Dodgers' Interest in Scott Rolen Goes Beyond Third Base

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Dodgers' Interest in Scott Rolen Goes Beyond Third Base
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Scott Rolen.

COMMENTARY | On the surface, the Los Angeles Dodgers' interest in veteran third baseman Scott Rolen makes sense. The Dodgers don't have a legitimate third baseman, and Rolen has quite the lengthy and impressive resume.

In the same breath, the interest is somewhat curious. Rolen, 38 in April, is coming off two injury-riddled seasons in which he hit a combined .244/.301/.397 for the Cincinnati Reds. For a player well past his prime, that isn't too shocking. But in 2010, Rolen put up respectable numbers -- .285/.358/.497 with 20 home runs, 34 doubles and a 4.9 fWAR. It wasn't that long ago he was a productive big leaguer, but it'd be foolish to expect that kind of production ever again from Rolen.

The Dodgers' interest in Rolen doesn't bode particularly well for incumbent third baseman Luis Cruz and his playing time.

Cruz's solid season seemingly came out of nowhere, as he hit .297/.322/.431 in 296 plate appearances. Modest numbers for sure, but considering he had a .221/.275/.260 triple-slash line in 56 career games from 2008-10, he looked like a world beater.

Cruz's best attribute is his defense, something Rolen used to claim as one of the best defensive third basemen in baseball history. And at this point in their respective careers, Cruz might actually be a better option at third base than Rolen -- both offensively and defensively. But there are concerns with letting Cruz be the team's everyday third baseman.

Cruz's batting average on balls in play was .320 -- about 20 points better than the league average. His line-drive rate of 23.6 percent is the cause of his higher-than-league-average BABIP and likely isn't sustainable. If he had qualified, his line-drive rate would have been among the top 25 players in all of baseball. That doesn't inspire confidence that Cruz can maintain it going forward. Going from virtually a career minor leaguer to starting third baseman is hard to believe. It's even harder to believe when it's Luis Cruz.

However, an unsustainable line-drive rate is the least of Cruz's worries. That distinction goes to his 3-percent walk rate. Prior to 2012, Cruz had amassed a 4.4-percent walk rate in 4,891 minor-league plate appearances, so not walking is nothing new for him.

Rolen wouldn't be the everyday third baseman. The Dodgers don't have a true everyday third baseman at this juncture. Bringing him in would mean some sort of third base platoon with Cruz. That might be the best thing for all parties involved.

Cruz is a potentially plus defender at third base. His ultimate zone rating was 22.2 at the position, which would have been tops in the majors if he qualified. His eight defensive runs saved was good for fifth-best in all of baseball.

Rolen's best days are clearly behind him, but the Dodgers' interest in the veteran goes deeper than just the hot corner.

The Dodgers also lack a true backup first baseman. Some could say if Rolen is signed, the Dodgers still wouldn't have a true backup first baseman, as he has never logged an inning at the position in his major league career.

Adrian Gonzalez is one of the most durable players in the game, averaging 160 games per season since his first full year in 2006. Now 30 (31 in May), Gonzalez could benefit from a few more days off throughout the course of the season. Rolen could be the guy to spell Gonzalez at first base. But barring injury, Gonzalez isn't going to be sitting on the bench much.

Despite Cruz's plus glove, his potential (probability?) for below-average offensive production isn't a welcoming thought. If the rest of the Dodgers' lineup produces as expected (cc: Carl Crawford, Andre Ethier and Hanley Ramirez, to name a few), the Dodgers could get away with Cruz and/or Rolen at third base. The added bonus -- if Rolen can handle it -- is the ability to spell Gonzalez at first base a handful or so of times in 2013.

Rest assured, if the Dodgers' premiere hitters are under-performing, look for the team to make a play for an upgrade -- likely a third baseman -- before July 31.

Dustin Nosler has followed the Dodgers from Northern California all his life. He's the founder of Feelin' Kinda Blue, a Dodger blog. He also co-hosts "Dugout Blues," a weekly Dodger podcast. Find him on Twitter @FeelinKindaBlue.

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