2012 Dodgers in Review #22: CF Tony Gwynn

.232/.276/.293 277pa 0hr -0.1 fWAR D

2012 in brief: Defensive specialist had his moments as an everyday starter filling in for the injured Matt Kemp, but poor performance led to August DFA despite being in first year of two-year deal.

2013 status: Owed $1.15m by the Dodgers and is under team control, but is not currently part of the 40-man roster.

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You know, when Tony Gwynn was handed a two-year deal last December, we were… shall we say, surprised:

Yet it’s the second guaranteed year that’s really galling here, and I’m not just talking about the obvious jokes regarding Ned Colletti handing out two years to every warm body he can find. (Speaking of which, Rivera must be wondering what’s wrong with his agent right now, right?) Unlike free agents like Mark EllisChris Capuano, or Aaron Harang, players who had to be lured off the open market with the promise of a multiyear deal, Gwynn was under team control. They merely needed to tender him a contract, and he’d have been theirs for 2012. Would he have made more than $850k? Probably, but not by a whole lot; it almost seems that in order to save a lousy $200k right now, Colletti felt it was worth it to hand out a second guaranteed year.

And while I never thought the deal make sense… even I didn’t think he’d get whacked before the end of season one. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves, aren’t we? For the first six weeks or so of the season, Gwynn was doing his normal routine of occasionally getting a start in left and coming in to pinch-run or replace Juan Rivera on defense otherwise. When he made his first start in place of Kemp in Chicago in early May, he was hitting a very Gwynn-like .240/.309/.280. That’s not, you know, good, but what did you really expect?

With the exception of a few starts from Elian Herrera, two from Kemp in his aborted comeback, and one from Andre Ethier, Gwynn became the primary center fielder, playing nearly every day between early May and Kemp’s return after the All-Star break. Sure, he played his usual fantastic defense, and he even had a moment or two at the plate, including teaming with Dee Gordon for a walkoff on Father’s Day, but the offense just wasn’t there even by his own poor standards. Remember, this was a guy who had a career line of .247/.319/.324 (78 OPS+) entering the season, and even that was more than he could handle, contributing only a 58+ this year.

The funny thing is, people seemed to think that he was doing so much more than he was. Gwynn had a decent run after taking over for Kemp, hitting in 16 of 19 games and being Don Mattingly‘s choice to replace Gordon at the top of the lineup due to his “speed and on-base skills”. (That really happened.) But as the rest of the Dodger offense cratered, so did Gwynn, who hit just .194/.252/.262 between June 1 and the All-Star break.

With Kemp healthy, Gwynn returned to the bench and made one start at each of the three outfield positions  over the rest of July, but as Rivera became more of a first baseman and the Dodgers acquired Shane Victorino on July 31, Gwynn’s role became extremely limited. Suddenly, he was no longer needed for defense, and he wasn’t even the primary backup centerfielder any longer. Finally, in the midst of an 0-14 skid, he was DFA’d on August 6 when the Dodgers recalled Jerry Sands. As you can see, I was not displeased by this at all:

Gwynn’s utility to the team ended the moment they picked up Shane Victorino (who could cover center if anything happened to Matt Kemp), but also when he continued to prove that he simply cannot hit at a major league level, having a year at the plate worse than his usual mediocre self.  With Victorino, Kemp, & Andre Ethier squarely set as the starting outfielders and Jerry Hairston, Sands, and several others able to spot in as needed, Gwynn’s role as a defensive replacement was tough to justify. What’s mostly shocking to me is that he was signed for 2013 as well and it’s rare for clubs to DFA guys like that; then again, I never liked giving him a two-year deal in the first place.

Oddly enough, Sands returned to the minors three days later in order to activate Adam Kennedy, which raised a whole bunch of questions about whether it was worth cutting Gwynn in the first place. Gwynn accepted an assignment to Triple-A Albuquerque and played well in 19 games there, though unlike Bobby Abreu, he was unable to get himself back onto the 40-man roster and earn a September recall.

Gwynn remains part of the organization, so it’s possible that we could see him again, and according to this Ken Gurnick piece from last month, it’s likely that he starts 2013 with the Isotopes as outfield depth. He’s a fantastic defensive outfielder, so he’s nice to have around. It’s even nicer to know that you don’t actually need him.

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Next up! Matt Kemp, for real!

Jerry Sands Likely Headed to AAA As Roster Games Continue

Look, he can play first! (Brendan-C on flickr)

If this report from Eric Stephen of TrueBlueLA is to be believed – and I say that not because I don’t trust Eric, who is wonderful, but just because it strikes me as odd that no other outlets have this news right now – Jerry Sands is going to be sent back to Albuquerque prior to the start of tomorrow’s road trip to make room for Adam Kennedy, who is returning from a short stay on the disabled list thanks to a strained groin.

This is, of course, tremendously disappointing, because it’ll mean that despite all of the furious roster moves we’ve seen over the last few weeks this is a club that will still have Kennedy and Juan Uribe and James Loney and Juan Rivera and Luis Cruz all on the roster at the same time. Beyond that – and I almost feel like I don’t have a whole lot more to offer on it, because I’m just as “WTF” as the rest of you – it would cap off a week of absolutely bizarre roster machinations.

On Monday, Tony Gwynn was DFA’d to bring up Sands. (Gwynn, it should be noted, will accept his trip to Albuquerque, as Stephen reports.) Sands started that night in right field against Drew Pomeranz, went 0-3 before being double-switched out in the seventh, and was never seen again for the rest of the series. So this was worth interrupting Sands’ hot streak and DFA’ing Gwynn… how, exactly?

The funny thing is, I didn’t even mind letting Gwynn go. I mentioned it even back on July 31, when we were trying to figure out who would get cut for Shane Victorino, that Gwynn no longer had a role on this team. Sure, he’s a plus defensive outfielder, but he is not a major league quality hitter, and “backup outfielder on a team with three set starting outfielders” isn’t a very large piece of the puzzle.

All I can think of is that they were planning to cut Gwynn all along – which, again, fine – and rather than wait until Kennedy returned to do it, they figured they might as well get the benefit of Sands for a few days first. That’s defensible logic in theory. Or at least it would have been, if Sands had been actually been allowed to play, particularly when the Rockies started lefty Jeff Francis last night. Juan Rivera went 0-4, now has one hit in his last 18 at-bats, and is not the solution to this or any other problem; it’s worth noting that his seasonal line now sits at .246/.282/.351, or worse than the .243/.305/.360 that got him DFA’d by Toronto last year.

Now, I’ll admit that if Sands isn’t going to play, I’d much rather him getting regular time in Albuquerque than riding the bench in Los Angeles. But what concerns me is that it’s hard not to look at this situation and not see signs of a larger problem. Ned Colletti refuses to free us of the scourge of Juan Uribe, and Don Mattingly responds by absolutely refusing to play him, with just one appearance as a defensive replacement in more than two weeks – and Mattingly is absolutely right to do so, even if it means playing the quickly-descending Cruz. Colletti cuts a popular if flawed player in Gwynn in order to get a potentially powerful bat in Sands up for a series with two lefty pitchers, and Mattingly barely plays him either, refusing to give up on the execrable Rivera. Are there signs that the front office and bench aren’t totally on the same page? I can’t say that I have any hard evidence to point to, but something smells weird here.

Perhaps worst of all, we’re talking about all of this rosterbation without confronting the main issue head-on, which is that Adam Kennedy is somehow a player who absolutely must be on the roster when he’s healthy, as though there’s no other possibility here. (I don’t want to hear about his “hot July”, as though 40 pre-injury plate appearances somehow carry more weight than months and years of ineptitude beforehand.) So now you’ve got two completely useless sides of a first base platoon, three backup infielders who range from “can’t hit” to “really can’t hit” to “will never get a chance to play again”, and I have absolutely no idea what to make of it all.

I am hopeful, at least, that seeing Gwynn & Bobby Abreu culled is the beginning of the new regime cutting bait on the bottom part of the roster. I suppose we can argue about what order these guys should have gone in, but if anything, it makes me realize how much more work remains. This roster is soft, and confusing roster choices and inexplicable dedication to far-over-the-hill veterans isn’t helping.

Dodgers DFA Tony Gwynn to Recall Jerry Sands, and That’s a Good Thing

Wow!

I am all but floored by the move, but thrilled about it nonetheless. Gwynn’s utility to the team ended the moment they picked up Shane Victorino (who could cover center if anything happened to Matt Kemp), but also when he continued to prove that he simply cannot hit at a major league level, having a year at the plate worse than his usual mediocre self.  With Victorino, Kemp, & Andre Ethier squarely set as the starting outfielders and Jerry Hairston, Sands, and several others able to spot in as needed, Gwynn’s role as a defensive replacement was tough to justify. What’s mostly shocking to me is that he was signed for 2013 as well and it’s rare for clubs to DFA guys like that; then again, I never liked giving him a two-year deal in the first place.

Sands, meanwhile, has been struggling much of the year in the minors but has been red-hot lately, leading the PCL “since the All-Star break with 9 HRs, .733 slugging% and 28 RBI (T-1st) in 23 games,” according to J.P. Hoornstra. The real question now is, what is his role? Will he really be given a chance to replace Juan Rivera & James Loney at first base every day? For both his sake and that of the team’s, I hope so.

If he is, that raises another question, which is why was it Gwynn that was jettisoned over Juan Uribe or Rivera. I still believe Uribe gets gone on Thursday when Adam Kennedy returns, so that might explain that, and in Gwynn or Rivera, your choice is between a plus defender who can’t hit and a poor defender who can sorta kinda not really hit. I suppose I’d rather have Rivera coming off the bench as a pinch-hitter than Gwynn, and if Sands fails again in the bigs, you’ll want to have more than just Loney as your first base option.

I’m very surprised by this, but I can’t really argue one word of complaint about it. Excited to see Sands back, and impressed that a backloaded two-year deal isn’t an impediment to roster improvement.

A Dee-Lightful Dodger Walkoff Gwynn

On Father’s Day, famous baseball sons Dee Gordon & Tony Gwynn combine in the tenth for yet another walkoff come-from-behind win. (Not to shortchange Chris Capuano & Elian Herrera, who were both of course outstanding, baseball fathers or not.)

At what point does this stop becoming “magic” and simply start becoming a trend? Your 2012 Los Angeles Dodgers, an unexplainable collection of talent, opportunity, and wonder.

Tony Gwynn Gets Two Years

So much for wondering if Tony Gwynn was going to get tendered:

Tony Gwynn Jr.’s deal with the #Dodgers is for $2 million over two years. He will earn $850,000 next season and $1.15 million in 2013.

I’m kind of at a loss on this one, but I’m trying to do it with the right reasoning. Unlike, say, Adam Kennedy, Gwynn has value and deserves a spot on a major-league roster. Unlike, say, Juan Rivera, the yearly cost is not jaw-dropping and is in fact a pretty good rate for his services. So at face value, fine.

Yet it’s the second guaranteed year that’s really galling here, and I’m not just talking about the obvious jokes regarding Ned Colletti handing out two years to every warm body he can find. (Speaking of which, Rivera must be wondering what’s wrong with his agent right now, right?) Unlike free agents like Mark Ellis, Chris Capuano, or Aaron Harang, players who had to be lured off the open market with the promise of a multiyear deal, Gwynn was under team control. They merely needed to tender him a contract, and he’d have been theirs for 2012. Would he have made more than $850k? Probably, but not by a whole lot; it almost seems that in order to save a lousy $200k right now, Colletti felt it was worth it to hand out a second guaranteed year.

Of course, we all hope Colletti won’t be around to see that second year, and maybe he knows as such and just doesn’t care. Gwynn will be around, though, just like all the other mediocre veterans signed this winter. Don’t like the 2012 club? That’s unfortunate, because 2013 looks like it’ll be more of the same, just another year older and probably without Andre Ethier.

Gwynn’s a decent piece to have around, and the money is small, so it’s not worth getting too upset about this. It’s just another two-year commitment to an easily replaceable player that didn’t need to happen.