In this offseason which has mostly been noteworthy for the Dodgers’ almost complete lack of activity, one of the main complaints we’ve been hearing (okay, and saying) is that Jamey Carroll was the biggest new acquisition of the winter. That’s probably not a good thing just because, well, it’s Jamey Carroll. But is the problem with Carroll the fact that a backup infielder shouldn’t be the biggest grab by a contending team, or that the Dodgers cost themselves value by going after him so quickly?
This isn’t to denigrate Carroll, of course. He’s nice for what he is, a veteran with some on-base skills and positional flexibility. As I said at the time (despite barely being able to see straight), he’s got his virtues, though I did say I was unhappy with having to give him a second guaranteed year. It’s just that we all remember how nicely it turned out last year when Orlando Hudson and Randy Wolf were signed to below-market deals because they’d waited too long in a terrible market, and much the same situation appears to be happening again.
I’ve been thinking about this for weeks, but what really got me going it today was today’s list on MLBTradeRumors of their “Unsigned All-Star Team“, and seeing Felipe Lopez on that list. Lopez isn’t as good as he thinks he is – he’s been riding that fluke 23 homer 2005 season in Cincinnati for quite a while now – but he’s also a useful player who’s probably going to come cheaply, and he’s a perfect fit for the Dodgers. Last year, Lopez signed in Milwaukee for $3.5 million (that’s right, less than Carroll is guaranteed, though of course not over two years), and though he was traded midseason for the third time in four years, put together quite a nice line of .310/.383/.427. Dig that OBP!
Granted, his career line doesn’t quite match up to that, at .269/.338/.400. That line needs to be taken with a grain of salt, though; it’s weighed down heavily by a slow start to his career in Toronto at ages 21 and 22 in 2001-02 (.293 OBP) and a season and a half on a dreadful Washington team (.320 OBP). Lopez was good in Cincinnati (.765 OPS), got dragged down in Washington, but then has been very good ever since he left the Nats. His 2008 turned around instantly as soon as he was dealt to St. Louis (man, players getting good once they leave Washington sure does seem to have some legs to it, doesn’t it, Ronnie Belliard and Marlon Anderson?) as he had a red-hot .964 OPS, and then as mentioned above was very good in 2009 between Milwaukee and Arizona. Add in that he’s a switch-hitter while Carroll’s a righty – and don’t forget, the Dodgers are having a problem with too many righties on the bench – and there’s no question that Lopez is a more valuable bat than Carroll.
Lopez has the advantage in the field, as well. Like Carroll, he plays several infield positions and is slightly above-average at 2B, below-average at 3B, and has some limited experience in the outfield. But unlike Carroll, who can’t play shortstop, Lopez has played over 600 games there. He’s not great (-11.2 UZR/150 overall), but if Furcal stays healthy, he doesn’t need to be. (The obvious follow up question is, “what if Furcal doesn’t stay healthy,” in which case the Dodgers are screwed regardless). Wouldn’t you rather see Lopez manning short as Furcal’s backup than the unappealing options we’re currently faced with, like Nick Green and Angel Berroa?
So what we have here is the Dodgers choosing a 36-year-old guy who’s a lesser batter, can’t play shortstop, and hits from the wrong side of the plate over the 29-year-old guy who has a recent history of offensive success, can play shortstop, and is a switch-hitter. Look, if Blake DeWitt can’t handle the job, Carroll’s not going to be there to play every day – Ronnie Belliard is. Yet if Lopez were on hand, he would be able to play everyday, and serve as a middle-infield backup/lefty bench bat otherwise. Lopez has almost no lefty-righty platoon split in his career, so he’d be an ideal piece.
The only way this doesn’t make sense is if the Dodgers were convinced that Lopez would be unhappy if forced into a bench role. Yet here we are, two weeks before spring training starts, and Lopez is unemployed. What better situation would he have than trying to beat out the untested DeWitt? No, I think it’s clear that the Dodgers jumped on Carroll far too soon, without seeing what kind of bargains would be out there in February. It’s not like if they’d missed on Carroll, the season would be sunk for not having him, right?