Dioner Navarro Makes That $1m Look Good

Per everyone, Dioner Navarro tore his oblique and is likely out until May. I’ve long said A.J. Ellis is better anyway, so that’s fine by me. I know Hector Gimenez is the camp darling and is out of options, but he’s barely seen any time behind the dish, so I’m not sure how comfortable you can be with just him behind Rod Barajas (despite Don Mattingly’s terrifying claims that Barajas could play every day.)

That’s all the analysis you get from me on this for the moment, since I’m sitting in the stands at Astros / Yankees in Tampa. Figured I’d toss this up for discussion, though. Eric Chavez just crushed a dinger. Dammit! (On the other hand, people are yelling fat jokes at Andruw Jones. So, there’s that.)

How Many Dodger Left Fielders Will We See This Year?

In 2010, the Dodgers ran out nine different left fielders, humorously picking up more errors than assists, on top of some generally lousy offiense:

  Age G GS Inn Ch PO A E Fld%
Manny Ramirez 38 46 46 359.2 73 68 2 3 .959
Scott Podsednik 34 37 30 272.1 62 61 0 1 .984
Reed Johnson 33 62 24 264.2 65 65 0 0 1.000
Garret Anderson 38 27 20 189.0 30 27 1 2 .933
Xavier Paul 25 23 19 169.2 33 29 3 1 .970
Jay Gibbons 33 15 13 106.0 25 23 1 1 .960
Jamey Carroll 36 5 5 38.0 13 13 0 0 1.000
Trent Oeltjen 27 4 2 21.2 1 1 0 0 1.000
Russ Mitchell 25 3 3 20.2 2 2 0 0 1.000
League Average                 .985
Team Total   162 162 1441.2 304 289 7 8 .974
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 3/21/2011.
 

The top four on that list – Manny, Podsednik, Johnson & Anderson – have all moved on. Beyond that, Xavier Paul may be lost on waivers should he not make the Opening Day roster, Jamey Carroll ideally shouldn’t be seeing any time in left field, Trent Oeltjen is a minor-league lifer with no guarantees, and Russ Mitchell looks less like a major leaguer the more we see of him (not to mention he’s more of an infielder, anyway). Of the nine left fielders from last year, only Jay Gibbons seems certain to see time there again this year, and even still I’ve been spending half the spring wondering if he’s going to lose his roster spot.

But that hasn’t stopped me from wondering – might the Dodgers actually top last year’s left fielder count?

Let’s assume for the moment that Gibbons, Tony Gwynn, and Marcus Thames are all but certain to see some time in left. With the extra spots opened up by the injuries to Jon Garland and Vicente Padilla, I think Paul probably does spend the first week or two with the big club, though I’d be shocked if he survives through April. Also on the out-of-options train is Hector Gimenez, who’s doing everything possible to make the club, and who we learned today is supposedly going to see some left field time of his own this week.

Let’s say that both Paul & Gimenez make the roster and make token appearances in LF, even if both are gone by May. That’ll be five possibles, but it won’t stop there. We all think Jerry Sands makes his debut this season, and that might extend to Trayvon Robinson as well. For veteran stopgaps in Albuquerque, there’s Oeltjen and Jamie Hoffmann, and possibly utility guy Eugenio Velez. Then there’s the non-zero possibility that infielders Carroll and Blake make cameos, and you could possibly see Andre Ethier shifted over should Gwynn actually grab the CF job and slide Matt Kemp to RF. That’s without even considering what happens if JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr. fails completely before Sands is ready and the club is forced to go out and acquire someone new.

Despite losing the top four left fielders (in terms of playing time) from 2010, it’s not hard to see them trotting out double digits at the position this year. If so, then the real question is, can they break the all-time team record? That’s 15, set in 1985 and tied in 1987 (according to the wonderful Sam Miller of the Orange County Register). If there’s a bright side, the 1985 team won 95 games and went to the NLCS. (Of course, they also had Pedro Guerrero, a .320/.422/.577 beast at age 29, playing more LF than anyone else. Somehow I doubt that kind of production is getting replicated this year.)

Hector Gimenez Might Actually Have a Chance

(First things first: as many of you know, I write weekly – sometimes moreso – at Baseball Prospectus, mainly in the fantasy section. On Thursday at 1pm ET / 10am PT  I’ll be doing a live chat, talking about anything and everything. Free free to come on by and lob softball Dodger questions at me. As my drunken friends have been all too happy to point out to me today, you can preload the queue with questions at any time, so I can’t imagine what will be awaiting me.)

As you probably know, I spend an absurd amount of time reading, writing, and obsessing over baseball. That being the case, it’s not all that often when someone threatens to make the 25-man roster who I know very little about; the last time it happened, it was Ronald Belisario‘s out of nowhere ascent in 2009. This year, it’s catcher Hector Gimenez, who despite just two MLB plate appearances for the 2006 Astros, was added to the 40-man roster over the winter. At the time, the decision seemed odd; at 27 in 2010, Gimenez was only a AA player for the Pirates last year, and he seemingly was taking up a roster spot that far more deserving players should have been in contention for. With Dioner Navarro and A.J. Ellis supposedly each competing for the right to back up Rod Barajas (even though we all know Navarro is getting the job), adding a career minor-league catcher who is out of options seemed odd.

While I would still consider it unlikely that Gimenez makes the roster - Jon Weisman at Dodger Thoughts pegs his chances at 10% today – there’s signs piling up that makes it more possible than we’d thought.

Consider the facts:

1) Gimenez is having a good spring, at 304/.370/.478. I feel like I should have a macro at this point that explains “yes, spring stats are useless”, and they are, but as I said about Tony Gwynn at BP today, don’t underestimate the power of a newcomer making a good first impression on a team with a new manager.

2) Clearly, the Dodgers saw something they liked in the first place that we didn’t, or else they wouldn’t have put him on the 40-man roster when most of us had never heard of him. They’re not burying him on the bench, either, since he’s had five starts at first base, and he’s seen time behind the plate as well. That “something” may be the impressive .305/.384/.533 line he put up at AA Altoona last year, though I hope it’s something more than just that, since he’d never had offensive production anywhere near that level before. At first I thought maybe Altoona was Coors Field of the Eastern League, but the Curve – yep, that’s their name – hit a more reasonable .268/.339/.388 as a team. Gimenez was reportedly once a plus defensive catcher – I suppose he’d have to have been, given his lack of offense – but he’s been victimized repeatedly on the bases this spring.

3) Russ Mitchell, supposedly in competition for the 25th spot, has been sent to minor-league camp. So has John Lindsey, Jamie Hoffmann, and a host of others. Yet Gimenez remains, having survived the first round of cuts. As Don Mattingly mentioned (paraphrasing since I can’t find the link), now is when the innings get harder to come by, so you lose the fluff and keep only those who are on the team or have a good shot at making it. 

4) Gimenez is not only a switch-hitter, he’s the rare catcher with experience at both 1B and 3B. (Given my known fetish for lefty-swinging third basemen, that immediately gets him points in my book.) Mattingly seems to like the idea of having a third catcher, since one of the things he pointed out about Mitchell was that he could potentially be an emergency catcher. With Gimenez and Navarro both on the bench (and maybe Aaron Miles, too), he’d have more than one switch-hitter to deploy without worrying about being short on catchers. That’s, you know, if either Gimenez or Navarro can hit, which they probably can’t.

So I don’t think it’s likely, but you could make the case that he’s got a chance to make the roster. Let’s do the math, here. Miles seems more and more certain to beat out Juan Castro for the 2nd infield spot (hooray, no Castro! Boo, Aaron Miles), thus potentially dooming both Gimenez and Xavier Paul to the waiver wire. However, I think that the team will start the year with an extra bat off the bench, taking advantage of Jon Garland‘s injury to not staff a 5th starter until it’s absolutely necessary. That would seem to open the door for Paul – I hope, because imagine the shitstorm if they lose Paul in order to keep Gimenez? – once again leaving out Gimenez… unless Jay Gibbons‘ unholy disaster of a spring (flu, vision problems, poor performance, good showing by Gwynn) leads to him being cut or disabled.

It’s a complicated path, requiring more than one injury, but it’s possible. It’s also seemingly a temporary one, since room will have to be made for Garland, Vicente Padilla, and possibly Gibbons. Will Hector Gimenez make the Opening Day roster? Sure, maybe. Will he last all year? Not a chance.

******

Over at ESPNLA, Ramona Shelburne makes the point that with free agency looming, this may be the last chance for the vaunted young core of Matt Kemp, Chad Billingsley, James Loney, Jonathan Broxton, & Andre Ethier to make a run together. She’s probably right. But what caught my eye from the story was this quote from Don Mattingly:

 ”But I’m pretty sure we had one of the top offenses in 2009. So I have no reason to think this isn’t the same offense. We’re just going to have to go out and prove it.”

Thus far, I’ve been a fan of Mattingly’s, and that he’s not going to bash the team in public, but… Don.. come on. In 2009, Manny Ramirez hit .290/.418./.531, despite the hoopla of the PED suspension. If you add up the batting averages of all three members of JaMarcus Gwybbons, Jr., I’m not sure they’d match that. In 2009, Casey Blake had a career year, hitting .280/.363/.468. Somehow I doubt that 37-year-old Blake, coming off a bad year and already battling injuries, is coming anywhere near that. In 2009, Orlando Hudson had a .357 OBP. What do you think Juan Uribe is going to do this year? In 2009, Russell Martin was into his decline but still put up a .352 OBP. Rod Barajas won’t sniff within 50 points of that.

I get that his point is that Kemp and Ethier are still around and the hope is that they’ll bounce back, but let’s be realistic here.