20 Days of Thinking Blue: Utility Problems

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:

At times last year, it felt like the Dodgers had too many utility guys. Nick Punto, Jerry Hairston, Jr., Skip Schumaker and Michael Young all had multi-positional versatility. They’re all gone. Who’s going to emerge for LA as their go-to guy?

It’s past mid-March and… I have no idea.

Every single one of those guys are gone. Punto and Schumaker bailed for more money in Oakland and Cincinnati, respectively. Hairston and Young both retired after very fruitful careers. A utility man had to be on GM Ned Colletti’s winter shopping list and yet, here we are in Spring Training with no clear guy.

The candidates are Justin Turner, Chone Figgins, Clint Robinson, Miguel Rojas and Brendan Harris, each of whom are deeply flawed players in their own ways.

Figgins would have been a great option, if not for the fact that he’s been washed up for three seasons now. He may be a training camp casualty as he’s hitting below .200 thus far in Spring Training. If the subject of this post didn’t exist, then he’d already be cut. In fact, seeing as the team designated former closer Javy Guerra for assignment on Friday, it’s almost a lock that Figgins will make the team at this point. Ugh.

Robinson and Rojas have a combined 4 games of Major League experience, largely because both of them cannot really hit. If either makes the team, it’s strictly because of their defensive prowess. Either way, it’s a very, very troubling sign for the Dodgers if these two are at all options. Ugh.

Harris is one of the most veteran players out of the lot, with 404 at-bats under his belt. A career .255 hitter, the former Angel isn’t much of a bopper (.352 lifetime slugging percentage) nor is he an on-base machine. However, with the qualifications so low, he might have what it takes to be the Dodgers’s utility man: low strikeout rate (82 Ks in 440 ABs) positional versatility (at least 53 games at SS, 2B and 3B) and a solid defensive reputation.

Turner, a non-tendered former Met, would be a lock for a utility position… if he weren’t in the mix for the starting second base job. Offseason signing Alexander Guerrero doesn’t look at all ready, leaving Turner as a prime candidate to keep the seat warm until the Cuban shortstop is ready. Our new gingerbread man has played all over the diamond with the Mets, though according to NYM fan Pucklius, isn’t particularly spectacular defensively. Still, he’s got the experience and, this is not meant to be a knock, the very essence of a replacement level player offensively. Again, he’d be a lock for a decent utility player, but it’s very worrisome that he’s going to have to fulfill roles much larger than that.

Especially considering the tenuous situations at second base, third base and Hanley Ramirez’s injury history at shortstop, the Dodgers could be in serious trouble with their current utility corps. There’s no one in the minors right now that stands out as a particularly great secondary option, which leads me to believe that Colletti and co. have their eyes open for any Spring Training casualities across MLB.

This is a bad situation, folks. One that the Dodgers need to address as soon as possible. It may be an easy fix with one or two savvy pick-ups or trades, but right now it’s a gaping hole on the offensive and especially defensive side of the ball.

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