I haven’t talked that much about the World Baseball Classic because I don’t really find it all that interesting, and there’s no Dodgers on the American roster anyway. That said, there are seven Dodgers representing other nations — including 75% of the projected infield — and Steve Dilbeck of the LA Times makes some cogent points about what that time away from camp means for Hanley Ramirez.
To help him better reacquaint himself at short — the Miami Marlins had moved him to third last season after they acquired Jose Reyes – the Dodgers wanted him to play short during winter ball.
But Ramirez suffered an early minor shoulder injury playing in Puerto Rico and ended up a designated hitter, not playing short or anywhere in the field. And now he’ll potentially miss most of spring training – and he’s unlikely to play any shortstop for the Dominicans.
Reyes figures to be their starting shortstop. And with Adrian Beltre at third and Robinson Cano at second, Ramirez is likely looking at DHing yet again. Plus, the Dominicans have strong-fielding Erick Aybar as the backup at short. The Dominicans list Ramirez as a third baseman.
As Dilbeck goes on to note, this is seemingly bad news for the Dodgers, given that the shortstop who needs to work on his defense isn’t actually going to play much shortstop at all before the season — potentially returning to camp only a week before the season starts if the Dominicans make it to the finals.
On the other hand, I do wonder if it’s an opportunity. If the main argument towards keeping Ramirez at shortstop is simply the worry that he won’t want to return to third, being able to point out that he was unable to show any improvement defensively this winter — which the Dodgers made clear they needed to see — would seem to be a pretty convincing selling point. Hell, perhaps that’s been the plan all along; as we’ve argued all winter long, if you’re going to go into the season with a left side of Ramirez & Luis Cruz, then there is just no justification for not putting Cruz at shortstop.
Now that being said… Cruz was horrible in his own stint in winter ball, hitting .184/.213/.398 in 75 plate appearances, and he’ll be away from camp for a while as well, joining Adrian Gonzalez on a potentially strong Mexican team. If Cruz & Ramirez are both absent, that may give Dee Gordon a stretch of two weeks or more where he’s the only shortstop in town. (Which, by the way, get ready for a bunch of infields that feature Nick Evans / Mark Ellis / Gordon / Dallas McPherson during the spring).
I’ve been pretty clear about my desire to see Gordon back in Albuquerque fine-tuning his game this season, but I also acknowledge that he’s probably the only way we’re going to avoid a lineup that has Ramirez at short & Cruz at third. That span of time might be Gordon’s last best chance to show that he’s a contributor this year — though, again, I don’t think he is.
Not that I think he’ll take advantage of it, of course, but the opportunity could at least be there. And if not? Please, please, just swap Cruz & Ramirez. It shouldn’t be that complicated.