Uncertainty passes for Jamey Carroll
As the secondary trading deadline passed, the Dodgers retained their utility infielder
LOS ANGELES -- One o'clock came and went in about the third inning of the Los Angeles Dodgers' game Wednesday, a 4-2 victory over the San Diego Padres before an announced crowd of 27,767 at Dodger Stadium, and Jamey Carroll was still standing on the top step of the dugout, next to the center railing, still wearing the powder-blue pajamas the Dodgers donned for all their weekday-afternoon home games this year.
An hour or so later, when it had become clear to everyone that Carroll wasn't going anywhere, he was inserted into the game, replacing the still-hitless Eugenio Velez, who probably was in the starting lineup only because the Dodgers were discussing a trade with some team that was interested in Carroll -- there is strong evidence that team was the Atlanta Braves. But that trade never came together before the 1 p.m. PT deadline for players who had waiver claims on them, and there is no doubt Carroll was one of those players.
Later, in the clubhouse, Carroll had a look on his face like that of someone who had just been told he had won the lottery, then told that it was a mistake. But then, that's kind of the way the soft-spoken, ever-stoic Carroll looks all the time.
"Am I still a Dodger?" he asked as two reporters approached him at his locker.
Told that he was, Carroll wasn't about to publicly admit to being disappointed by that fact.
"I think it's a win-win," he said. "If you go, you have that chance to win. If you don't, you get to keep playing baseball for the team you signed with."
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti conceded that he was talking about something with somebody, but he couldn't identify the player or the team. All he could say was that the team in question wouldn't part with the prospect the Dodgers coveted, and thus, he wasn't going to give up a player without getting anything in return.
Carroll, though, who has been traded twice in his career but never during the season, felt sure enough that he was the guy that he sat down with his wife Tuesday night, the night before the Dodgers were to play a getaway game with the Padres and then hit the road for a four-city, 11-game trip.
"I understood the situation," Carroll said. "[A trade] looked like a possibility. If you don't have control over it, you try to prepare for it as best you can. My wife and I are big planners. We didn't want to get caught off guard, and so we tried to come up with some sort of plan. ... The not knowing isn't fun. When you don't have control of a situation, it's always unnerving. But at the same time, you understand that this is part of it."
This secondary trading deadline doesn't garner the media or blogosphere attention that the one July 31 does, for obvious reasons. It is much more limited. Almost every player in the majors is placed on waivers in August just to see who clears and who doesn't, and those who do clear can be traded anywhere as long as it's done by Aug. 31. Those who don't clear can still be traded, but only to the one club that secures the waiver claim, that being the team with the worst record among claiming clubs, with priority given to those clubs within the same league in which that player already is playing.
The rules are sufficiently complex to give even the casual fan a headache. For the player involved, it can be completely maddening.
For that player's family, it can be even worse.
"Absolutely," Carroll said. "It's not knowing whether you have to pack everything up, not knowing if you're going on the trip. You have to be prepared for anything. What do you do about your kids? What do you do with all your stuff? When do you get there, where do you go?"
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As it turned out, Carroll won't have to worry about any of that anytime this year. Even if he had to worry a lot about it in recent days.
Talk to anyone with whom Carroll has ever played, anyone who has ever coached him or managed him, anyone who has ever worked with him, and they will tell you without exception that he is a pro's pro, a standup guy who does almost everything right. He isn't the most talented or athletic player around, but he is versatile defensively, is hitting .288 with a .357 on-base percentage and has struck out only once every 8.3 plate appearances this season.
In other words, he is precisely the kind of player a contending club -- like, say, the Braves, who have an almost-insurmountable lead in the National League wild-card race -- might view as the final piece of its playoff puzzle, not a difference-maker or an impact player, but the one guy who makes the roster complete. It is both a blessing and a curse, the kind of thing that can put a guy like Carroll on high alert at both trading deadlines.
With that uncertainty having passed, Carroll can settle in for the long haul with the suddenly sizzling Dodgers, who have won eight of their past nine games against three colossally struggling teams to improve to 65-70, and for whom the idea of finishing the season with at least a .500 record no longer seems so farfetched.
What happens after that is anyone's guess. Carroll is nearing the end of the two-year, $3.85 million contract he signed with the Dodgers two winters ago, a deal that already has paid him an additional $400,000 in bonuses because injuries to other players have resulted in his getting far more plate appearances than anyone thought he would, and that figure will increase by another $75,000 as soon as he comes to bat three more times.
After that, Carroll will be a free agent once more. He won't be a marquee guy who will command a huge contract, but you can rest assured he will be in demand. And that might mean he is entering his final month in a Dodgers uniform, powder-blue pajamas or otherwise.
"I have no complaints here whatsoever," he said when it became clear he will be staying a little longer. "We have enjoyed our time here. We still have another month left of the season, and those are things I'll worry about when the time comes. I just need to start hitting the ball a little bit better. That is my concern right now."
And for the first time in a long time, it is his only concern.
Tony Jackson covers the Dodgers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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