The Smell of Grass, the Crunch of the Dirt…

…. and the blood in the water. Well, it only took until March 9 for the rumors to start flying! With LaRoche out for 8-10 weeks, Nomar hardly the epitome of durability, and Jeff Kent 40 and already nursing a hamstring pull, the media is already circling. Now, I like to think that Nomar and Kent’s issues are just minor, and considering their ages and the fact that it’s still only March 9, the team is erring on the side of caution. Which, is of course, the entirely correct way to go. But since the presumed main backup at 2B & 3B, Tony Abreu, has played all of one game this spring, it’s hard to count on him, so I suppose I can’t really blame – for once – the rumormongers for coming out on this one.

Let’s start within the blogosphere at South Side Sox, who wonder if the Dodgers might want to acquire Joe Crede. Sell me, boys!

Crede and Inge are very similar players in that they’re both low-OBP, defensive minded, slugging third basemen. But Crede brings more power, a better contact rate, and a smaller salary — Inge is owed $19.1M over the next three years. Why wouldn’t the Dodgers be interested?

Well, I’ll admit that Crede is a far more attractive option than Brandon Inge, if only because Crede is only on the books for $5.1 million for this year, rather than the $19.1 over three for Inge. Also, as you may have read, Brandon Inge is in no way the answer to our problems. I don’t know that Joe Crede is, either – players who manage to get a league average OPS in exactly one of their four seasons and are 8% below average for their career aren’t exactly drool-inspiring. But Crede does have some pop, and on a one year deal, as an injury stopgap, I could live. Oh, what’s that?

I know, I know, Crede’s got a bum back. But he’s appeared healthy (with the exception of his throws to 1B) in camp, and the Dodgers might only need him for 2-3 months anyway.

Oh, well, you’ve got me convinced. He’s totally healthy – except that he can’t make the throws to first base. Well, why didn’t you say so? What MLB team couldn’t get by for 2-3 months with a third baseman who’d have to run every grounder to first base? Yeah, thanks: PASS.

Over at FOXsports.com, Ken Rosenthal says that we’ll be lucky enough to bypass the Inge/Crede route entirely:

Instead of pursuing a high-priced third baseman, the Dodgers are looking for a more versatile infielder who can play second and third, backing up Jeff Kent and Nomar Garciaparra. 

Which is all well and good, except Tony Jackson, who I trust way more on Dodger issues than Rosenthal, says not quite yet:

Joe and Ned met this morning, and pursuing a 3B from outside the organization was discussed, but don’t look for it to happen until later in the spring, after all other options are explored — and those options DO include trying Delwyn Young and Chin-lung Hu at 3B.

Considering that Young has been surprisingly excellent at 2B this spring, and Hu has such a dazzling defensive reputation at SS that it’s not hard to imagine him being able to smoothly handle the fielding aspects of 2B and 3B, this seems to be the wise course.

Rosenthal, back to you:

Delywn Young, who is out of options, is an internal possibility for the utility role, but his defense might not be strong enough for the Dodgers to justify carrying him.

Not impossible, but as he says, “out of options”, so I’d be very surprised to not even see him get a shot. But okay, Ken, who might we otherwise be looking at?

The Nationals’ Ron Belliard and Royals’ Esteban German, both of whom are attracting the Dodgers’ interest, would be more affordable than the Tigers’ Brandon Inge or White Sox’s Joe Crede.

Well there’s two names I would have never thought of. Belliard’s not a bad target, at first belliard.jpgglance. The Nationals have a huge middle infield glut between Belliard, Christian Guzman, Felipe Lopez, and the inexplicable resurgance of the corpse of Bret Boone, so it’s well-known they’re going to need to dump someone. He’s been around a surprisingly long time – despite being only 30, he’s got 8 seasons with at least 350 at-bats. He hit .290 with 11 homers last year for the Nats, though a .332 OBP leaves a bit to be desired. He only played 2 games at third base last year and one in 2006. Before that, he hadn’t touched the bag since 2002. And, he’s no simple stop-gap: the Nats, for some reason, signed him to a 2-year, $3.5 million deal this offseason. I don’t hate the idea, but I still don’t prefer him to Delwyn Young, and we haven’t even gotten into what it would cost in trade to acquire him. PASS.

Esteban German? You know what? I actually like this one. He’s been kicking around for parts of six seasons, and finally got some real playing time the last two seasons. Look at this line in german.jpg2006 – only 279 at-bats, but still, a .326/.422/.459 line (128 OPS+) is pretty impressive. He dipped a little last year to .264/.351/.376, but I’ll still take that .351 OBP from a backup role. Even better, in the last two seasons he’s seen time at every position except for 1B and RF. Plus, he’s signed for a very reasonable $1 million this year. A quick glance at the Royals depth chart shows that he’ll have a fight for playing time behind Mark Grudzielanek, Alberto Callaspo, and Tony Pena, Jr., up the middle, so it might not cost more than a mid-level prospect to get him. I wouldn’t want him at the expense of having to cut Young free without giving him a shot, but on the whole: ACCEPTABLE!

The season is still three weeks away, but it’s certainly not quiet around Dodgertown. And just wait until the whole China trip starts. Oh, and if you haven’t yet seen this clip of Clayton Kershaw’s absolutely ridiculous curvevall today against the Red Sox, sit back, relax, and enjoy (fantastic find by Jon Weisman at DodgerThoughts):

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2M0c6DxCMY]

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