Dodgers Interested in Second Basemen and Catchers

Yesterday at Fox Sports, Ken Rosenthal put some names out there that the Dodgers might be looking at to fill the second base hole and… wait, I feel like we need to say something first.

(Look, it’s here where I have to issue the standard disclaimer we talk about every year: 90% of what you hear in the Hot Stove season is total BS. If it’s not a team or agent leaking a ‘rumor’ to create leverage, it’s a reporter rushing to be first to press with a hot story he got from a ‘source’ who got his info from Scott Boras’ best friend’s sister’s boyfriend’s brother’s girlfriend that he heard from a guy who knows this kid who’s going with the girl who saw Prince Fielder pass out at 31 Flavors last night. That doesn’t mean it’s not fun to think about and discuss, because it is – I love this time of year – let’s just try to keep it in perspective and not damn anyone for moves that haven’t actually been made yet. Okay? Okay.)

Back to Rosenthal:

The team is aggressively pursuing infielders and also talking to backup catchers and starting pitchers, major-league sources say. First baseman James Loney, shortstop Dee Gordon and third baseman Juan Uribe are virtually assured of starting positions in the Dodgers’ infield, but the second base and utility jobs are unsettled.

Ivan DeJesus and Justin Sellers could end up in the mix, but defense was a major issue for the Dodgers at second last season, and the team would prefer to add an established regular. Clint Barmes, Aaron Hill and Mark Ellis are among the free-agent second basemen the Dodgers are targeting; Hill currently is negotiating with his previous team, the Diamondbacks.

No surprises here, though a conspicuous lack of Jamey Carroll or Kelly Johnson - but again, this story is hardly written on parchment handed down from the gods. (Carroll sounds likely to sign a multi-year deal with another team soon anyway, according to ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick.) There’s reasons to like them all, I suppose, though none can really hit, since at a position where the top performers had wOBA marks north of .360, Barmes (.308), Hill (.292), and Ellis (.283) all lagged far behind. Ellis and Barmes each graded as plus defenders, with Hill about average, and toss some extra credit to Barmes for an ability to play shortstop where the other two cannot. Hill has at least shown the ability to display power in the past (36 homers in 2009, 26 in 2010) though his career has largely fallen off a cliff since that outstanding 2009.

Here’s the thing, though: all three will be 30 or older when next season starts, and it’s possible that at least two of the three command multi-year deals. Remember, this is a world where Willie Bloomquist is getting $4m guaranteed over two years, so you’d think that in what looks to be an inflated market these guys could be getting $4-5m per year – or more –  for multiple seasons.

For guys who are unlikely to be difference makers, is that really worth it? Sure, Hill could rediscover that 2009 form, but he’s also far more likely to be the guy with the 11th-worst wOBA in baseball (min 900 PA) over the 2010-11 seasons. Ellis and Barmes join him in the bottom 20 of that same list, saved from negative WAR largely because of their defense. But if you’re punting on offense and are just buying defense, Justin Sellers can probably provide a large portion of that same value for the minimum salary, even though he can’t hit a lick either.

I’m not necessarily saying that I prefer Sellers to these guys, because I really don’t think Sellers can hit enough to be more than a bench player. In a vacuum, I’d absolutely rather one of the vets over Sellers. But we don’t live in a vacuum, and we’ll have to see what the cost-benefit analysis works out to be when we see what type of deals these guys come down with. Mark Ellis is better than Justin Sellers (or Ivan DeJesus), I’m just not sure he’s worth 10 times the salary at multiple years, which he may very well get. In what may be a transitional year for the Dodgers, that might not be the best use of money. Still, time will tell how the market lands, so my tune on that could change as the offseason progresses.

Rosenthal also checks in behind the plate with a similar opinion to the one I stated yesterday when we learned Rod Barajas jumped ship:

At catcher, the Dodgers would like to add a Brad Ausmus-type backup behind A.J. Ellis, someone who could catch once or twice a week and serve as a mentor while the team develops Tim Federowicz at Triple A.

The free-agent market for catchers market is thin, but Jose Molina, Brian Schneider and Matt Treanor are among the players who fit the description of what the Dodgers would like to add.

I agree completely with Rosenthal that the likely addition would be a blue-collar veteran type, solid behind the plate and unlikely to add much on offense. I’ve seen support for Ryan Doumit, since he can hit, but he’s such an atrocious catcher that I’m not sure I’d be comfortable with him even as a backup. He’d fit a lot better as a 1B/RF bench type who can be your emergency catcher in case of injuries or double-switches, though he’s not strong enough against lefty pitching to really be an upgrade on James Loney or Andre Ethier there. Ramon Hernandez is likely to command too high of a salary, but I might not mind Ramon Castro as an at-least-he’s-not-awful addition.