Winter wish list: Bench

November, 22, 2013
11/22/13
12:07
PM PT
The biggest beneficiaries of the Dodgers’ carousel of injuries last season, it turns out, were veteran bench guys Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker.

Punto played well at multiple positions, including shortstop, and for a time was one of the Dodgers’ more productive offensive players, which tells you something about their litany of injuries. Punto, who had languished in Boston, re-established his value and, even at 36, was able to double his salary, signing a one-year, $3 million deal with the Oakland A’s.

Schumaker, 33, had a rough National League Division Series (.231) filling in for Andre Ethier, but was solid enough over the course of the season, with a .332 on-base percentage while playing five positions (including pitcher) that he was able to sign a two-year, $5 million deal with the Cincinnati Reds.

Neither player fit the Dodgers’ mandate to get younger, so it’s understandable the team didn’t make much effort to retain them. But where does that leave the Dodgers’ bench? They won’t just be replacing two players. Jerry Hairston Jr. and Michael Young, both 37, are unlikely to return even if they choose to try to keep playing. Elian Herrera got claimed off waivers by the Milwaukee Brewers and the Dodgers traded Alex Castellanos to the Boston Red Sox.

The mass exodus of reserves is good news for Scott Van Slyke and Dee Gordon, who both would appear to have easy paths to 2014 playing time and it could also benefit outfielder Nick Buss, who played in eight September games. Of course, barring a trade, the Dodgers have four everyday options in the outfield, but it seems unlikely they’ll carry Matt Kemp, Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Yasiel Puig all season if they remain healthy.

The Dodgers clearly are trying to force more versatility out of Gordon. A natural shortstop, he has played second base in the minor leagues and is playing center field in the Dominican winter league. Van Slyke currently is the only backup at first base to Adrian Gonzalez. The Dodgers signed infielder Brendan Harris to a minor-league deal recently, so he’ll be vying for a role this spring.

But with so much turnover, it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers have the in-house alternatives to provide adequate depth for 2014, so general manager Ned Colletti figures to wade into an expensive free agent pool for bench players. Brendan Ryan, a slick fielder but a .237 lifetime hitter, signed a $2 million contract with the New York Yankees. Of course, Punto and Schumaker both were acquired via trades, so that might be a likelier avenue for the Dodgers to land the bench players they want.

The most pressing need is a reliable glove to play up-the-middle defense, particularly since shortstop Hanley Ramirez is a below-average defender and, according to scouting reports, Alexander Guerrero has limited range and questionable hands at second base.

The Dodgers could scoop up Ramon Santiago, a .243 hitter but a solid defender. Munenori Kawasaki, who played 96 games for the Toronto Blue Jays last year, is a free agent, as are Cesar Izturis, Willie Bloomquist, Robert Andino and Alex Gonzalez. It may not get as much scrutiny, but remaking the bench will be fairly high on Colletti’s to-do list this winter and, if last season was any guide, he might want to select carefully.

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
.309 13 59 69
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 17
RBIA. Gonzalez 83
RY. Puig 69
OPSY. Puig .900
WC. Kershaw 15
ERAC. Kershaw 1.82
SOC. Kershaw 184