Winter wish list: Infielders

November, 19, 2013
11/19/13
11:39
AM PT
At least until rumors spring up that the Dodgers have had a secret dinner meeting with the representatives for Robinson Cano, which presumably should happen any minute now, here is how the infield situation shapes up:

The Dodgers have no third baseman, a second baseman who has never played a major-league game and a shortstop who some people think should be playing the outfield or designated hitter. It’s Adrian Gonzalez and three question marks.

Not exactly a settled situation, but that’s not necessarily a disastrous state of affairs for the Dodgers. Given the dearth of free agent talent and the unpredictability of trade talks, the Dodgers’ flexibility when it comes to rebuilding their infield could be a major advantage. And with their perfectly reasonable off-season imperative to get younger, openings in the infield give them the crucial soil to plant young talent.

They signed Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero to a four-year, $28 million deal. That’s the contract of a solid everyday player, so the Dodgers expect Guerrero to be on the field for them quickly rather than developing at Triple-A, but at what position? The likelihood is he will take over second base from Mark Ellis, but Guerrero has played shortstop most of his life, which usually means he could play any other infield position.

Not a single player who logged an inning at third base last season is still with the organization, except for Justin Sellers, who, according to the team, didn’t even merit a September call-up.

This would be a good class of free agent third basemen if it were 2005. Juan Uribe, who turns 35 before Opening Day, is the best of the bunch and the Dodgers would like to re-sign him, but would it be wise to give him another three-year deal after watching him produce in just one of the three seasons of the last contract they gave him?

Their safest route might be to sign Uribe to a two-year deal, if they can, hope his body holds up and that top prospect Corey Seager is ready by 2016. According to Fangraphs, Uribe had a 5.1 WAR last season, which was essentially identical to that of Adrian Beltre (5.2). On the other hand, only two third basemen in the last four years -- Alex Rodriguez and Scott Rolen -- have produced a WAR of 3.0 or better after turning 35. Third basemen tend to age fast.

Beyond Uribe, it’s impossible to find an everyday option among free agents. Eric Chavez is a 90-games-a-season guy these days. Placido Polanco will be 38.

The options are more interesting at shortstop and the Dodgers have been non-committal when asked where they plan to play Hanley Ramirez next season. For the first time since 2008, Ramirez rated out as an adequate shortstop last season, but that seemed largely due to the fact he only played 76 games there. Assuming he can stay healthy next season, he could be exposed as a major liability at shortstop, not an ideal situation for a team that relies on its pitching.

ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes reported that the Red Sox are convinced Stephen Drew will be signing with another team, so why couldn’t that team be the Dodgers? Drew didn’t hit in the post-season, but he is a more-than-solid shortstop with a knack for getting on base and good pop. He’ll be 31 next season, so swapping him for Uribe would help the Dodgers get younger, but injuries have kept him off the field. He has averaged fewer than 100 games per season the last three years. He also declined the Red Sox’s qualifying offer, which means the Dodgers would have to surrender a draft pick to sign him.

Jhonny Peralta is a solid free-agent alternative to Drew, but he also carries the baggage of last season’s 50-game suspension for using a banned substance.

General manager Ned Colletti’s best option might be to keep Jon Daniels on speed dial. Everybody in baseball knows the Dodgers have an extra outfielder and the Texas Rangers have an extra infielder. According to reports, the two teams had some discussions at the general manager meetings, but they didn’t get all that far. It seems reasonable to assume that the names Matt Kemp and Elvis Andrus arose in those meetings.

Trading a power-hitting center fielder with borderline MVP talent for a light-hitting shortstop might seem folly, but Andrus is only 25, would improve the Dodgers’ infield defense immensely, is one of the fastest players in the game, a deft bunter with good on-base skills. He would be the Dodgers’ logical solution to the leadoff question.

The players have similar contracts, so finances wouldn’t impede a deal. Neither player has no-trade protection. It might be a longshot, but given how much uncertainty the Dodgers have in their infield this winter, a bold plan of action might not be a bad idea.

Mark Saxon

ESPNLosAngeles.com
Mark Saxon is a staff writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. He spent six years at the Orange County Register, and began his career at the Oakland Tribune, where he started an 11-year journey covering Major League Baseball. He has also covered colleges, including USC football and UCLA basketball.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.295 14 62 79
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 23
RBIA. Gonzalez 106
RD. Gordon 87
OPSY. Puig .862
WC. Kershaw 19
ERAC. Kershaw 1.70
SOC. Kershaw 219