Time to Spin the Shortstop Roulette Wheel Again…

The question here, I think, is not: “do we still have a shot this year?” – even though I think that’s a pretty fair conversation to have. With this team only being 4.5 games out of first place despite just about everything that could possibly go wrong having gone wrong (seriously, just look at the list of DL’d players on the roster on the right sidebar), I can’t imagine Ned Colletti’s going to do anything but be a buyer in the upcoming weeks. And while we all hold our breath that this doesn’t include anything silly like “Matt Kemp for Matt Holliday” or “top young players for an expensive starting pitcher we really don’t need“, there is one position that clearly needs an upgrade: shortstop, because Angel Berroa just isn’t going to cut it, and I particularly like how Baseball Prospectus’ Jay Jaffe put it:

Ned Colletti doused the problem in gasoline by trading for 2003 AL Rookie of the Year Berroa, who in the four years since winning that award hit .255/.292/.364 while fielding at a clip 55 runs below average. The Dodgers have been held to one run or less in four of his first eight starts, and are averaging 3.2 runs per game with him in the lineup.

Now, as you may remember, I was strongly against the Berroa deal when it first happened, and his .194/.286/.226 (in an admittedly small sample size of 31 at-bats) hasn’t swayed my opinion. But okay, I figured. We’d only have to put up with him for a week or two before we all got the hilarious enjoyment of seeing Nomar trying to play short again, and then hopefully quickly after that Rafael Furcal would return. Except that Nomar woke up feeling sore after his very first rehab game the other day, and is once again on hold – and really, should we ever be counting on him for anything, in any situation, ever? And as for Furcal…

Rafael Furcal (60 DXL/$4.6 million)
Whatever’s going on with Furcal’s back, it’s not getting better. The Dodgers don’t think they’ll have Furcal back in action until the All-Star break, and it doesn’t sound as if they’re sure about even that. ESPN is reporting that Furcal has a bulging disk, though earlier reports, including examinations from back specialists, never mentioned this condition. The complicating factor has always been Furcal’s shoulder, but if there is a bulging or herniated disk at the heart of this, and since this has been such a slow-healing and complex issue, then surgery would become a consideration. None of my sources have indicated this is the case, so I’m not ready to latch on to the idea that the problem is disk-related. In the meantime, Furcal continues to have treatment, with the goal of getting him back in the lineup around the All-Star break, a goal that seems very aggressive given the current pace.

Great. The All-Star break is nearly a month away, and even that’s not a given. Even if he does make it back, there’s no guarantee that he won’t suffer a flareup. As far as I’m concerned, if making the playoffs right now is a longshot, playing Angel Berroa every day is going to make them an impossibility. So who’s around that we could target at SS? There’s no need to get an All-Star caliber player, not that guys like that are available anyway. What we need is a veteran guy who can come in and just be league-average on offense and defense, because just that is lightyears ahead of what we’re looking at now. Hopefully, it’d be someone who’s only signed through the end of the year and wouldn’t require an A-level prospect to get, but we’ll see how possible that’s going to be. Also, of course, it can’t be a guy who’s a starter on a contender, since they’re unlikely to want to move him. I took a look around the majors, and here’s what I’ve come up with, in no particular order:

Christian Guzman, Nationals
Profile: Is there a more confounding player in baseball? He put up an excellent season in Minnesota in 2001 at 23 (110 OPS+), then spent the next three seasons being the model of consistent mediocrity (OPS+ of 79, 77, and 78 ) before somehow conning the Nats into giving him a 4-year, $16.8 million deal in 2005. In Washington, he’s been: historically awful (53 OPS+ in 2005), missed an entire season to injury (2006), excellent in limited play (124 OPS+ in 2007), and good so far this year as a starter (107 OPS+ in 2008).
Pros: Besides the fact that he’s played well since missing 2006, a big benefit here is that he’s cheap, only being owed the remainder of his $4.2 million this year before he goes free agent.
Cons: He’s been so up and down in his career it’s hard to ever know what you’re going to get from him. Also, he’s exclusively played shortstop, so he might not be of much use as a utility guy if Furcal ever comes back.

Jeff Keppinger, Reds
Profile: Bounced around from the Pirates to the Mets to the Royals before getting any real MLB time in 2007 with the Reds. He sure can hit, with OPS+ scores of 123 and 112 in Cincinnati the last two years, and he seems to be a good fielder, with only 2 errors in 85 career games at SS. He hasn’t played since May 13th after fracturing his left kneecap against the Marlins, but according to yesterday’s Cincinnati Enquirer, he’s hitting .429 on his minor league rehab stint - though it appears he still needs to work the stamina in his legs.
Pros: Can definitely hit, seems to be at the very least a league average-fielder, and is versatile: in parts of 4 MLB seasons, he’s seen time everywhere except for catcher and center field, making him a great guy to have around after Furcal’s return. He’s also cheap, making the minimum thanks to only having just north of a year’s worth of service time.
Cons: He’s a cheap, low-service time, versatile, productive player. Although it seems like he’s never really been valued by the Reds (Alex Gonzalez was going to be their starting SS this year before he got injured too), what would it take to acquire him? Also, how much longer will he need to rehab before being ready to handle short every day?

Jack Wilson, Pirates
Profile: I’d always had a pretty good perception of Jack Wilson until I looked at his stats and realized that he’s really two different players – one being the guy who put up OPS+ of 104 and 105 in 2004 and 2007; the other being the guy who’s put up 4 seasons of OPS+ in the 70s (2003, 2005, 2006, 2008). Dodger fans, say what you will about Ned Colletti, but be happy you never had to deal with former Pirates GM Dave Littlefield, who for some reason awarded Wilson with a 3 year, $20.2 million deal for ’07-’09 after his lousy 2005 and ’06 seasons.
Pros: Although he’s shown absolutely no power this year (just 3 extra base hits in 90 at-bats, which is keeping that OPS down greatly), a .289 BA/.330 OBP is something you can live with from a last-ditch shortstop. Also, as he’s expensive (see cons below), perhaps taking his contract off the Pirates’ hands would mean either that it won’t take much of a prospect to get him or that he could be part of a larger deal for someone like Jason Bay?
Cons: He’s signed for $7.25 million next year, plus a $0.6 million buyout of an $8.4 million team option for 2010. Despite being a local boy, he’s never hit well in Dodger Stadium: .228/.297/.261 career. Also, he’s had lingering leg issues all season.

David Eckstein, Blue Jays
Profile: I hate myself for even bringing him up. But the Blue Jays are in dead last in the AL East and just fired their manager, so they’re clearly going nowhere fast. For a GM who loves veterans like Colletti does, you don’t think he’d love to add his “grittiness” or “hustle” or whatever euphemism you want to use for “short, modestly talented white guy”? Of course he would.
Pros: Let’s see… “pros”. Well… he’s cheap? Only signed for 2008 at $4.5 million, and no commitments afterwards. Actually, he’s not as terrible as I would have thought; while he has zero power, the .361 OBP he has so far this year is pretty good.
Cons: The ramifications of Juan Pierre and David Eckstein hitting 1-2 in a lineup may end the free world as we know it.

So what do you think? I really like Jeff Keppinger, but his return from the knee injury may present a problem. Christian Guzman scares the hell out of me, but he has been productive this year. At least we can all agree on one thing: it can’t be Angel Berroa.

- Mike Scioscia’s tragic illness msti-face.jpg