Dodgers Report: Alex Guerrero

When will Yasiel Puig learn to slide?

June, 21, 2014
Jun 21
6:17
PM PT
SAN DIEGO -- The Los Angeles Dodgers have been happy with many of the strides Yasiel Puig has made in baseball fundamentals this season. But there’s one area that has them concerned not only for Puig’s performance but also for his safety: sliding.

For the past two weeks, Puig has been bothered by a strained left hip muscle, an injury he picked up while making an awkward slide in Colorado. He had to come out of Friday night’s game in San Diego, but he was back in the lineup Saturday.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said he doesn’t want Puig performing with any less intensity or effort because he thinks that’s fundamental to his type of play.

[+] EnlargeYasiel Puig
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsIt's always an adventure when Yasiel Puig slides, especially when he approaches a base feetfirst. 
“I think guys who are cautious wind up getting hurt,” Mattingly said.

However, the Dodgers would like Puig to learn to slide better. He seems to choose a different style of pulling into a base every time he runs -- often going in standing up, sometimes diving headfirst and when he slides feet first, rarely looking natural or comfortable.

His lack of sliding ability is part of the reason that, despite excellent speed, he has just seven stolen bases. He rarely gets the green light.

Mattingly said teaching Puig to slide more consistently will be an emphasis next spring. When asked why the Dodgers didn’t work on it with Puig during the season, he paused for a few seconds.

“I don’t know because I’ve never really been around it, where you need to learn to slide,” Mattingly said.

It might seem like a Little League skill, but the Dodgers became convinced sliding isn’t taught much in Cuban baseball when Alex Guerrero, a former teammate of Puig’s in Cienfuegos, showed up to spring training and had no concept of how to slide. After that, it became a running joke among Dodgers players.

Time to slide Ramirez to third base

May, 29, 2014
May 29
11:28
PM PT
LOS ANGELES -- Don Mattingly seemed to get a little tense the other day when asked to explain the difference between Matt Kemp's struggles in center field and Hanley Ramirez's struggles at shortstop, and why one led to a position switch and the other has not.

Kemp was asked to veer from center and keep walking until he found a position where he could do less damage -- left field as it turns out. Why shouldn't Ramirez be asked as well?

[+] EnlargeHanley Ramirez
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesHanley Ramirez is considered the worst shortstop in the major leagues when it comes to defensive WAR.
If anything, Ramirez is the bigger liability than Kemp. Now that he's healthy and playing in the field every day, the issues that were so obvious in Miami are becoming worrisome in Los Angeles. He has, frankly, been exposed. He's not a shortstop any longer. The advanced defensive metrics paint an absolutely frightening picture for the Dodgers: Ramirez is -10 in Defensive Runs Saved; -6.9 in UZR. He is the worst shortstop in the major leagues, by a wide margin, according to defensive WAR.

Granted, if we take last season as the barometer, Ramirez clearly swings a more impactful bat than Kemp, and the drop-off to the other everyday options at shortstop -- say Erisbel Arruebarrena or Alex Guerrero -- might be steeper than that from Kemp to Andre Ethier.

But still, wouldn't you think the Dodgers have to be considering moving Ramirez to third base, and maybe soon? Their latest medical information on Juan Uribe isn't good. His strained hamstring, Mattingly himself admitted, won't be healthy enough to get him back on the field within the next two weeks and, for all they know, it could be months.

So, why not slide Ramirez to the far left side of the infield and, when Uribe is healthy, use him as in a super-utility role, spelling whomever plays shortstop, playing second base against left-handed pitchers, giving Ramirez a blow at third base once a week or so. He could easily play four or five days a week and the other players would have fresher legs for it.

If the Dodgers really are serious about going all in on their starting pitching -- and that seems like a smart bet if you've been watching these guys throw lately -- they'd be crazy not to at least consider going to their best defensive alignment. The way Dee Gordon has improved at second base, imagine how impermeable this team could be up the middle with Gordon and Arruebarrena turning double plays.

It's simple and doesn't involve shifting Ramirez back and forth, the one thing he has asked the team not to do. Move Ramirez to third and leave him there. It might even take some of the pressure off and allow him to start swinging the bat better.

(Read full post)

Nothing comes easy for Dodgers

May, 20, 2014
May 20
10:25
PM PT
NEW YORK -- Even a 9-4 win isn't simple for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Even a seemingly lopsided game isn't simple.

[+] EnlargeJosh Beckett
Elsa/Getty ImagesJosh Beckett was happy the Dodgers won but upset he made the bullpen work as hard as it did against the Mets.
The Dodgers stayed above .500 with their Tuesday night win over the New York Mets, but they also stayed complicated and couldn't feel very satisfied.

They faced the possibility of losing third baseman Juan Uribe for an extended period, after Uribe reinjured his right hamstring on a ninth-inning double. They also faced the realization that they'd made yet another game much tougher than it should have been, and had forced much of their bullpen to pitch under stress in a game they should have had under control.

And then there was the disturbing news from their Triple-A Albuquerque team, where infielder Alex Guerrero could miss as much as five weeks after he was bitten on the ear by teammate Miguel Olivo.

Manager Don Mattingly, hoping his team can get going after underachieving for nearly two months, said Tuesday he wanted to treat it as if the season were just starting now.

If so, it was quite an opening day, one perhaps best capsulized by Josh Beckett's angry look as he left the mound in the sixth inning.

Beckett got credit for a second straight win, a pretty nice accomplishment for a pitcher who had gone 20 months without even one victory before the recent streak. But unlike his previous start, when he gave up only an unearned run in 6 1/3 innings against the Miami Marlins, this time Beckett had to be bailed out by the bullpen despite being handed a five-run lead.

"You just hate to kill your bullpen in the first game of the series, and that's what I was mad about," Beckett said. "I was mad at myself. I was just mad at myself."

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Stock Watch: Carl Crawford flips the switch

May, 8, 2014
May 8
10:15
AM PT

RISING

Streaking
Carl Crawford, LF: All it took was one swing, or at least that’s how it looks. Crawford was in the worst slump of his career -- 4-for-45 -- before his pinch-hit, game-winning home run in Miami on Saturday. Now, he’s rolling, going 10 for his past 17 to boost his average all the way from .185 to .255 in just four starts. The way things were going, Crawford might have found his position slipping in the Dodgers’ four-outfielder logjam, but now, he’s put the pressure on Andre Ethier to stay in the rotation.

Yasiel Puig, RF: Pitchers couldn’t get Puig out, but an outfield wall in Miami finally did the trick. Puig slammed into it futilely trying to prevent the winning run from scoring Sunday, and it cost him two games as the Dodgers monitored him for signs of a concussion. It didn’t seem to matter, as Puig lined an RBI single in his first game back. He’s 13 for his past 30 (.433), and, as long as he’s this hot, he’ll stay in the lineup, health permitting.

Brandon League, RHP: He might be the least-popular Dodger, with boos raining down every time he jogs out of the bullpen door, but at some point, the fans’ perception needs to catch up with what’s happening on the field. League, though he has mostly pitched in low-leverage situations, has become one of the most bankable commodities in relief. He hasn’t allowed an earned run in his past 13 innings, posting a 0.77 WHIP and holding opposing hitters to a .190 average.

FALLING

Slumping
Adrian Gonzalez, 1B: He has been the steadiest producer in the lineup and one of the most powerful hitters in the National League so far, but manager Don Mattingly detected a little fatigue when he gave him the day off Tuesday. The numbers detected some, too, as Gonzalez was zero for his past 15 before that game. Maybe it helped -- he came up with an RBI single off Stephen Strasburg in his first at-bat Wednesday.

Brian Wilson, RHP: The Beard, who was such a huge part of the Dodgers’ bullpen late last season, is showing no signs of earning back his setup role. Interestingly, that means the Dodgers could be stuck with him next season, as he holds an $8 million player option. Since April 24, Wilson has thrown just five innings and has a 14.40 ERA. Opponents are batting .318 against him with a .591 slugging percentage. Most worrisome, they have a 33 percent line-drive rate against Wilson, who isn’t fooling anybody.

Dee Gordon, 2B vs. lefties: Gordon has been the biggest pleasant surprise of the season. He leads the majors with 20 stolen bases, is getting on base as the leadoff hitter and has been one of the Dodgers' only reliable infielders. One problem: extreme splits. He is batting .192 against left-handed pitching. The fact Alex Guerrero is batting .328 at Triple-A Albuquerque makes you wonder if the Dodgers might some day revive a notion from spring training: A Gordon-Guerrero platoon at second.

Dodgers 2014: Could this be the year?

March, 29, 2014
Mar 29
2:00
PM PT


The ESPN Major League Baseball summit is an interesting experience, a blending of all the different kinds of people who cover baseball for various platforms at the company all crammed into one basement room in Bristol, talking about the game.

The final segment this past February was for story ideas and the second question that arose -- after are the Yankees any good -- was: Are the Dodgers any good?

There were plenty of doubts raised. Matt Kemp's health is as shaky as ever. Is Juan Uribe really going to hold up as the everyday third baseman? How valuable is Andre Ethier when he hardly hits lefties? Hanley Ramirez doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in his pitcher when he’s got a glove on his hand and he’s standing at shortstop. Even if he’s healthy, does Josh Beckett have anything left?

Hmm. All true, but guess what? It was also all true last October when, despite nearly everything that could go wrong going wrong, the Dodgers fell two games short of the World Series.

This is a team built with so much talent, it doesn’t need to get breaks to win. In fact, it can get practically nothing but bad breaks and still barge into the playoffs and scare the rest of the league to death. We saw that last year, when the Dodgers churned up the disabled-list transaction wire and still took the St. Louis Cardinals to Game 6 of the NLCS -- without Beckett, without Kemp and practically without Ramirez or Ethier, who were hobbled.

What’s more, the Dodgers don’t even have to play that well to win. They looked sluggish offensively in the opening series in Game 1, then error-prone and wild in Game 2 and still swept the Arizona Diamondbacks out of Australia. So, start with this: The Dodgers are 2-0 and 28 teams in baseball still haven’t played a game.

There are a lot of ways to summarize why the Dodgers look like the favorites to win the World Series, but you really don’t have to get much deeper than to point out they have the best pitcher in the game, Clayton Kershaw, the best hitter in the National League, Ramirez, and probably the best bullpen in the league. We haven’t even gotten to Zack Greinke, who has the ability and the focus to give Kershaw a run for the money in the Cy Young race.

Nor have we gotten to Kemp, who has serious questions about his ankle, but looked better than ever in batting practice this spring. If he’s healthy and, as he says, still a “beast,” the Dodgers have an excellent chance to win more than 100 games. Then there’s Yasiel Puig, who might be the most gifted athlete in baseball and, if he can learn to listen to coaches and fellow players, still has MVP potential.

Everyone likes to poke holes in this team and, of course, there are a few soft spots. Second base has the potential to be a season-long headache, if not a circus. Some scouts have already surmised that Cuban signee Alex Guerrero is going to be a bust and the Dodgers tried to protect themselves by bringing in a bunch of veterans to compete this spring. It looks like they’ll go with a Dee Gordon-Justin Turner platoon for now, with Chone Figgins available. Not exactly an intimidating array of options there.

The Dodgers could really cement themselves as playoff locks by reviving a trade proposal from last season and sending a pitching prospect to Anaheim in exchange for steadily productive second baseman Howie Kendrick.

Defense will be a problem. Ramirez isn’t a good shortstop and none of the options at second will remind anyone of Roberto Alomar. The Dodgers’ options in center field are all below average defensively.

Some people will say that manager Don Mattingly weighs the team down with poor in-game decisions, but none of those people give Mattingly proper credit for smoothly managing a potentially combustible array of well-paid egos and, oh yeah, Puig, the Wild Horse. He’ll also have Tim Wallach as his bench coach this season, which could add to a little different in-game tone.

If everything goes wrong again, the Dodgers look like a playoff team. If Puig stays focused and they avoid the injuries that almost torpedoed them last season, look out. They could tear through the league, win their first World Series in 26 years and hardly even look like they’re trying.

Spring decisions are coming into focus

March, 5, 2014
Mar 5
2:32
PM PT
The Dodgers are only 11 days from boarding their flight for Sydney and only 17 days from opening their 2014 season, so decisions are coming faster than in a normal spring. With the clock ticking on the key position battles, here is a look at some of the more interesting story lines shaping up:

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti is a hoarder of pitching

That, of course, makes him no different than most GMs, who acquire as many quality arms as they can, hoping one little adjustment can turn them into a serviceable major-league pitcher. Colletti just carries it to extremes.

A year ago, Colletti looked like he had found a diamond in the rough when he signed declining closer Kevin Gregg to a minor-league deal and invited him to camp. Gregg was the most dominant reliever the Dodgers had all spring, pitching to a .088 ERA in 11 spring innings.

The Dodgers, however, couldn’t find a roster spot for him and released him shortly before Opening Day. Gregg probably could have come in handy, particularly while Brandon League was imploding early in the season. He wound up as the closer for the Chicago Cubs. On a really bad team, he saved 33 games.

A similar roster conundrum could be brewing with Seth Rosin. The Dodgers acquired Rosin from the New York Mets shortly after the Mets took him from the Philadelphia Phillies in the Rule 5 draft. Rosin, a hulking 6-foot-6 right-hander, has been working with Dodgers pitching coaches on using his lower half to drive off the mound, which could give him a few extra ticks of velocity.

It looks like it might be working. In five scoreless innings, Rosin has struck out eight batters. What if he keeps mowing down hitters for another 10 days?

The Dodgers have a bullpen packed with guaranteed contracts, plus some young relievers like Paco Rodriguez and Chris Withrow who merit opportunities. If Rosin doesn’t land on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster, they would have to designate him for assignment, which means he could end up back with the Phillies or be taken off waivers by another team.

Second base is still a pile-up

The most wide open competition in camp has gotten just a bit more contained. It appears more and more likely that Alex Guerrero will begin the season at Triple-A Albuquerque so he can continue the transition from shortstop and get his swing back up to speed after a year away from the game.

It looks like the Dodgers will open the season using a platoon at second base involving either Dee Gordon or Chone Figgins as the lefty half and Justin Turner, Brendan Harris or Miguel Rojas as the righty half.

Gordon has done the most to earn his spot this spring, playing strong defense at second and showing a little more power after packing on 13 pounds of muscle. He has two doubles, three stolen bases and hit a home run in an intrasquad game. Figgins brings greater versatility because he can play above-average third base, but he’ll have to prove he can hit after two dismal seasons in Seattle. Figgins is batting .154 in 13 at-bats.

Of the righties, Rojas is the best defender. Harris and Turner are steady and versatile without having major offensive upside. A good guess would be a Gordon-Turner platoon in Australia.

The outfield looks settled… for now

Matt Kemp isn’t going to be ready for Australia. In fact, the Dodgers aren’t even sure if he’ll play in any of their exhibition games, which include three games in Southern California against the Angels at the end of the month. They say Kemp is in stage 5 of a 7-step recovery from ankle surgery, but they’ve given no details on what the final two hurdles are.

So, the four-outfielder conundrum is on-hold for the time being. Presuming all of them get through the spring healthy, Carl Crawford will start in left field, Andre Ethier will start in center and Yasiel Puig will start in right.

It appears likely that Kemp’s rehab will spill into April. His first games figure to be against minor-leaguers in extended spring training and, possibly, the regular season. If he feels good in a month or so, let the who-gets-traded debate begin!

Dodgers might be shaky on defense

February, 26, 2014
Feb 26
4:04
PM PT
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – It was the first game of the spring, not exactly the moment for sweeping generalizations. But it’s fair to say that the sloppy defense that made Clayton Kershaw’s first spring outing on Wednesday seem deceptively poor is a legitimate concern rather than a trifle.

Carl Crawford charged A.J. Pollock’s line drive and had it bounce off his glove and trickle to the wall, a misplay somehow ruled a triple. Yasiel Puig, who packed on more than 20 pounds in the off-season, chased down a double in the gap and had it nick off his glove, then nick off Joc Pederson’s glove for an error.

New second baseman Alex Guerrero looked awkward, to say the least, trying to field a Martin Prado infield hit in the third.

Shaky defense, particularly at key positions, might be the Dodgers’ biggest worry as we sit here in February.

Asked about it Wednesday, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly didn’t exactly summon a spirited defense of his players’ ability to catch and throw at an elite level. The Dodgers’ only premium defenders, Adrian Gonzalez and Juan Uribe, play on the corners. Puig is talented, but erratic in right field.

“We don’t want to give extra outs, but at the same time we know nobody’s perfect and we’re going to do the best we can with the guys we have,” Mattingly said. “Our guys are who they are. That’s the thing. We’re going to make the best decisions based on the best combination of guys.”

Guerrero, a career shortstop, remains the biggest question mark. The trouble is, the main rival to unseat him, Dee Gordon, also is a converted shortstop whose defense even at his natural position has been something of a concern.

Mattingly said, “At this point, I can’t tell you what second base is going to look like,” and said of Guerrero, “We see a guy who hasn’t played in a while. I’m not going to judge Alex on five innings.”

The rationale for Yasiel Puig as leadoff hitter

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
9:20
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The Dodgers are trying to fit a square peg into a round hole and, given the circumstances, that seems like their only play.

Yasiel Puig, a free swinger built like a middle linebacker, will be the team’s leadoff hitter, at least to begin the season, manager Don Mattingly has said. On some levels, this comes across as a ludicrous notion. Puig, who entered camp at 251 pounds, batted .319 last year, but that was aided by a .383 batting average on balls in play, perhaps suggesting some regression. He only stole 11 bases in 432 plate appearances. He’s fast, but inexperienced on the bases.

But if not Puig, who? Eighty-three percent of Carl Crawford’s plate appearances came in the leadoff spot last season, but it’s never been his thing. Crawford has a career .743 OPS batting leadoff and an 800 OPS batting second. Alex Guerrero might one day hit near the top of the order, but that’s out of the question for now. He might not even be in the starting lineup on Opening Day.

The loss of Mark Ellis, who did everything a manager could ask of a No. 2 hitter (aside from getting a lot of hits), has created the conundrum. Puig doesn’t really profile ideally as a No. 2 hitter because he doesn’t take a lot of pitches to give Crawford a chance to try to steal a base, and it almost seems absurd to ask him to give up an at-bat to move a runner over. Forget about bunting.

Puig profiles as a No. 3, 4 or 5 hitter over the long run, of course, but Mattingly had some interesting comments about that. He said Puig hasn’t proven he can be an “RBI guy.” Puig had 42 RBIs in 104 games.

“He’s emotional still,” Mattingly said. “For me, he needs to learn to slow down, calm down up there with men in scoring position. You see in those situations, he gets a little excited. That’s part of learning to be that guy.”

So for now, the Dodgers will allow Puig to develop in the No. 1 spot in the lineup. Not a terrible idea, when you look at it broadly. It worked out OK for Mike Trout.

Infielder Rojas playing under stress

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
9:54
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. – Miguel Rojas said he cries every night. It has nothing to do with the long odds he faces of making the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster.

The slick-fielding infielder, like Venezuelans at camps all around Florida and Arizona, is worried about his family back home, where protests between protesters and police have turned deadly in recent days. Rojas and fellow non-roster invitee J.C. Boscan, are the only Venezuelans in camp with the Dodgers.

Rojas’ wife lives 35 minutes from Caracas, the nation’s capital and the center of unrest. Rojas said she scarcely leaves the house these days.

“People in Venezuela are doing something special right now. They’re showing the government they’re not happy with what’s happening over there,” Rojas said. “I know that’s not the right way to do it, but they have to do it anyways, because the people are not happy.”

Rojas has a lot on his mind these days. In addition to worrying about his family and country, he is in his first major-league camp, trying to soak it all up while putting himself on the team’s radar. The Dodgers love Rojas’ glove, which could put him in the mix for playing time at second base, but he is a lifetime .234 hitter in the minor leagues.

His defensive wizardry has impressed everyone here. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly compared Rojas to Omar Vizquel, who happens to be one of his hero’s. A few days ago, Rojas entertained the entire camp with his quick hands, taking ground balls from Alex Guerrero and transferring them so quickly from glove to hand, it appeared he was catching them barehanded.

“Manos buenas,” Clayton Kershaw said.

Rojas, who turns 25 in five days, said he began practicing that trick when he was 8 years old, honing on it by throwing a ball against a wall over and over and over again.

Guerrero, Rojas and Dee Gordon are all trying to make the transition from shortstop to second base, but Rojas seems to have a head start. He was signed and spent most of his career in the Cincinnati Reds organization and learned how to play second at a young age.

He said the most awkward part of the transition has been protecting himself from runners. At shortstop, you can see them coming. From second base, they’re often coming from behind you.

Rojas ran into Vizquel while playing Venezuelan winter ball and spent some time chatting with him in the outfield during batting practice. He said the 23-year major-league veteran, now the first-base coach of the Detroit Tigers, advised him on learning to becoming a valuable utility player. Vizquel filled that role late in his career and played until he was 45.

“He said, ‘If you know you’re not playing, you’ve got to work,’ “ Rojas said.

Mattingly considering second-base platoon

February, 19, 2014
Feb 19
9:01
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. – The spring competition between Dee Gordon and Alex Guerrero to win the second-base job might end in a tie, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly conceded.

The team is giving serious consideration to entering the season with a platoon system at second base, using the left-handed hitting Gordon frequently against right-handed pitchers and Guerrero, who signed a four-year, $28 million deal in October after defecting from Cuba, against lefties.

Mattingly said he doesn’t think the uneven playing time will hamper Guerrero’s development.

“If Alex is one of those guys, I think it would probably be good for him, because then you’re giving him a chance to play and, hopefully, getting him favorable matchups, but also keeping him strong and rested,” Mattingly said. “He’s a guy who hasn’t played in a couple years.

“Eventually, if you think he’s an everyday guy, it may not be the way to go, but I could see that being a possibility if he ends up being one of those guys.”

Both Gordon, 25, and Guerrero, 27, are converted shortstops, so their fielding could play a big part in which player eventually wins the bulk of playing time, assuming the platoon system doesn’t endure all season. The Dodgers also have several non-roster players in camp who can play second base. Chone Figgins is a switch hitter. Brendan Harris, Miguel Rojas and Justin Turner all bat right-handed.

A platoon could also give the Dodgers’ lineup a different feel on a daily basis. Gordon is one of the fastest players in baseball, but has struggled to hit consistently. Scouts view Guerrero as a good power threat for a middle infielder, but view him as roughly an average runner.

Chone Figgins determined to make team

February, 17, 2014
Feb 17
10:02
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Chone Figgins has been arriving at the Dodgers’ spring training complex at 5:45 a.m. By the time the team begins stretching for its 9 a.m. workouts, he has had breakfast, practiced his bunting, lifted weights and, every other day, taken ground balls.

You could understand why a guy on a minor league deal might have to work a little harder to win a spot, but in Figgins’ case, there’s some extra incentive. After a season away from the game and having batted .181 in his last season, he’s determined to prove he can still be a productive major leaguer.

Chone Figgins
AP Photo/Jeff RobersonChone Figgins, 36, said he was floored when the Marlins released him last March 20 after a spring in which he batted .308 and played solid defense at multiple positions.
Figgins, 36, said he was floored when the Miami Marlins released him last March 20 after a spring in which he batted .308 and played solid defense at multiple positions.

"To not play after having a great spring was rough, very rough," Figgins said.

Figgins had offers during the 2013 season, but teams wanted him to report to Triple-A without any guarantees of a major league opportunity. Over the winter, he kept in shape and asked his wife to time him running 60 yards, the traditional distance baseball scouts use. The first time he ran, she clocked him in 6.3 seconds, he said, which equates to elite speed. That convinced him to organize a workout for major league scouts.

Figgins was one of the game’s most dynamic leadoff hitters with the Angels but struggled badly after signing a four-year deal with the Seattle Mariners prior to the 2010 season. He moved positions, from third to second base, at the same time he was moving spots in the batting order, from leadoff to second behind Ichiro Suzuki.

The Dodgers are hopeful he can help them solve a couple of problems. He could hold down second base if Alex Guerrero struggles with the transition from shortstop, and he could give them a veteran presence on their bench, something they lack after seeing Nick Punto, Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr. leave.

Figgins looked at all those factors before he signed with the Dodgers last month, turning down overtures from Tampa Bay, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox. He also got Dodgers manager Don Mattingly on the phone and asked him bluntly, "Do I have a shot?"

"He said, 'Yeah, you’ve got a real good shot.'" Figgins said.

The Dodgers have a wide-open competition for reserve roles this spring, particularly on the infield. Apparently concerned about using Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers and Miguel Rojas as their infield reserves, the Dodgers opened up the competition with a flurry of minor league deals. They brought in veterans Figgins, Justin Turner and Brendan Harris.

"It’s pretty open," Mattingly admitted.

Of all the veteran options, Figgins might have the most upside if he can still run as well as he says he can. Turner and Harris offer similar versatility, but neither is much of an alternative as a pinch runner.

"I remember Figgy as a speed guy who was aggressive and smart and for being able to play all over," Mattingly said. "He had a lot of energy, and he looks the same. It’s really just a matter of, 'Let’s see. Let’s see what he looks like.'"

Dodgers becoming a safe haven for Cuban players

February, 15, 2014
Feb 15
9:19
AM PT
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- On one side of the Los Angeles Dodgers' spring training clubhouse, three players spent part of a recent afternoon sitting and talking in animated, fast-paced Spanish.

Pitcher Onelki Garcia, second baseman Alex Guerrero and outfielder Yasiel Puig all knew each other before they defected from their native Cuba and they’ve been reunited across the continent in far more plush surroundings.

Yasiel Puig
Christian Petersen/Getty ImagesYasiel Puig has made a name for himself with the Dodgers and more Cuban players could do the same.
Their lockers are lined up side by side, probably no accident. Next to Puig’s space, there is an empty locker, one where the Dodgers might, once they finalize the contract, situate shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, another Cuban defector. It has helped ease the transition for one of the Dodgers’ newest players.

“I feel more comfortable with these guys," Guerrero said. "Obviously, I know them and they’re from my country and I don’t know any other players. Little by little, I’m getting to know everyone else.”

The small conclave of Cuban players could represent an important part of the Dodgers’ present and future. But if the Dodgers are viewed as an increasingly comfortable destination for Cuban defectors, it’s nothing more than a coincidence: At the very moment they began their aggressive spending campaign under new ownership, a trickle of Cuban players leaving the island became a reliable stream.

Unlike players from the Dominican Republic, who are subject to international spending caps, or Puerto Rico, who are subject to the draft, Cubans who have played long enough in their country’s highest league are considered major league free agents, allowing teams who write the biggest checks to land them.

“There’s nothing specific about Cubans that we are pursuing. We are pursuing whatever opportunity presents itself,” Dodgers president Stan Kasten said. “Recently, there have been opportunities which are Cuban. If some other country releases a flood of major league-ready players, we’ll be interested.”

The Dodgers have looked for every loophole to add talent even as Major League Baseball has made more and more efforts to rein in spending. They signed Hyun-Jin Ryu out of the Korean national baseball league. They made a push for Masahiro Tanaka from Japan.

“We’ll consider whatever possibilities wherever they’re from,” Kasten said. “Now, the fact is we have become a place that appears to be a good fit for Cubans. That doesn’t bother me a bit if people think that. I kind of like that.”

Under the new collective bargaining agreement, teams that spend more than $2.9 million on foreign prospects are subject to fairly severe penalties, including a 100 percent tax if they exceed it by 15 percent or more. Players who are at least 23 and have played five years in a recognized professional league are exempt from such limits. Arruebarruena, Puig and Guerrero all fit those criteria. Garcia did not. The Dodgers drafted him in 2012.

The rules, in a way, have played right into the Dodgers’ hands, because the players they have signed have proven capable of stepping in quickly and contributing at the major league level. The team expects Guerrero to be its everyday second baseman at some point this season. Arruebarruena figures to start at Triple-A, but could push for playing time quickly.

Puig and Arruebarruena were teammates for Cienfuegos in the Cuban Serie Nacional. Guerrero and Arruebarruena were together in camp for the Cuban national team twice.

Guerrero’s scouting report on Arruebarruena: “He has excellent hands, he’s fast and has a good arm. What he lacks a little bit is the swing, but I think he’ll come here and put on some weight and get stronger. He’s an excellent shortstop.”

Before he came to the United States, Guerrero said he had never heard of the Dodgers. That might seem hard to believe considering Cuba is less than 100 miles from the tip of Florida, but it’s a reflection of how tightly controlled information remains there, particularly for baseball players suspected of trying to defect. He had seen only glimpses of major league games from pirated DVDs people smuggled into the country.

“In Cuba, there’s no information. In Cuba, there’s no Internet. In Cuba, you can’t see big league games, they don’t permit it,” Guerrero said. “I didn’t know anything of the big leagues.”

The Search for Answers: Middle infield

February, 12, 2014
Feb 12
3:27
PM PT
News that the Dodgers are zeroing in on a deal with slick-fielding Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena -- which is easier done than said -- raises a couple of points that pertain to now and to the near-term future.

First, it proves, yet again, that the Dodgers will continue to push and pull against the MLB thrust to constrain teams from driving up the cost of players. Because Arruebarruena is 23 and has played six seasons in the Cuban professional league, his deal -- which Enrique Rojas estimates at $25 million -- will not count against international spending limits.

The Dodgers also sidestepped those limits with previous deals involving Yasiel Puig ($42 million) and Alex Guerrero ($28 million). They even found a loophole when they signed their top young pitching prospect. Former Mexican pro players, such as 17-year-old lefty Julio Urias, are not subject to the same international spending cap.

Second, the deal speaks to some worry about pairing what appears to be championship-caliber pitching with shaky up-the-middle defense.

By early accounts, which can be sketchy and unreliable, Arruebarruena is an accomplished fielder whose ability to hit major-league pitching is a major question. The comparison most commonly made is to the Detroit Tigers’ Jose Iglesias.

Projecting an everyday lineup for, say, early May, the Dodgers could have below-average fielders (and above-average hitters) at shortstop (Hanley Ramirez), second base (Alex Guerrero) and center field (Matt Kemp). That’s not exactly a good way to encourage your pitchers to pitch to contact.

Arruebarruena gives the Dodgers another way to auto-correct if their offense-first plan isn’t working. We can probably assume that Arruebarruena will begin the season at Triple-A, where he could make a dynamic double-play tandem with Miguel Rojas, another defensive specialist. Both players would be options to come up and give the Dodgers a better look when they’re in the field.

The signing raises some longer-range questions. What, for example, are the Dodgers going to do when their top position player prospect, Corey Seager, is ready if we assume they can re-sign Hanley Ramirez and that Arruebarruena pans out?

If this winter has proven anything, it’s that the Dodgers are all about keeping their options open and not at all about keeping a tidy depth chart.

Dodgers fortify infield with Justin Turner

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
7:13
PM PT
Speaking to reporters Saturday at FanFest, Los Angeles Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said he expected to have a utility infielder signed within the next five days. Four days later, he had his man.

The Dodgers signed Justin Turner to a minor league deal with an invitation to spring training Wednesday, putting him in the mix to be the team’s primary utility infielder. Dee Gordon, Chone Figgins, Brendan Harris and minor leaguer Miguel Rojas also have designs on that job.

Turner, 29, was non-tendered by the New York Mets in December. He hit .280 with two home runs and 16 RBIs in 200 at-bats last season. Turner generally fares well in defensive metrics. He is a career .263 hitter.

Turned has played all four infield positions over five major league seasons with the Baltimore Orioles and Mets, a key advantage since the Dodgers enter 2014 with an unproven second baseman, Alex Guerrero, and an injury-prone shortstop, Hanley Ramirez.

Turner is a native of Long Beach, Calif., and played college baseball at Cal State Fullerton. He was a seventh-round pick of the Cincinnati Reds in 2006.

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TEAM LEADERS

BA LEADER
Yasiel Puig
BA HR RBI R
.308 12 52 53
OTHER LEADERS
HRA. Gonzalez 15
RBIA. Gonzalez 65
RD. Gordon 54
OPSY. Puig .915
WZ. Greinke 11
ERAC. Kershaw 1.92
SOC. Kershaw 134