Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Rafael Furcal is hurt. I know! Who’d have thought? This time it’s his left thumb, which he broke on a slide into third base in the fifth inning. Remember, kids: never slide head first.
Though the immediate postgame stories were about Furcal’s mention that he might retire, that seems almost certainly a statement made out of immediate frustration, and it’s hardly like rehabbing a broken thumb is as arduous as coming back from a blown-out knee or any of the various back troubles he’s had over the years. He’ll be out for four to six weeks, maybe a bit more with a rehab stint, and we’ll see him again sometime before Memorial Day. If there’s a slim silver lining to this, it’s that he almost certainly won’t reach the 600 plate appearances it would take to get his 2012 option to vest. I don’t say that because I don’t like Furcal or am dying to see him gone, but because whenever you can get out of paying an aging, injury-prone player a guaranteed $12m, you do it.
That’s a worry for the offseason, though, because of course far more urgent is how the Dodgers are going to handle this absence, and let me stop you right there: it’s not going to be Dee Gordon. Sure, it’d be fun, it’d be exciting – and it’d also be a terrible idea. Gordon is absolutely not ready right now, and I’m of the opinion that I’m not sure he’s even going to be ready for next year. It’s not good for him, and it’s not good for the team. It shouldn’t happen, and it won’t.
Without Furcal, the Dodgers are really left with four questions: how to replace him at shortstop, who gets his roster spot, how does that impact the bench, and what will this do to the batting order? Let’s tackle them one at a time, and hope this doesn’t get as ugly as the 2008 hellscape of the punchless Chin-lung Hu, the decrepit Angel Berroa, and the corpse of Nomar Garciaparra filling in for Furcal.
Who plays shortstop? Most reports indicate that Jamey Carroll will get the bulk of the time at shortstop in Furcal’s absence, a task he handled admirably last season. That’s okay, I suppose, though I do wonder if Juan Uribe might not be the better choice there. Uribe unquestionably has the stronger arm, and has a 3.4 UZR/150 in over 900 games at the position, while Carroll is at -0.4 in 163 games. Conversely, Carroll has nearly twice as much second base experience as Uribe.
Who fills the roster spot? Assuming Gordon isn’t happening, the obvious 40-man roster choice would be Ivan DeJesus, Jr., though I’m not so sure that’ll happen. It’s not because of DeJesus’ unimpressive stint to start the season, because that was just a few games by a guy seeing his first big league action. It’s because if Carroll is indeed the shortstop, he’s still a 37-year-old career utility guy who can’t be expected to play every day. DeJesus is no longer seen as a shortstop; he may be able to fill in at third base in a pinch, but is basically limited to second base. If the Dodgers don’t want to push Uribe off of second to short a few times a week, the new infielder will need to be able to handle shortstop, particularly because Aaron Miles shouldn’t be playing there either. Besides, if they want DeJesus to play every day, that opportunity still wouldn’t be there for him in LA even with Furcal gone.
That leaves you with two non-roster options: Justin Sellers & Juan Castro. Sellers was someone I liked in the spring due to reports that he has a plus glove and good on-base skills, though he didn’t totally impress in camp. He’s not seen as an everyday major leaguer, so having him be a utilty man wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world. Castro, well, you know all about him already. He’s completely and totally useless. Of course it’ll be Castro. (Update: we have our answer, it is DeJesus. See below.)
What does this do to the bench? Here’s where the impact could really be felt. Having Carroll play more is a bit of an injury risk, but it’s overall a good thing to get him in the lineup more. But without him on the bench? That’s a killer, because now you’re looking at a likely backup infield situation of Aaron Miles and Juan Castro (or one of the younger guys). That makes it harder to get Casey Blake the rest he needs without thowing away the day’s game, and since Blake is already banged-up just a week into the season, that kind of rest is vital. I can’t wait for the first day where we see Miles & Castro starting together, right?
How does this change the batting order? Without Furcal at the top, my best guess is that you see a lot more of Tony Gwynn, Jr., leading off. It is, to say the least, an imperfect solution, though I will admit that Don Mattingly doesn’t have a lot of better options. My hope is that he at least keeps Carroll at #2, perhaps even leading off when Gwynn is out, and doesn’t continually bury him at #8, giving more at-bats to the useless Miles & Castro. We’ll have to see how that plays out, though. Tony Jackson suggests that Matt Kemp should lead off, which would be interesting and a way to get him more at-bats, though I wouldn’t do it because I don’t want to see Kemp coming up with the bases empty 90% of the time because Rod Barajas and the pitcher didn’t get on in front of him. Jackson noted later in the story that Mattingly wouldn’t entertain the idea, which is good.
We’ll find out the answer to at least the second question later today, when Furcal is placed on the disabled list and a corresponding move is made. (If it’s not DeJesus, remember, someone will need to be DFA’d. With Jamie Hoffmann up and Jay Gibbons almost ready to return, Xavier Paul should be on notice. So it could be not only that we have to suffer through Castro again, but that we have to lose Paul or someone else to do it.)
As for the rest? We’ll have to see. It’ll be one of Don Mattingly’s first big tests.
Ivan DeJesus Jr will be in uni for Dodgers tonight, in place of Furcal. LA checked on Eckstein in spring, told it would cost $2 mil. Passed.
Not sure what’s more disturbing – that the Dodgers actually had interest in David Eckstein, or that he chose to not sign with anyone rather than play for less than $2m?
Update 2: MLBtraderumors is reporting that the Dodgers are considering using DeJesus at 2B, which would then push Uribe to 3B. I like the idea if DeJesus can handle it. Uribe’s strong arm would be an asset at 3B, and that would then supplement the bench by pushing Casey Blake to the LHP masher role he really ought to be. Could he be part of the solution to the fact that neither James Loney or Andre Ethier can hit lefties?