No matter how you look at it, the Los Angeles Dodgers have quite a conundrum in the infield.
In fact, it’s gotten to the point where the team’s official site is currently listing no player at third base — not that these kinds of website hijinks should be taken too seriously, of course. Still, it drives home the point, doesn’t it? With the team losing 10 free agents going into the offseason, including third baseman Juan Uribe, the team is going to have some soul-searching to do at the hot corner going into 2014.
See, despite hitting what was probably the team’s most memorable home run in 2013 and in the process becoming an unexpected folk hero with a career-best 5.1 fWAR season in 2013, whether Uribe will be back is anything but certain.
Career-years at age-34 seasons just don’t happen all too often, and while the veteran should be able to parlay his performance into a significant payday somewhere for 1-2 years, the Dodgers have two season’s worth of replacement-level production from him (0.6 fWAR from from 2011-12) that would argue it shouldn’t be in Los Angeles — the risk is just too high, and the chance of Uribe having an encore is too low.
Besides, they’ve seen that mistake before with the divisional rival San Francisco Giants and Aubrey Huff, and that’s not a story they need repeated.
The problem, however, is that it leaves them with a hole at third base, which makes the team declining Mark Ellis‘ rather reasonable $5.75 million option year rather surprising. Yes, they do have Cuban defector Alexander Guerrero supposedly ready to go at second in 2014, but the fact is that he’s an unproven quantity in this league for a talented team with championship aspirations, and to expect the lighting to strike twice with Cuban imports would simply be unrealistic.
For the sake of argument, let’s say that the 26-year old comes in and is MLB-ready to perform with a floor of Ellis’ level with a higher ceiling. That still doesn’t make the veteran any less valuable, does it? With his track record of steady production above his pay grade in the last few seasons, the Dodgers could have used him as depth, or even as a potential trade piece.
Should it really come down to it, one scenario might have even seen Hanley Ramirez shifting to third base with Guerrero taking short and Ellis at second. Dodgers fans should know by now that the plug has been pulled on Dee Gordon long ago and that he no longer fits into the picture, but with Ellis out as well, what depth pieces do the Dodgers have to find an infield configuration that works?
The key to all of this might be Ramirez, who has shown an aversion to playing third base (just ask the Miami Marlins), but who might be asked to move there anyway.
Though he’s an impact bat pretty much anywhere, the unfortunate fact is that the MLB market isn’t exactly swimming with good third base options. Outside of potentially signing someone like Jhonny Peralta to play third base for a few years, the best that the Dodgers could find would be the usual suspects from the trade market — Chase Headley, etc. The problem? There, the team’s limitless wallets won’t give them any more leverage, and impact players at third won’t come cheap.
Moving Ramirez isn’t exactly going to help the potential upcoming contract extension talks between him and the team, but it would open up the possibility of the team having to deal with a hole at second (assuming Guerrero moves to short), where there seem to be more reasonable available options like Omar Infante.
There, they could even try to swing a trade with the Cincinnati Reds, who seem more desperate to ditch Brandon Phillips by the day. If Los Angeles can move Dee Gordon as part of a package? Even better.
No, it might not solve the issue of depth just yet, but at least it’ll give the guys running the official website someone to list on the depth chart, yes?