No one’s going to believe me on this, but I was just now halfway through writing a post about how the Dodgers should demote Jerry Sands to Albuquerque and recall Trent Oeltjen to take his place. Halfway is apparently as far as I’m ever going to get, because Dylan Hernandez reports that the Dodgers have done just that. Predicting an otherwise out-of-nowhere move? Sounds award-winning to me.
Anyway, I’ve been okay with the idea of Sands getting sent down for some time now, and I’d fully expected him to be shipped out for Marcus Thames last week rather than Jay Gibbons. In fact, at the time I wrote that I’d had to shelve a post explaining why Sands should go that I was never able to use. Here’s the remnants of that draft:
I’m sure that many of you will find this to be a horrendous miscarriage of justice. You’ll wonder why the Dodgers just sent down the player with their second best May OPS. You’ll use this as further evidence that the Dodgers value mediocre veterans over talented young players. And you’ll wonder why Thames is even worth a roster spot in the first place.
These are all valid concerns. Believe me, when I flip on the game, I’d much rather watch Sands than Thames, Jay Gibbons, or Tony Gwynn, in much the same way I’d rather see Ivan DeJesus get a shot instead of Aaron Miles, or a potted plant instead of Juan Castro. I’d rather see players who could be a big part of the future than players that have no future here and barely even have a present. But I’m also not sure I can get on board with this being such a terrible idea.
On May 22, Sands went 4-4 in Chicago in an 8-3 loss to the White Sox, which was the game that saw both Rod Barajas and Andre Ethier collect minor injuries. Since then, Sands has just three hits in 35 plate appearances, dragging his season line down to .200/.294/.328. That’s not entirely fair, as that line represents his entire year, and he definitely showed large improvement in May as opposed to April.
(I updated the numbers in that last paragraph to reflect the last few days.)
Numbers aren’t everything, of course. When Sands arrived, we heard a great deal about his maturity, ability to make adjustments, and command of the strike zone. From this vantage point, all of what we’ve heard has been true and then some. Before his recent slump, he’d shown an increased ability to pull the ball, rather than always going the other way, and even when the power wasn’t there he was seeing a lot of pitches and getting on base.
By sending him back down now, you hope that he goes down knowing he can play on this level, with a few adjustments. This is where the maturity comes into play; some rookies can’t handle a demotion well, but Sands sounds like the type who can. Ideally, he goes back down to ABQ, mashes Triple-A pitching for a while to get his confidence back up (also important, as you don’t want a string of oh-fers in the bigs to get him down), and then we’ll see back up later in the summer. I’d say “when rosters expand on Sept. 1″, but I think we all know that injuries will necessitate a recall sooner.
Besides, not saying goodbye to the minors for good after making your big league debut is hardly the sign that a player is unable to be a productive major leaguer. Matt Kemp came up at 21 in 2006 and in his first 50 plate appearances, he wowed with seven HR and a 1.287 OPS. Over his next 83 plate appearances, he struck out 30 times with no homers and a .539 OPS, as pitchers realized he couldn’t lay off breaking balls low and away. That got him a ticket back to the minors until rosters expanded, and I think it’s worked out pretty well for him. The same can be said for Clayton Kershaw, who got a three-week trip back to AA after eight starts of varying quality in 2008.
So go ahead and be disappointed, because the part of me that watches the team everyday is as well. Just keep in mind that this is almost certainly the right thing for Sands long-term, and that’s where the focus of this team ought to be right now.
That’s how I felt a week ago, and nothing has changed today. Sands is a big part of this team’s future, and it’s in his best interest to go back down and get his confidence back up. He’s not helping the team right now, and he’s not helping himself. He’ll be back, and he’ll be better for the experience.
As for Oeltjen, the Australian lefty appeared in 14 late-season games for the Dodgers last year, and has been terrorizing AAA pitching to the tune of .339/.429/.583 this year. It’s to be expected that we consider that an ABQ creation and while it’s true he’s been ridiculous at home (.382/.451/.607), he’s still been productive on the road (.297/.407/.560), with his eight homers split evenly. He’s not likely to see much playing time, but he can spot at all three outfield positions and is likely to be a Gibbons-esque lefty bench bat. To make room on the 40-man roster, pitcher Luis Vazquez was DFA’d.