Grading the infield

October, 9, 2012
10/09/12
12:22
PM PT
Dodgers third basemen had the fourth-worst OPS in the National League last year. Dodgers shortstops ranked 11th, Dodgers first basemen 14th.

Stands to reason that the team's No. 1 priority this off-season would have been to inject some production into its infield. Instead, it might be the last thing general manager Ned Colletti needs to worry about. After two of the biggest trades in team history and the unlikely ascent of career minor-leaguer Luis Cruz, the Dodgers infield appears set for 2013.

If anything, it's overcrowded, with all the starters set to come back and bench guys Nick Punto, Juan Uribe and Jerry Hairston Jr. all under contract for 2013.

The biggest question might be what to do with the players they have. After playing the first four months at third base for the Miami Marlins, Hanley Ramirez moved back to shortstop soon after joining the Dodgers.

It was an awkward transition, with Ramirez's six errors in 57 games only part of the story of his struggles. He often took an unnecessary extra step after fielding ground balls, making fairly routine plays close calls at first. For now, the Dodgers say they're inclined to leave Ramirez at shortstop next season, but Colletti indicated he would like to see Ramirez work on his defense over the winter. He told the Dodgers he will play some winter ball in his native Dominican Republic.

The Dodgers had to live with offensive underproduction from their infield, particularly at the corners, for the first four months of the season. Even after acquiring Ramirez and Adrian Gonzalez, the production was a bit disappointing.

Ramirez was streaky, though his overall numbers -- .271 average, .324 on-base percentage and 10 home runs in 251 at-bats -- were good, not great.

Gonzalez was solid, batting .297 with a .785 OPS and 22 RBIs, but he provided even less pop (three home runs in six weeks) than the Dodgers might have gotten from the platoon of James Loney and Juan Rivera. Gonzalez, a three-time Gold Glove winner, played his typically strong defense.

Cruz had never played a major-league game at third base before this season, but he looked like he had played there his entire life. The Dodgers knew he could field. What surprised them was his .297 batting average and 40 RBIs in less than three months. It was a long enough preview that they sound committed to giving him another chance at the opening day job next spring. It might be a bit of a risk -- he didn't even play in the majors last season and he'll turn 29 a few days before spring training -- but far less uncertain than what they lived with last season.

Mark Ellis has never won a Gold Glove, because there's always a more athletic second baseman out there making the highlight plays that get you noticed, but it's almost impossible to play his position more competently than he does. He has had only one season in the majors with double digit errors. He's not an impact hitter, but he's solid with decent pop (.394 career slugging percentage).

Ellis was a roommate of David Eckstein's at Florida and, like Eckstein, he has always made a living on the fundamentals. That's why his overly-aggressive base running play that may have cost the Dodgers a chance to make a run at the playoffs on the final game of the season was so surprising.

Overall infield grade: D

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Juan Uribe
BA HR RBI R
.375 2 6 7
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 5
RBIA. Gonzalez 15
RA. Gonzalez 11
OPSJ. Uribe .978
WZ. Greinke 3
ERAH. Ryu 1.93
SOH. Ryu 25