make room for their activation.
The other two players on the trip will be "extras" that can be players on the 40-man roster with options, or Minor Leaguers.
From these five additional players, clubs must be covered by position for an injury, whether it occurs as a result of the exhibition game against Team Australia, or the regular-season opener, because it will be impossible to call up a player and transport him to Australia in time for the next game. So, the five spots are likely to include at least one catcher, one middle infielder, one outfielder and one reliever.
Mattingly has already said he doesn't expect to take the fifth starter to Australia, whether it's Josh Beckett or Paul Maholm, maybe even both. Beckett is coming off thoracic outlet surgery, but for now he's ahead of Maholm, who has had elbow tenderness and hasn't pitched batting practice yet. Another pitcher behind schedule is Brandon League, who has been slowed by a mild lat strain.
The compressed Spring Training will make it difficult for any player to catch up after falling behind, and literally impossible for a player like Matt Kemp, who now appears likely to miss well into April because he still isn't running on his surgically repaired ankle.
Mattingly also has said he's not opposed to a platoon at second base, perhaps a hint that the club is already leaning toward opening the season with Cuban signee Alex Guerrero playing every day at Triple-A, which wasn't the plan when he signed for $28 million last year.
In that scenario, the Dodgers would settle on a combination of utility veterans that includes Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers and non-roster invitees Chone Figgins, Brendan Harris, Justin Turner and Miguel Rojas.
Because of the shortage of Cactus League games, more everyday position players will be tempted to play longer in the games that are available in order to accelerate their readiness. Likewise, players competing for jobs will have fewer opportunities to show their stuff.
Management, meanwhile, will have less time to observe and analyze, which should make for an intense final few days in Arizona.
And that's just the impact before the trip. The timetable is further complicated by the red-eye return flight that leaves Australia on Sunday night, March 23, and arrives in Los Angeles the following day. After three days to fight jet lag, the Dodgers (or Minor League facsimiles) play three exhibition games against the Angels, with no day off before resuming the regular season in the ESPN Sunday Night game in San Diego on March 30.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.