2012 in brief: Defensive specialist had his moments as an everyday starter filling in for the injured Matt Kemp, but poor performance led to August DFA despite being in first year of two-year deal.
2013 status: Owed $1.15m by the Dodgers and is under team control, but is not currently part of the 40-man roster.
Yet it’s the second guaranteed year that’s really galling here, and I’m not just talking about the obvious jokes regarding Ned Colletti handing out two years to every warm body he can find. (Speaking of which, Rivera must be wondering what’s wrong with his agent right now, right?) Unlike free agents like Mark Ellis, Chris Capuano, or Aaron Harang, players who had to be lured off the open market with the promise of a multiyear deal, Gwynn was under team control. They merely needed to tender him a contract, and he’d have been theirs for 2012. Would he have made more than $850k? Probably, but not by a whole lot; it almost seems that in order to save a lousy $200k right now, Colletti felt it was worth it to hand out a second guaranteed year.
And while I never thought the deal make sense… even I didn’t think he’d get whacked before the end of season one. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? For the first six weeks or so of the season, Gwynn was doing his normal routine of occasionally getting a start in left and coming in to pinch-run or replace Juan Rivera on defense otherwise. When he made his first start in place of Kemp in Chicago in early May, he was hitting a very Gwynn-like .240/.309/.280. That’s not, you know, good, but what did you really expect?
With the exception of a few starts from Elian Herrera, two from Kemp in his aborted comeback, and one from Andre Ethier, Gwynn became the primary center fielder, playing nearly every day between early May and Kemp’s return after the All-Star break. Sure, he played his usual fantastic defense, and he even had a moment or two at the plate, including teaming with Dee Gordon for a walkoff on Father’s Day, but the offense just wasn’t there even by his own poor standards. Remember, this was a guy who had a career line of .247/.319/.324 (78 OPS+) entering the season, and even that was more than he could handle, contributing only a 58+ this year.
The funny thing is, people seemed to think that he was doing so much more than he was. Gwynn had a decent run after taking over for Kemp, hitting in 16 of 19 games and being Don Mattingly‘s choice to replace Gordon at the top of the lineup due to his “speed and on-base skills”. (That really happened.) But as the rest of the Dodger offense cratered, so did Gwynn, who hit just .194/.252/.262 between June 1 and the All-Star break.
With Kemp healthy, Gwynn returned to the bench and made one start at each of the three outfield positions over the rest of July, but as Rivera became more of a first baseman and the Dodgers acquired Shane Victorino on July 31, Gwynn’s role became extremely limited. Suddenly, he was no longer needed for defense, and he wasn’t even the primary backup centerfielder any longer. Finally, in the midst of an 0-14 skid, he was DFA’d on August 6 when the Dodgers recalled Jerry Sands. As you can see, I was not displeased by this at all:
Gwynn’s utility to the team ended the moment they picked up Shane Victorino (who could cover center if anything happened to Matt Kemp), but also when he continued to prove that he simply cannot hit at a major league level, having a year at the plate worse than his usual mediocre self. With Victorino, Kemp, & Andre Ethier squarely set as the starting outfielders and Jerry Hairston, Sands, and several others able to spot in as needed, Gwynn’s role as a defensive replacement was tough to justify. What’s mostly shocking to me is that he was signed for 2013 as well and it’s rare for clubs to DFA guys like that; then again, I never liked giving him a two-year deal in the first place.
Oddly enough, Sands returned to the minors three days later in order to activate Adam Kennedy, which raised a whole bunch of questions about whether it was worth cutting Gwynn in the first place. Gwynn accepted an assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque and played well in 19 games there, though unlike Bobby Abreu, he was unable to get himself back onto the 40-man roster and earn a September recall.
Gwynn remains part of the organization, so it’s possible that we could see him again, and according to this Ken Gurnick piece from last month, it’s likely that he starts 2013 with the Isotopes as outfield depth. He’s a fantastic defensive outfielder, so he’s nice to have around. It’s even nicer to know that you don’t actually need him.
Next up! Matt Kemp, for real!