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Dodgers' exceptional depth gives them arm up on competition


When the Los Angeles Dodgers needed a starting pitcher to fill in for injured Rich Hill, they turned to Alex Wood, a lefty with a career 3.39 ERA as a starter who was pushed to the bullpen at the start of this season. 

When they needed an outfielder, after Franklin Gutierrez went to the disabled list, they called up Trayce Thompson, who hit 13 homers in just 236 at-bats for them in 2016. 

When Justin Turner needed a day off to rest a sore quadriceps, they plugged into their lineup Chase Utley, a six-time all-star with borderline Hall-of-Fame credentials.

When it comes to major-league-ready players, the Dodgers' organizational depth is the best in the game, and maybe the best in recent history. On a given night, you wouldn't always choose the Dodgers' best nine players over their opponents' best nine — as, for example, during their three-game series against the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field — but when you compare 40-man rosters, no one can touch the Dodgers.

Their stockpile includes not only an active roster stacked with stars such as Clayton Kershaw and Corey Seager, and useful pieces everywhere, but also a disabled list whose current occupants include pitchers Hill and Scott Kazmir, who won a combined 22 games in 2016, and a Class AAA roster full of players who would undoubtedly be big leaguers in almost any other organization — plus a 20-year-old phenom, Julio Urias, who made the Dodgers' postseason roster last October, and who is being brought along slowly to keep his innings total down.

Amassing this much talent took plenty of effort and money, as the Dodgers' estimated payroll of $225 million leads the majors by a significant margin. But simply managing it on a day-to-day basis is its own massive task, one that falls largely to president of baseball operations Andrew Friedman and general manager Farhan Zaidi.

"It's certainly challenging," Friedman said Wednesday, "but we'd rather have it this way than the alternative."

At the end of spring training, Friedman and Zaidi, along with Manager Dave Roberts, had the unenviable task of calling a parade of players into an office and informing them they would not be getting the Opening Day assignment they were hoping for, simply because there wasn't room for everybody in a five-man rotation, a three-man outfield or a seven-man bullpen.

"That moment felt kind of clumsy, and there were some awkward conversations," Friedman said. "But we knew at that time that our future selves would be happy about it. And it plays out in ways where a lot of different guys will have their fingerprints on the success of this team. We don't know exactly who and how it will play out, but we know it will."

One of those awkward conversations at the end of the spring was with Wood, a 26-year-old starting pitcher who won 11 games in 2014 and 12 in 2015, but was injured for most of last season. The Dodgers told him he would open the season in the bullpen, but would be among the first options should a starter go down — which, as it turned out, came just a week into the season when Hill developed a blister on his throwing hand.

"It's out of your control. They tell you what they want you to do, and you have to go and do it," Wood said, "or else one of those guys that are behind you on the depth chart will come up and do it for you. . . . Since I've been around I've never seen anything like it. It's pretty remarkable, the amount and the quality of depth we have."

Thompson, called up Wednesday to replace Gutierrez, was another of those awkward conversations at the end of spring training.

"Not being with the team from the start — that stung," he said. "I understood [the reasoning] — but it stung."

Roberts credited his players with "buying into" an organizational philosophy of more is more, even when it means less playing time for everyone. "With our depth, they're going to concede some at-bats and some innings, but they understand the long view of the six months of a major league season."

Last year, the Dodgers used 55 players, including 31 pitchers - both marks tying franchise records - in winning the National League West and advancing to the NL Championship Series. Twenty-eight different players made trips to the disabled list, believed to be another franchise record (though record-keeping is spotty before the mid-1980s).

This year, with baseball having reduced the minimum DL stay from 15 days to 10, the Dodgers may be even more active in shuttling players on and off. Already, they have sent seven players to the 10-day disabled list since April 2, tied with Boston for the most in the majors.

Friedman acknowledged the shorter DL time benefits teams with exceptional depth, since they can more readily replace an injured player. With a 15-day minimum stay, teams were more inclined to rest a player with a minor injury for a few days, and play short a player during that span, rather than lose him for two weeks. With a shorter minimum stay, it's easier to absorb the temporary loss of a key player, as long as you have solid reserves with which to replace him.

"If you have really good replacements," he said, "it's easier to play at full strength throughout the season."

By August of each season, most teams look significantly different than they did in April, as injuries, trades and the Darwinian nature of sporting performance remake rosters. But if the 2017 season comes down to which organization has the best 25th-, 30th-, 35th- and 40th-best players — as a season sometimes does — the Dodgers, perhaps more than any other team in baseball, like their chances.


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