The countdown has begun, kids. Opening Night (well, American Opening Night) is fast approaching as the Dodgers take on the Padres down in San Diego on March 30th. Leading up until then, MAMBINO will tackle 20 of the most important–and some not so important–questions that will get you set up for a season of almost unparalleled expectations. Let’s get it going:
How are we feeling about Alex Guerrero’s acclimation to second base? Is he really going to be that much better that Dee Gordon or Justin Turner or Chone Figgins? Or will he choke?
Considering every single report I’m hearing is negative, I don’t feel very good about it.
Having played in single-digit Spring Training games, there’s no real telling whether or not he’ll be able to handle the bat at the Major League level (though a grand slam yesterday did bode well for him). While some guys like Oakland’s Yoenis Cespedes were ready right away, even the Dodgers’ own Yasiel Puig needed a year of acclimation to American baseball in order to make an impact in the Majors. Looking at his Cuban League statistics, Guerrero most likely will be able to hit at the professional level some time soon.
The problem of course, is his fielding. He’s never played second base in his life, which says a lot for a 27 year-old who’s been a professional in Cuba for several years. Guerrero is converting from shortstop, so while the logic is sound that he’s merely playing on the other side of the bag now, it’s not nearly as easy as a conversion as all that. Moreover, he’s getting back on the field after not playing baseball for over a year after defecting from Cuba. We’re not just talking about a positional switch–he’s trying to get back in game shape and play through a year of rust.
That being said, I don’t feel good about it now, simply because there’s no way he’ll be ready for the position in three weeks and the back-ups don’t look promising:
Dee Gordon: The former shortstop prospect is now trying his hand at second base, seeing as his natural position is blocked a) by Hanley Ramirez and b) by Gordon’s seeming inability to play the position on the Major League level. Dee had been gift wrapped a starting job for the previous two seasons, competing with the likes of Juan Uribe and Justin Sellers for the spot. Having finally gotten a shot, Gordon couldn’t do anything right: hitting, field, throwing, stealing bases… you name it, and he sucked at it. With Ramirez soaking up the playing time at SS and Gordon not even capable of being a defensive replacement, he’s spent the winter trying to become a second baseman and is, according to reports, just decent at it. He’s the favorite to win the job is Guerrero isn’t ready, and Dodgers fans shouldn’t feel great about it.
Justin Turner: Non-tendered (a.k.a. “cut” to the baseball layman) by the New York Mets this past offseason, Turner is looking to hook onto the Dodgers as a super utility man. According to Mets super fan and friend of the blog Pucklius, our potential infielding ginger is just adequate defensively and replacement level offensively. He’s basically as nondescript as his soulless, red-haired body.
Chone Figgins: The former Angels All-Star hasn’t played in the Majors since 2012, when he was cut with over $8 million left in his deal because he sucked so bad. If this wasn’t a damning enough sign, even when he was in the Major, he was terrible: a .185 batting average and a .502 OPS over his last two seasons should say it all.
For some reason, the Dodgers thought that a[nother] guy who had never played second base, a non-tender with mediocre offensive and defensive chops and a 36 year-old washed-up utility man would be the best alternatives for Guerrero. The team had a $5 million dollar option on incumbent defensive whiz Mark Ellis, a player who would have kiboshed this question altogether. However, for reasons that I can’t comprehend, the Dodgers did not opt to punch in that deal and guarantee themselves a crafty vet who, at best, could keep the position warm for Guerrero all season long if need and at worst, serve as the utility man the team doesn’t have right now.
Guerrero will get there one day. He’ll learn to play the position well enough to warrant a major league job, as he’s certainly athletic enough to do so. It might not be this year or it may be in a month, but if the Dodgers felt good enough to guarantee him $28 million dollars, I have no doubt that he’ll round into form one day. So that’s not why I don’t feel good about Guerrero not being ready. It’s that they don’t have a replacement for him that will, at the very least, play dependable defense. Coupled with Hanley’s shortcomings on the other side of the bag, I’m very worried.