I Suppose It’s Time to Discuss Juan Uribe

As I was riding the train home today, I came upon a Ken Rosenthal blog post outlining why he thinks that Juan Uribe would be a perfect fit for the Dodgers, who have a big hole at 2B, a declining 3B, and an injury-prone SS. Minutes later, Ken Gurnick posted at dodgers.com that the club is actually “targeting” Uribe.

I’m not sure if Gurnick was just parroting Rosenthal, since the two posts appeared so quickly after each other, but in Gurnick’s version the club was showing interest in Uribe, which is a notable point absent from Rosenthal’s story. Either way, this is about to become a thing, so now is as good a time as any to look into whether the Dodgers should be going after Uribe.

If this sounds familiar, it’s because I proposed the exact same thing in my 2011 plan back in early October:

5) Sign Juan Uribe to a 1-year, $5m deal to play 2B with an option for 2012.

Yes, he’s a Giant, and one with a .310 OBP at that. But the Dodgers are probably going to pay Theriot $3.5m to play decentish defense while being a black hole at the plate. If you’re going to pay that much for a 2B without much of an OBP, why not pay just a bit more for better defense and more power?

Theriot has 16 homers in his big-league career. Uribe has hit at least 16 in six of the last seven seasons; his .440 SLG this year and .431 SLG career is nearly 100 points better than Theriot’s ever had. On defense, Uribe (10.9 UZR/150 at 2B) is better than Theriot is (4.3 UZR/150 at 2B), plus he’s above average at SS and 3B – and provides excellent insurance for another Rafael Furcal injury, as he started 96 games at SS this year with Edgar Renteria ailing.

Uribe’s not perfect. But for $4-5m, would you rather a low-OBP guy with zero power and decent defense, or a low-OBP guy with good power and plus defense? Now, it’s possible I’m short-changing the contract Uribe would get here, but he was horrendous in 2007 and ’08, to the point where he had to take a minor-league deal before 2009. That, plus the fact he’s turning 32 next summer and that he entered 2010 as a backup to Renteria and Freddy Sanchez, means I can’t see anyone investing a bunch of years.

Now, it should be noted that I wrote that before the Giants made the bulk of their playoff run. Uribe was actually kind of lousy in the playoffs (he got on base just 10 times in 51 plate appearances) but he gained notoriety by hitting the game-winning homer in Game 6 of the NLCS, which he followed up with a three-run shot in Game 1 of the World Series. So if that inflated his market value to the point where he’s getting guaranteed big money 2- or 3- year deals, then count me out. I’d like to think that two big homers in the midst of a terrible postseason wouldn’t fool teams into giving him more than he’s really worth, but you can never count on logic too much with some teams.

Still, if he can be had for one year (and I’m willing to include an option for another), it’s a deal worth making. It’s clear with the signings of Ted Lilly, Hiroki Kuroda, and Jon Garland that the Dodgers plan on going for it in 2011, and you can’t do that with Ryan Theriot at second base. Uribe’s not the ideal solution – low-OBP guys who were sub-replacement in their age 26-28 seasons rarely are – but middle infielders with pop and above-average gloves are valuable, particularly on a team that was short on both power and defense last year. You could sign him and install him immediately as the 2011 second baseman, knowing you have another option if/when Rafael Furcal gets injured. Then, assuming he had an option or a second year, he could stay at 2B in 2011, slide over to 3B once Casey Blake is gone, or ideally even become an infield super sub if you managed to get superior options at all three spots. And if the side benefit of that is weakening the Giants, all the better.

In an odd way, however, signing Uribe might almost make me more apt to want to bring back Russell Martin. Rod Barajas is, in a way, similar to Uribe in that he’s got decent power and poor OBP skills. The Dodgers weren’t great at OBP last year, and Uribe wouldn’t help that; bringing back Barajas as well would be a killer in that category. Martin may not have power anymore, but he is one of the better OBP catchers around. Ken Gurnick also noted that Ned Colletti wanted to re-sign Barajas quickly, but that Barajas chose to test the market. For all the platitudes about how happy Barajas was to play for his hometown team last year, I find that decision surprising. I didn’t really want him back anyway, and even if he did I’d only like it at a big hometown discount.

Back on topic, Uribe would indeed be a good fit for the 2011 Dodgers – at the right price. One year? One with an option? Sure. Count me in.

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Unrelated, but Peter Gammons is reporting that the Dodgers (and eight other teams!) are sniffing around Twins reliever Jesse Crain. I like Crain just fine, and he’d be a nice addition to any team’s bullpen, but I don’t think the Dodgers should really be putting a lot of money into signing free agent relievers. Bullpen arms are notoriously inconsistent from year to year, making most of them poor investments at the inflated prices of the free market, and since we don’t know how much money the Dodgers have left after rebuilding the rotation, the offense really needs to be the top priority.