Improving the 2014 Dodgers: Second Base

October 21, 2013 at 10:59 am | Posted in Mark Ellis | Leave a comment

mark_ellis_baltimore_2013-04-20Before we get into season reviews, which probably start later this week or early next, let’s spend some time looking at the four biggest areas of need for the 2014 Dodgers — second base, third base, another starting pitcher, and another reliever. Today, second base.

The Incumbent: Mark Ellis, 36, had what’s become a typical season for him. Combining solid defense, declining offense (just a .300 wOBA) and his annual leg injury (this one a quad that cost him three weeks), Ellis still contributed nearly two wins above replacement. That’s actually not too bad for the $5.25m he made this year, though his increasing inability to hit righty pitching (.265/.319/.325) is troublesome. The Dodgers have a $5.75m option for his services in 2014 should they choose to exercise it, a salary figure which isn’t unreasonable for the value he provides, but you know what you’re getting — there’s no upside left here.

Frankly, I think I’d like him a lot more if he were just hitting seventh or eighth rather than second (which he did 47 times this year), because he’s a below-average hitter and someone who Don Mattingly just loves to bunt ahead of the #3 hitter with. If he comes back, he needs to be the starter; Since he can’t play other positions and doesn’t have much power or speed, he’s not a great bench choice.

Organizational Options: Not even close. Seriously. Elian Herrera & Alfredo Amezaga played the bulk of the time at the keystone for Albuquerque this year, and if you suggest with any level of seriousness that Dee Gordon is the solution here, I will IP block you from the site forever.

Trade Options: There’s a few, with varying degrees of intrigue. We keep hearing the Mets are willing to trade Daniel Murphy, who the Dodgers reportedly had interest in two years ago. He’s got more bat than Ellis (.320 wOBA and 13 homers), but isn’t as good on defense; FanGraphs has him worth 3 WAR this season, which isn’t bad. Howie Kendrick is another second baseman we heard the Dodgers were in on, and he had a good season (.337 wOBA) at age-29. He’s not quite the defender Ellis is, but he’s turned himself into an asset there. Kendrick makes $18.8m over the next two seasons, which is fair, but the Angels won’t give him up cheaply, and would probably insist upon Zach Lee.

Brandon Phillips is also expected to be on the block, but he’s a huge no for me. In addition to the $50m over four years remaining on his contract, there’s the fact that all the bleating over his RBI masked that he had a career-worst offensive year (.307 wOBA, barely better than Ellis), and is regarded as a troublesome personality. Shockingly, it turns out that hitting behind Joey Votto & Shin-Soo Choo gives you about a billion opportunities to drive runners in. Put Zack Greinke there and he could get to 100 RBI too, which is why I find RBI completely irrelevant.

Ian Kinsler‘s name will always come up in Texas until they find a home for Jurickson Profar, and even in a “down year”, he was still far better (.334 wOBA) than Ellis, while performing as a more-or-less average defender. He has 4/$57m (plus a $5m buyout of a fifth year at $12m in his age-36 season) remaining, and I imagine we’ll hear people suggesting trading Andre Ethier for him until the end of time. Rickie Weeks Dan Uggla are also both easily available, but I’d rather just play with eight men on the field.

Free Agent Options: The Phillies took Chase Utley off the table with an extension, which is disappointing, and the Rays are certain to exercise Ben Zobrist‘s option. Robinson Cano is obviously the big fish, but even if you don’t believe the team’s repeated denials about having interest in him, I think most of us agree that it’s smart to avoid giving him a monster contract. Omar Infante spent most of the first eight years of his career as a utility man, but 401 of his 403 games for Miami & Detroit over the last three years have come at second. He’s headed into his age-32 season having just put up a .346 wOBA, which is very good, but it should be noted that it was just. 306 in 2011 and .310 in 2012. He’ll still probably get something like three years and $33 million. And, of course, we’ve talked about Cuban Alexander Guerrero ad nauseum at this point.

The Verdict? I think most of us would like to see Guerrero, and while that’s probably both because of pure excitement of the unknown and the fact that it feels like he’s been destined to be a Dodger for months, I tend to agree. He’s the youngest of this group, and if reports are accurate, may have comparable power to anyone here other than Cano. He also won’t cost anything in talent, which is a big drag on interest in Kendrick. I’m still hopeful the Dodgers get him for three or four years in the $30ish million range. Failing that, I would investigate Kendrick (but wouldn’t even consider discussing Corey Seager or Joc Pederson, obviously) or see just how overpaid Infante is going to be. If that all fails, bringing back Ellis for the $5.75m isn’t the worst backup plan in the world, but there’s not a lot to get excited about there, either.

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