I don’t want to talk about the hideous sweep the Dodgers just suffered at the hands of the Giants – and let it not be forgotten that the most likely path to the playoffs runs through the NL West rather than the wild card, so beating the Giants would seem to be somewhat important – and neither do you, so let’s not talk about it.
Instead, let’s talk about the ripple effect the somewhat unexpected news that Jerry Hairston is now out for the year following hip surgery has on the infield. (And despite how pleasant of a surprise Hairston was this year, he’s only going to end up playing in 78 games thanks to multiple injuries, once again showing the risk of signing veteran players in their mid-to-late 30s.)
When we talked about whether or not it mattered that Dee Gordon was getting healthy earlier this week, part of the discussion was predicated on the fact that Hairston’s injury was relatively minor, and on a team with a relatively set lineup which didn’t have a huge need for a traditional utilityman, he would be available to share time at third with Luis Cruz and/or be a safety net should the Cruz fantasy fall apart suddenly. That being the case, and since Hairston couldn’t play shortstop and Gordon was hardly necessary to slot back in, it made sense to keep the current configuration of Hanley Ramirez at short and Cruz at third.
Now… now, I’m not so sure about that. Ramirez hasn’t been awful at short, but he’s clearly a below-average defender there, and Cruz is average-to-above at the position. I think we’d all agree that the best defensive configuration would be to swap the two, and Hairston’s absence changes the equation going forward, because now, you pretty much have to play Cruz & Ramirez every day. Hairston’s not coming back. Juan Uribe barely exists and keeps his job only because of continued injuries to others. Adam Kennedy is a space-filler at best. Alex Castellanos can’t be counted on defensively yet, especially not in a pennant race. That means Cruz & Ramirez are your left side of the infield, and that being the case there’s a pretty solid argument to be made to play them where they best serve the defense. As we’ve seen just in the last few days, even poor defense that doesn’t get marked as errors can still hurt a team.
None of this changes what we said about Gordon the other day, of course. No matter how they’re positioned on the field, if someone’s losing playing time in order to get Gordon back on the field, it’s not going to be Ramirez. It’s going to be Cruz, and with solid defense along with two more hits last night, there’s absolutely no argument to be made for Gordon to be taking time away from Cruz right now. (“I’ll take sentences I never thought I’d write for $600, Alex.”)
So in the short term, it seems a swap would be a better defensive pairing. In the long term, it allows for easier slotting if Cruz does fall apart, because I’d rather have Gordon at shortstop (with Ramirez at third) than Kennedy & Uribe at third (with Ramirez at shortstop). The one thing I’ll admit that we cannot know is how much Ramirez enjoys playing shortstop and what the effect might be on him if he was moved; all indications are that he would be flexible to such a move, but he is hitting well and there’s always the thought that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
It might not be broken, and it probably won’t matter if other people don’t start hitting. In a race that seems likely to come down to the final day, however, even the slightest improvements matter, and this might be an easy way to give the defense a boost.