Little Safety Net For Dodgers At Second Base

Earlier this week, my esteemed colleague Jeff Sullivan took a look at major positional problem areas on contenders, and came up with several potential trouble spots. One of those ended up being second base for the Dodgers, and with good reason — they appear at the bottom of our second base projections, largely because no one has any idea what to make of Alexander Guerrero. As Jeff pointed out, Steamer has him down for only .220/.280/.330 and sees him as basically a replacement-level player, while ZiPS projects him at 2.5 WAR and .259/.324/.386. While Steamer and ZiPS are probably my two favorite projection systems, it’s so difficult to project incoming Cuban players that it’s probably not worth losing a lot of sleep over either line, and because of that questionable data Jeff says that this is a spot that “barely belongs” in his piece. He’s probably right, because we have no idea what Guerrero is going to turn out to be.

But while there’s obvious questions about how reliable the projections might be, the unavoidable truth is this: if Guerrero doesn’t work out or isn’t ready, the Dodgers have almost nowhere else they can turn, and so if this isn’t the worst situation for a contender in the bigs, it’s almost certainly the riskiest.

That goes beyond the normal risk of “it’s difficult to get solid info on Cuban players,” either, because Guerrero didn’t even play in the 2013 Cuban season, then missed several weeks of the Dominican Winter League after injuring his left hamstring. All told, he picked up only 38 plate appearances in 12 games before the Dodgers requested he no longer play in the league during the last week of December. Worse, he then didn’t receive an invite to the club’s Winter Development Program this week, not because the team doesn’t like him, but because he has visa issues that aren’t yet sorted out.

None of that means that he won’t be successful, nor does Peter Gammons’ less-than-stellar report of how scouts viewed Guerrero in October or questionable reports on his defense in the Dominican, because you could easily go back a year and find uncertain reports on fellow Dodgers Yasiel Puig and Hyun-Jin Ryu as well. Obviously, the Dodgers wouldn’t have given him $28 million guaranteed if they didn’t like what they saw, and they were hardly the only team interested in acquiring him. But even the mighty Puig — who had also missed a considerable amount of organized ball and suffered an injury (elbow infection) that interrupted his winter ball — had to spend two months in the minors, and it’s not at all reasonable to expect Guerrero to make a splash anything like what Puig did in camp, especially with all of these questions.

So while Guerrero will be given every opportunity to prove himself in camp, there’s a very real possibility that he might not be ready on Opening Day. And if he’s not, well, just take a look at everyone who touched the position for the team in the bigs in 2013, along with the top few players from a job share at Triple-A Albuquerque:

’13 MLB 2B GP ’13 AAA 2B GP ’14 status
Mark Ellis 119 0 STL
Skip Schumaker 44 0 CIN
Nick Punto 33 0 OAK
Michael Young 2 0 FA
Dee Gordon 3 20 LAD
Jerry Hairston 1 0 retired
Elian Herrera 0 76 MIL
Alfredo Amezaga 0 24 FA
Justin Sellers 0 20 LAD

Of the six men who suited up at second base last year, five are gone, and while Young could possibly return to fill out the bench, he’s clearly not suited to play the middle infield any longer. Even the top two Isotopes are gone, not that either was ever going to be an option at the big league level anyway. Since the top free agents at the position might be Justin Turner, who was non-tendered by the Mets, and Scott Sizemore, who has been completely unable to stay healthy after multiple knee injuries, the Dodgers are going to have to go with what they’ve got left internally.

That’s where things get a little sideways. Those three games from Gordon, who is the only man still on the 40-man roster to play second for the Dodgers last year? They represent his only three games at the position in the big leagues, and just 3.2 innings at that, as the failed shortstop has begun the process of attempting to add second base and center field to his utilityman toolbox. Even if he can handle the position defensively, he’s got another issue: of the 343 hitters to collect at least 600 plate appearances over the last three years, his .274 wOBA is better than only 12 other hitters. Even that might be overselling it, because Brandon Inge and Jason Bartlett aren’t particularly likely to be on big league rosters this year. While he’s shown some improvement in his walk rate in the minors and has been playing in both the Dominican (center field) and Puerto Rico (second base) this winter, he’s a project for a second-division team, not one expecting to contend for the World Series.

Beyond Gordon, it’s even thinner. Sellers got into 15 games at second in 2011-12; he’s also got a .199/.278/.301 (.261 wOBA) in parts of three seasons that makes Gordon look powerful by comparison. GM Ned Colletti actually named minor league shortstop Miguel Rojas as a contender earlier this offseason, but no amount of glove is going to make a .234/.302/.287 line in parts of eight minor league seasons — almost entirely below Triple-A — work in the bigs.

With trades unlikely — Brandon Phillips is a popular suggestion, though the Dodgers are unlikely to want to block Guerrero in that way or take on the overrated Phillips’ salary, and the Mariners aren’t letting go of Nick Franklin easily — the Dodgers may be forced to rely on Guerrero and Gordon, along with NRI Brendan Harris and whatever Harris-shaped filler Colletti can throw against the wall, and that’s a dangerous position to be in.

The thing is, the Dodgers had an in-house insurance policy at hand. Mark Ellis was no star, but he gave the Dodgers a little over 4 WAR in his two seasons in Los Angeles, mostly coming from a solid glove. Instead, they chose to decline Ellis’ $5.75m team option on October 31, and St. Louis decided it was worthwhile to give him $5.25m (plus a possible additional million in incentives) to hedge against their untested second baseman, Kolten Wong. Since Ellis is largely limited to second base, he might not be an ideal bench piece in Los Angeles if Guerrero took over, but his presence would have provided options — like the ability to start Guerrero in Triple-A, or find Ellis a new home in March.

Instead, the Dodgers may need to turn back to Gordon yet again if Guerrero needs some minor league acclimation time. It’s not exactly where a World Series contender wants to find themselves as spring training looms.



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Mike Petriello lives in New York and writes about the Dodgers daily at Dodgers Digest, as well as contributing to ESPN Insider. He wrote two chapters in the 2014 Hardball Times Annual as well as building The Hardball Times and TechGraphs, and was an editorial producer at Sports on Earth. Find him at @mike_petriello.


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GT
Guest
GT
2 years 5 months ago

What’s wrong with Justin Turner? The guy provides a league average bat (almost exactly) and is insurance for the inevitable Hanley or Uribe injury. He lives in LA and is going to come cheap.

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 5 months ago

Yup. Turner or a trade for Daniel Murphy, a better player. Murphy also plays 1st and 3rd well enough to start from a defensive standpoint. He’d be a perfect fit for the Dodgers and the Mets would start either EYJ or Flores and have acquired minor league talent.

LaLoosh
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

Daniel Murphy might be available. Could be good fit there.

DINGERS!
Guest
DINGERS!
2 years 5 months ago

Do we want to know the terrifying truth?
Or do we want DINGERS!

Brett
Guest
Brett
2 years 5 months ago

Heh, I misunderstood the title of this post to mean that the dodgers had found a safety net of small value to back them up at second base. I was curious to see who the acquisition was.

Sweet Brown
Guest
Sweet Brown
2 years 5 months ago

And here I was thinking the article was going to be about how the Dodgers were getting David Eckstein to come out of retirement…

Voxx
Guest
Voxx
2 years 5 months ago

Stephen Drew, convert to 2B?

Thoughts?

Spit Ball
Guest
Spit Ball
2 years 5 months ago

If a team signs Drew he is going to play shortstop. He’d be the best defensive shortstop on the Dodgers if he signed there.

Rob Moore
Member
Rob Moore
2 years 5 months ago

Why did the Dodgers decide to lock Hanley into SS rather than 3B? I would have rather they moved him to 3B, signed Drew and let Uribe be super utility guy that can back up both MI position and 3B.

JayT
Guest
JayT
2 years 5 months ago

Well certainly not the biggest move of the offseason, I think that turning down Ellis’ option was definitely one of the strangest moves. I thought picking that up was a no brainer.

DD
Guest
DD
2 years 5 months ago

Why not sign Drew to play SS, move Hanley to 3B, and use Uribe at 2B until Guerrero is ready?

KCDaveInLA
Guest
KCDaveInLA
2 years 5 months ago

I would see nothing wrong with that. The Dodgers are probably the team that is least-reliant on its draft and farm system, and could probably stand to lose a pick for Drew. As for immediate concern, the Dodgers face a lot of uncertainty at a lot of other positions, with second base merely being the most glaring. There are too many questions on a lot of really expensive players (which Matt Kemp will you get? Can Hanley stay healthy and not cause all of these concerns about infield depth? Same with Carl Crawford and the outfield? Will the league figure out Puig?).

Tony Fernandez
Guest
Tony Fernandez
2 years 5 months ago

Say what? Did you miss the McCourt years? The farm is a big issue for the team as the talent in the system is very limited.

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 5 months ago

But you have to give the organization credit – Kershaw, Kemp, and Puig just to name a couple – are all guys you wouldn’t be surprised to see win an MVP.

Mr Punch
Guest
Mr Punch
2 years 5 months ago

If Guerrero’s commitment to fielding turns out to be similar to Puig’s, LA’s infield defense will be a disaster.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 5 months ago

Uribe and Gonzalez are both very good. Hanley was good last year, so, with consistent time there he’ll probably be ok or a little below average. Guerrero would have to be pretty bad to make the whole a disaster when the other three piece are very good, good and ok.

Secondly, why should Puig’s defense be any indication of Guerrero’s? You’re implying that they might have similar attitudes towards fielding. Is Cuba a place where no one cares about fielding? That would be odd.

Lastly, Puig rated as 9.7 UZR/150 in right, so his defense rated as excellent. His “commitment” to fielding is also exceptional. If anything, his willingness to dive and hit a wall to make a play is a little reckless. The only real criticism of his defense is that he is unpolished, and he makes mental mistakes, but no one in the Dodgers organization has suggested he is in any way lacking the desire to improve. So, while I hope Guerrero doesn’t have Puig’s fielding instincts right now, I’ll be totally happy if he shares Puig’s commitment to fielding.

So that’s like three counts where that statement doesn’t make sense.

Cody
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

If Gordon plays the first month or two of the season and then Guerrero is ready, Dodgers still run away with the division. The team has to just make it to the playoffs and then have all the pieces in place AT THAT TIME.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 5 months ago

To all suggesting to move Hanley: Mattingly or Colletti, can’t remember which, said that Hanley had said to him that all he wanted was to know where he was playing. So, 3B or SS, he was fine with it, he just didn’t want to be moved around on a whim.

Additionally, the Dodgers are very conscious of the weakness of their farm system, and of the benefits of having a strong system, so they don’t want to give up a draft pick unless it is for a player they really want. I don’t think they consider Stephen Drew to be worth a pick. That is a big reason they were interested in Greinke.

taprat
Guest
taprat
2 years 5 months ago

Joc Pederson for Nick Franklin seems fair.

joser
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joser
2 years 5 months ago

Given how thin the Mariners are in outfield prospects, and that Franklin is probably squeezed down to Tacoma anyway, the M’s would probably take that offer. But given the weakness of the Dodgers farm system, would they make it?

Za
Guest
Za
2 years 5 months ago

I don’t think Pederson will play for the Dodgers but I think he’ll get traded as the centerpiece of a much larger trade. If I were the Dodgers, I’d be dangling him for Price right now.

scatterbrian
Member
Member
scatterbrian
2 years 5 months ago

Pretty sure they could get Alberto Callaspo.

jirish
Guest
jirish
2 years 5 months ago

He may be the perfect solution.

CheeseWhiz
Guest
CheeseWhiz
2 years 5 months ago

I really think that there has to be a deal here somewhere between the Mariners and Dodgers. The needs (LA’s 2b and Seattle’s OF) and surplus’ just match up too well. Maybe it’s a little unconventional like Ackley for Ethier and cash, or a more typical prospect swap (Franklin for Pederson) but there are just too many ways this could work.

Ruki Motomiya
Guest
Ruki Motomiya
2 years 5 months ago

Justin Turner or Scott Sizemore would be fun depth pieces, wouldn’t they? Or would it be impossible to get Sizemore into the minors?

cs3
Guest
cs3
2 years 5 months ago

Why havent the Dodgers signed Drew?
Im sure he can learn 2B in a short amount of time, and in the worst (best) case scenario, Guerrero turns out to be a legit player, Drew takes over SS and Hanley slides to 3b so that Uribe can do his thing where he belongs – on the bench.

cs3
Guest
cs3
2 years 5 months ago

So I see 11 other people beat me to it… guess I should read the comments first

Dustin Nosler
Guest
2 years 5 months ago

If the Dodgers were going to sign Drew, they would have done so already. They seem pretty committed to keeping their first-round draft pick, so that makes a Drew signing even less likely.

If Guerrero isn’t ready, the smart money is on Gordon to be the opening day second baseman.

Bip
Member
Member
Bip
2 years 5 months ago

Even after all this time I don’t think I would consider Gordon “ready.” Guerrero would have to look pretty atrocious to be worse than Gordon.

Steve
Guest
Steve
2 years 5 months ago

LA is run by fools

Hurtlockertwo
Guest
Hurtlockertwo
2 years 5 months ago

The Dodgers will have bigger problems if they can’t keep Puig out of trouble.

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