Coming off consecutive cameos in the National League championship series, the Los Angeles Dodgers left their destiny in 2010 to youngsters who were to have matured over those Octobers and under the unyielding nerve of Joe Torre.
They lost 82 games.
Then, with little else to do this fall, they sat and watched the San Francisco Giants – their most natural rivals and the general manager’s former employers – win it all with pitching, some defense and an offense that … wait, how did they win it all again?
Anyway, it seems Ned Colletti has taken back the keys to his organization.
In two weeks, the green-leaning Dodgers came to terms with three graying veterans – starting pitchers Hiroki Kuroda(notes), Jon Garland(notes) and, on Monday, infielder Juan Uribe(notes) for three years and $21 million. In late October, they re-signed starter Ted Lilly(notes).
The rotation is five deep. Three-quarters of the infield is Casey Blake(notes), Rafael Furcal(notes) and Uribe. While the rest of the world goes with youth, the Dodgers are going salt and pepper (along with a little orange and black), which isn’t a bad thing, all things considered.
They wouldn’t have been certain contenders without bounce-back seasons from Matt Kemp(notes), Andre Ethier(notes), Jonathan Broxton(notes) and James Loney(notes), or without continued improvement from Clayton Kershaw(notes) and Chad Billingsley(notes) (or, for that matter, without bullpen help). But at this rate, considering the surplus of available relief arms and several reasonable catching choices, neither will the Dodgers be total busts should the likes of Kemp and Ethier continue to wobble.
Colletti had enough to worry about given the owner’s divorce, the manager’s resignation, Kemp’s commitment and Russell Martin’s(notes) hip. Now, before even December struck, he has lessened the burden on rookie manager Don Mattingly, both in terms of handling the rotation and stoking whatever fire is left in Kemp. (If Kemp fails to respond to the exceedingly professional Mattingly and new first base coach Davey Lopes, the Dodgers will have no choice but to trade him.) And the Uribe signing – assuming he passes Tuesday’s physical – means Mattingly won’t have to ride the fragile Furcal on end.
The fact is, outside Dee Gordon and, maybe, Ivan DeJesus Jr., the Dodgers have little infield help on the way, not this year, not the next and maybe not the one after that. So, Uribe, at 31, at 230-ish pounds (give or take an anvil), at his free-swingin’ best, gets three years, because after Uribe spends a season at second base, the Dodgers likely will have to replace Blake at third in 2012. The current list of potential free agents at the position after the 2011 season: Blake, Mark DeRosa(notes), Greg Dobbs(notes), Edwin Encarnacion(notes) and Aramis Ramirez(notes). Colletti, then, will take his chances on $7 million for Uribe, his power threat and his extreme utility.
The answer might not be so simple at catcher, where Martin is recovering from a fracture in his hip, though perhaps not quickly enough to satisfy Thursday’s non-tender date. In addition to his steady fade in production into what should have been his peak years, Martin is due a raise over his $5.05 million salary from 2010, and management’s hearts and minds are divided. Colletti, it seems, would like to be convinced that a good kid like Martin is about to turn around his career, rediscover his power, find his way on base and become a Gold Glove catcher again, all on a weakened hip joint. So far, that argument hasn’t been convincing.
There has been reasonably good news recently. Three weeks ago, a CT scan showed evidence of bone forming in the fracture area, according to Martin’s agent, Matt Colleran, and no issues in the surrounding labrum or ligaments. Doctors told Martin his strength should be back by spring training.
That’s a lot to trust, just as Kemp is, and just as a thin, young pitching staff is, and just as a first-year manager is. That’s why the Dodgers had to get older and more emotionally reliable, and that’s why Uribe makes so much sense.
Which brings us to other infield utility types, on the market or about to be:
• Bill Hall(notes): After playing seven positions for the Red Sox (and averaging about 15 strikeouts per), Hall is drawing interest from about eight teams. The National League makes sense for Hall, who might look good in St. Louis, San Francisco, Atlanta or Colorado.
• Melvin Mora(notes): It’s amazing how much better Mora looked as a utility guy than he did as a regular third baseman. Of course, everybody looks better when you knock almost $7 million off their salary.
• Miguel Tejada(notes): Just as Tejada appeared to be slipping into utility/corner territory, he did a reasonable job for the Padres at shortstop. He’ll be 37 in May, but could help the Cardinals, Padres or Giants, among others.