Notes: Need a third baseman? Dodgers have too many
The Dodgers are going to trade a third baseman. The only question is which one.
Third base, a rather crowded position for Los Angeles, will become more crowded once Cuban free agent Hector Olivera joins the team, probably after the All-Star break.
The Dodgers, according to major-league sources, aren’t ready to move yet — outfielders Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford are on the disabled list, requiring the team to make occasional use of Alex Guerrero in left field.
Guerrero, 28, already is drawing trade interest, according to major-league sources. But the Dodgers might prefer to trade Juan Uribe, who is 36 and in the final year of his contract.
Justin Turner started the first two games at third against the Diamondbacks over the weekend. Uribe started the series finale. Guerrero, who has made four starts at third, played two of the three games in left.
Olivera, who has yet to obtain his visa, plays third as well as second, where Howie Kendrick is the starter. The Dodgers even have used top shortstop prospect Corey Seager at third in the minors, just to give him experience at the position.
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To this point, the Dodgers have needed their depth. But eventually, they figure to get creative.
One possibility would be for the Dodgers to move Uribe, who is earning $6.5 million, for a back-of-the-rotation starter at comparable salary, then later acquire a pitcher who is more of a difference-maker.
Guerrero is modestly priced – $4 million this season, $5 million next season and $5 million in 2017 – but can become a free agent at the end of any season in which he is traded, reducing his trade value.
The point is, the Dodgers have options.
They could re-sign Kendrick, go with Seager at short and play Olivera at third next season. They also could go with Olivera at second, Seager at short and Guerrero at third, and retain Kike Hernandez as a backup in the middle infield and outfield.
They need not solve this logjam immediately, not when the market at third has yet to fully develop.
Two teams getting subpar production at the position, the Giants and Padres, play in the same division as the Dodgers, the NL West. And while a return to the White Sox might make sense for Uribe, Gordon Beckham has so far proven a solid right-handed platoon partner for Conor Gillaspie.
Uribe, batting .271 with a .662 OPS, is valued not just for his performance, but also his clubhouse presence. The Dodgers’ culture, however, appears more stable than in recent seasons, in part due to the additions of Kendrick and shortstop Jimmy Rollins.
The team leads the NL West with a 16-8 record, but its rotation depth is a significant concern. Right-hander Brandon McCarthy recently underwent Tommy John surgery and left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu has yet to pitch this season due to left shoulder inflammation.
THE SEATTLE MIRAGE?
During spring training, a scout told me that he could not understand all of the hype about the Mariners. The scout had a number of concerns about the team, many of which — at least so far — have proven valid.
● Catcher Mike Zunino struggled to hit anything but inside fastballs (Zunino is batting .143 overall with a .518 OPS).
● First baseman Logan Morrison could not be trusted to produce (Morrison is batting .218 with a .617 OPS).
● Right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was "always hurt" (Iwakuma is on the DL with a right lat strain).
● Righty Taijuan Walker and lefty James Paxton were young pitchers who had yet to complete full major-league seasons (the two have a combined 7.11 ERA in 49 1/3 innings).
● The bullpen could not repeat its performance from last season, when it led the AL with a 2.59 ERA (it currently ranks eighth with a 3.71 ERA).
● Shortstop Brad Miller was a questionable defender (the Mariners, according to the Tacoma News-Tribune, are on the verge of promoting Chris Taylor, who presumably will get most of the time at short).
To all of those issues I will add another: The Mariners remain imbalanced offensively. While Nelson Cruz leads the majors with 13 homers, the team’s other right-handed hitters all have on-base/slugging percentages of .664 or below.
As one rival evaluator put it, "They need a right-handed bat other than Cruz, or they will be held in check by left-handed pitching."
Actually, the Mariners are struggling against all kinds of pitching, in part because Robinson Cano is batting just .255 with a .669 OPS. The team is 3-4 in games started by lefties, 7-11 in games started by righties.
SAN DIEGO STIRRINGS
Good for the Padres to respond to their shelling by the Astros last week by sweeping the Rockies. The Pads, though, remain a team to watch, on and off the field.
A prolonged losing stretch could jeopardize manager Bud Black, who was inherited by the team’s ownership and general manager A.J. Preller — or more logically, force the team to address its need for a shortstop.
The Pads, even if they are in contention, could move right-hander Ian Kennedy, a potential free agent, to clear a spot for Odrisamer Despaigne. If things turned sour, they also could flip another potential free agent, left fielder Justin Upton.
Still, it’s difficult to imagine the Padres as sellers.
The team should remain quite competitive in the NL West, and its best chance of winning is probably in the next two years; Kennedy and Upton could be gone after this season, righty Andrew Cashner after 2016.
AND IN CHICAGO …
A certain team on the South Side, after drawing widespread praise for its offseason additions, has lost five straight games and fallen to 8-14.
That same team, as noted on Twitter by Fox Sports’ Jon Paul Morosi, owns the second-worst record in the majors — ahead of only the Astros — since the start of 2013.
The team, of course, is the White Sox. If not for owner Jerry Reinsdorf’s extreme loyalty, manager Robin Ventura almost certainly would be in trouble.
Ventura is universally respected, but from the moment he took over in 2012, some in the industry have questioned whether he would prove a dynamic enough leader.
It’s still early; the White Sox still might snap out of it. But like the Indians — another disappointing AL Central club — the Sox already are seven games behind the Tigers and 6½ behind the Royals.
Ventura, according to a report by Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com, is under contract through 2016.
How about the Twins going 12-6 after their 1-6 start? The team is averaging nearly five runs per game during this stretch, and its rotation ERA is 3.39, down from 6.87 in the first seven games.
The Twins still have issues. A number of hitters are underperforming. The bullpen lacks depth. Shortstop Danny Santana has made nine errors. Jordan Schafer and Shane Robinson are the center fielders.
Still, both players and club officials cite the positive influence of right fielder Torii Hunter, who has batted .302 with an .819 OPS since moving to the No. 2 hole, a stretch that has roughly coincided with the team’s revival.
Is it too early to be sold? Absolutely. But with right-hander Ricky Nolasco and lefty Brian Duensing back from the disabled list, the Twins are at least worth a closer look.
THE (SUN) DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS
The Angels’ selection of right fielder Kole Calhoun in the eighth round of the 2010 draft was a bit of an inside job — Calhoun went to Arizona State, as did the Angels’ scouting director at the time, Eddie Bane, and the executive they later promoted to replace Bane, Ric Wilson.
Bane, now with the Red Sox, said that he sent Calhoun a text last season comparing him to yet another Arizona State product, Dustin Pedroia.
"You’re the Pedroia of outfielders," Bane said.
To Calhoun, who signed for just $36,000, it was the ultimate compliment.
TWO FASCINATING JOURNEYS
I always enjoy stories of how lesser-known players joined their new clubs. Here are two I learned over the weekend:
● Angels second baseman Johnny Giavotella was in Venezuela playing winter ball on Dec. 18 when he received a text from Royals executive Scott Sharp informing him that he had been designated for assignment.
Sharp explained to Giavotella that the Royals had 10 days to trade or release him, and Giavotella said he was caught off guard, kind of in shock. Just as he was starting to absorb the news, he learned the next day that he had been traded to the Angels.
Giavotella knew the Angels already had moved Howie Kendrick, creating an opening. At that point, he had only four days left in Venezuela. He prayed that he wouldn’t get hurt.
● Giants right fielder Justin Maxwell became a free agent Oct. 4 — an earlier date than most players because the Royals had out-righted him off their roster. So, yes, the Giants actually pursued Maxwell in the middle of their march to the World Series title.
In fact, Maxwell said, the Giants were the only team to contact his agent on the first day — general manager Bobby Evans said the team liked Maxwell’s athleticism and defensive versatility and actually had tried to acquire him several times during the season for protection at Triple-A.
Maxwell ended up signing a minor-league deal with the Giants on the day before Thanksgiving, and remains grateful to the club for bringing him to its spring training complex in the middle of January; the team’s physical therapists helped Maxwell complete his recovery from hip surgery.
In my days covering the Orioles, I fondly recall reliever Randy Myers sitting on the clubhouse floor, legs sprawled out in front of him, using a hunting knife to slice pepperonis, sausages and heaven knows what else.
I thought that was the most unusual thing I had ever seen in a clubhouse until Friday, when I walked into the Giants clubhouse and noticed right-hander Jake Peavy inserting an axe — yes, an axe — into a sleeve.
Peavy explained that the axe belonged to — who else? — left-hander Madison Bumgarner. The sucker was made of Appalachian hickory, and apparently a company had sent it to Bumgarner as a gift — he said it was comparable to one he kept at his farm in Lenoir, NC.
When I asked Bumgarner about the axe, he handed it to me to inspect. It was quite heavy, giving me new insight into Bumgarner’s strength. Considering that Bumgarner has never been on the disabled list, maybe more pitchers should start swinging axes.
AND FINALLY …
If you’re a fan of baseball photography — and who isn’t? — I highly recommend "A Baseball Life," a collection of photographs by Ronald C. Modra, who spent 23 years with Sports Illustrated and landed more than 70 covers.
The book includes an introduction by Bob Costas, a foreword by former Commissioner Bud Selig and essays by Tim Kurkjian, Peter Gammons, Tom Verducci and Leigh Montville.
The coffee-table book features one gripping image after another, opening and closing with portraits of Ernie Banks. To purchase a copy, go to abaseballlife.com.