Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Who's On 1st, What's on 2nd, I Don't Know's On 3rd

Is this what Turner's
knee feels like?
This is not a joke--there is some serious trouble for the Dodgers at third base. Sure, starting third baseman Justin Turner looked solid when he finally made his spring debut on Monday, slashing a double, picking up an RBI, scoring a run, and taking a walk. However, it's anybody's guess how consistently (games and ability) he will be able to play this season coming off of microfracture knee surgery. The Dodger front office mismanaged some personnel moves in the off-season, leading to a very precarious situation at a key position. It's been all hush-hush so far around the team, but a problem is brewing.

Utley might need to pray to his bat
for hits this season.
It's kind of a joke to think lifetime second basemen Chase Utley and Howie Kendrick can play third.
The Dodger front office really screwed the pooch on this one. When Kendrick rejected the team's $15.8 million qualifying offer over the winter, the Dodgers secretly rejoiced, excited about the compensatory first-round draft pick they would receive when another team signed him. Nice plan if it worked, right? But no other teams wanted Kendrick, and the Dodgers then resigned him for two more years AFTER they had already resigned Utley earlier in the winter when they assumed Kendrick was gone! Crazy. The fact that the Dodgers made the move for Kendrick at the 11th hour shows how much value they actually think Utley provides--try zero. The 37-year-old Utley has very diminishing bat skills, and even worse, the Dodgers are asking both he and Kendrick to play third when Turner needs to rest that creaky knee. The results so far this spring have been predictable with both Utley and Kendrick struggling to adjust to the different spin on the ball a fielder sees at third. Kudos to the two old guys trying their hands at third, but this is a disaster waiting to happen. Turner himself is only considered an average third baseman, so basic baseball logic dictates that you take him out in the late innings and put in a defensive specialist to lock down the infield when it counts. You definitely don't replace Turner with defensive liabilities like Utley and Kendrick.

Kendrick is a second baseman.
The Dodgers have painted themselves into the proverbial (hot) corner. 
Kendrick is going to be the primary second baseman, as he should be, because he can still provide a solid glove there and timely hitting. If Utley brings the same bat with no hits in it like last season (when he hit .212), he is worthless since he is not a capable third baseman to sub for Turner. Plain and simple. Utley needs to hit--a lot--to earn his keep, but manager Dave Roberts will be forced to play him irregardless because of the way the front office composed the roster. They actually HAD an all-star third baseman on the team for about five seconds this winter when they received Todd Frazier from the Reds in exchange for prospects Jose Peraza, Scott Schebler, and Brandon Dixon; however, they immediately flipped Frazier for Frankie Montas, Micah Johnson, and Trayce Thompson. Team insiders said the Dodgers believed Tuner's knee would limit him to third base duties only, so keeping Frazier didn't make sense since they were both starters. Okay, we get it, Turner is your guy at third if his knee doesn't complain, but you need a capable back up or Clayton Kershaw and the rest of the pitching staff are going to go crazy watching routine ground balls ping pong around the diamond. 

So is there a solution?
Will Culberson get the call
at third?
There is one in-house potential solution, but it's hard to see the Dodgers going this route. Charlie Culberson, a 27-year-old non-roster-invitee third baseman with 148 MLB games to his credit, is putting together a very solid spring for the team. He is playing great defense along with a .292 batting average and he is tied for the lead in team RBIs with 8. If the roster weren't so crowded with geezers, Culberson would probably make the team since he fits the typical back-up infielder mold. But the aforementioned old dudes, most notably Utley, are standing in his way. No way the top brass is going to cut Utley no matter how crappy he hits, as they made their commitment to him. However, if he is a disaster at third, what will they do? Injuries will most likely dictate the solution, as is often the case. If Turner can't play much this season, the front office will have to find a higher-grade player than Culberson, which would mean trading some of their coveted prospects for a Todd Frazier-type (smell the irony). Only in this scenario would the team cut its losses with Utley, and he then quietly retires when nobody picks him up.

Why did they even let the fleet-footed
Peraza go?
The million-dollar question: Why did they even sign Utley in the first place?
The Dodgers already had highly-touted and super-speedy prospect, Peraza, lined up to take over at second base since the end of last season. Since it is doubtful that Utley was in demand, why not just wait to see how things panned out in the marketplace before trading Peraza? The trade of Peraza netted another not-as-good second baseman (Johnson), yet another outfielder (Thompson), and more pitching (Montas, who quickly went on the 60-day DL with a rib injury). Just another one of the many head-scratching moves by the new brass. Let's hope this one doesn't come back to bite us. I can't see a scenario where it doesn't.

No comments:

Post a Comment