We’re not all that far from getting to Mark Ellis‘ 2013 review, and when we do, you’ll read about how he had the most Mark Ellis year ever — solid defense, mediocre offense, and his yearly leg injury. Depending on how quickly I get through Ramon Hernandez, Drew Butera, and Adrian Gonzalez, that review may or may not be up prior to the Saturday 11:59pm ET deadline for making a decision on team options.
For a while, I’ve considered it more or less a given that the Dodgers would decline their $5.75m 2014 option, instead choosing to give him a $1m buyout. That’s because he’s going to be 37, he’s no longer got any upside, you absolutely know he’ll miss a month or so with an injury, and the presence of Alexander Guerrero means that the Dodgers are ready to look in another direction. Sitting here today, I think it’s more likely than not that they will in fact decline it, though without nearly as much certainty as Chris Capuano‘s getting declined.
Still, a part of me increasingly wonders if it’s worth exercising it. No, not to be a bench player, as so many have suggested — Ellis can’t play any other positions and offers little power or speed, so there’s not a whole lot of reason to keep him around if he’s not playing every day. But you could argue that there’s a reason to hedge your bets for now and worry about it in March, really.
As much as we like Guerrero, it’s so important to remember that we have no idea what he is. Because of how well Hyun-jin Ryu and Yasiel Puig worked out, I think Dodger fans have an unreasonable expectation that every expensive international signing is going to be a star. And maybe he is… but maybe he’s Hiroyuki Nakajima or Tsuyoshi Nishioka, two recent Japanese middle infielders who signed for millions and either flamed out or couldn’t even make the team.
Guerrero is more highly thought of than those two — much more expensive, too — and so I’m not all that concerned he’ll implode so badly. But, depending on how he looks in winter ball, he may need to take the Puig path and spend some time in the minors first, and that’s not something we’ll likely know until spring training. And if you’ve cut Ellis loose and decide Guerrero isn’t ready, then what? There’s not a great backup plan, and no one good is likely to sign knowing they have days or weeks at most.
By keeping Ellis, you alleviate that worry, and then if you do decide that Guerrero is ready, it’s probably not that difficult to find a taker for Ellis in March, whether to a team that never filled their second base or one that suffers an injury. For all of Ellis’ obvious deficiencies, if the Dodgers eat part of the deal and make him a $3m player next year, that’s a very reasonable cost for someone who can get you one to two wins. If he hits the open market, it’s not that hard to think he gets at least that or more, possibly for two years. (You also keep open the incredibly unlikely possibility of moving Hanley Ramirez to third and Guerrero to short if an acceptable third base solution isn’t found, but again, that’s extremely difficult to see happening.)
The downside there is that it puts Ellis in something of an awkward position, being retained by the team all winter knowing that he might not be likely to actually be on the club, and since Ellis is very well-respected, the team may be hesitant to do that to him. (It’d also raise the possibility of a deal not being struck and Ellis taking up a bench spot, which isn’t very efficient.)
Again, this is probably not all that likely of a scenario, but one worth considering. We’ll know for sure by Saturday night.