When Major League Baseball suspended Manny Ramirez for 50 games last season, his replacement was Juan Pierre. The slap-hitting and fleet-footed faux Frenchman with a supposed heart of gold started each of the 50 games in left field during Ramirez’s absence and performed well by his standards as he batted .318/.381/.411. Pierre’s performance became overrated in the Los Angeles media market, as some suggested he was the Dodgers’ savior. In reality he actually posted a negative WPA during that stretch; which, while not wholly indicative of his overall play, offers that he wasn’t racking up contextually important hits on a consistent basis.
Pierre is now a regular for the White Sox and — just a week after the one year anniversary of Ramirez’s return to the lineup – Ramirez is once more absent from the lineup. This time it’s a sore hamstring. Ramirez hasn’t played since last Wednesday and the Dodgers have attempted to replace Ramirez by using a triumvirate of players. Playing the role of Caesar has been Garret Anderson, who actually shared a cottage with Julius back in the day. He’s not very good anymore whatsoever. Through 138 plate appearances his OPS (.477) is almost lower than his career slugging percentage (.462).
Xavier Paul, 25, has received the second most plate appearances out of left and Reed Johnson even got a start too. Their combined performances just don’t compare to Manny and hardly encroach on Pierreian levels of competence. Anderson and Paul have reached base five times in 32 plate appearances over the stretch. For his part, Johnson has done much better; reaching base eight times in 25 plate appearances, although he’s generally entered as a substitute or switched over while playing center or right field.
Ramirez should return moderately soon – he’s due to begin a rehab assignment in a matter of days – but his suspension and injury have exposed an interesting issue. Anderson and Johnson make a combined salary just under $1.5 million (Paul makes the minimum); neither are too high quality of reserves and surely the Dodgers could’ve added someone like, say, Eric Hinske at that same price and be rewarded with better play (Hinske can’t play center, but then again, neither can Anderson). The question, though, is whether any quality reserve would want to sign with a team like the Dodgers. After all, the playing time behind Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, and Ramirez is bound to be sparse at best and in no way were the Dodgers guaranteed the division, so joining them for a shot at a ring isn’t as promising as some other squads either.
Anderson (and maybe Johnson too) really had no choice because no rebuilding team is going to sign them to start and few contending teams would sign them to be the main reserve when playing time could be ample. The dynamic in which non-elite free agents weigh money, playing opportunity, and championship aspirations is sometimes buried. It’s certainly not as highly considered as the major free agents who mostly have free reign over their destination.
Not to say that the Dodgers were inherently handcuffed by the formula, but it’s something to think about and certain to provide more entertainment than another Anderson plate appearance ending in an out.
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