Brian Giles is gone. Doug Mientkiewicz may not be able to play the field, and is hardly a power bat anyway. Garret Anderson is nearly 38, on a three-year decline, and hasn’t looked fantastic so far in camp. Xavier Paul has the tools and the defensive chops, but the club doesn’t seem to be seriously considering him. And despite rumors that the club would go without a lefty on the bench, that seems completely improbable.
So who is going to be the left-handed bat off the bench? While I agree that it’s still highly, highly likely that either Anderson or Mientkiewicz ends up with the job, I’d propose that going with subpar options simply because they’re the best you’ve got isn’t a good enough answer. If the team won’t go with Paul for whatever reason, then perhaps the answer is on another team that’s facing a roster crunch of its own.
As Tony Jackson reports, the Dodgers may have put Eric Stults, Jason Repko, and Chin-Lung Hu on the trading block. Each has their own reasons for possibly not making the roster, and none would bring back a huge return – but they may be enough to get an extra bat for the bench.
So what kind of player are we looking for? Lefty, obviously. Cheap, for sure. More likely a veteran who can handle coming off the bench than a young player, since playing time would be limited. Preferably with some power, and who can at least handle a first baseman’s mitt or corner outfielder’s glove without completely embarrassing himself. He’ll need to be in a situation elsewhere where he may be expendable, and while it doesn’t have to be a team that needs Stults, Repko, or Hu, it would certainly be a lot easier if they did.
After a quick look around MLB spring rosters, here’s some options. Be warned: they’re not all good options. They’re listed alphabetically.
Frank Catalanotto. The Cat turns 36 in April, so time isn’t on his side. Still, he’s only once in his career ever had an OPS+ under 95 and he’s had OBP of .342 and .346 in the last two years. Plus, he’s seen time at 1B, 2B, LF & RF in recent years. He’s not really a great option, I’ll grant. Then again, neither are Anderson and Mientkiewicz, and they can’t really play the field.
Willie Harris. Talk about a guy who’s turned his career around. After the 2006 season, Harris was 28 years old and had played parts of six seasons in the bigs, with a putrid line of .238/.306/.294. Yet after a 2007 stop in Atlanta, Harris became one of the only players to go to Washington and love it, since he’s put up a 101 OPS+ in two years as a Nat while seeing time at 2B, 3B, LF, and CF. He may not have the power you’d ideally like, but between the positional flexibility and the decent on-base ability, he’s a player wasted on a loser who could really help a contender. I’d definitely prefer him to Anderson, and you’d think the Nats would love any one of the numerous 5th starter candidates the Dodgers won’t be able to keep.
Eric Hinske. Hinske’s exactly the type of player the Dodgers could use. Not only is he a lefty, but he can play both infield and both outfield corners, which is perfect. Plus, he’s been a solid hitter off the bench for most of his career. Unfortunately, the Braves have two very fragile starters in the infield in Chipper Jones and Troy Glaus, so it’s unlikely they’d want to move Hinske unless they were blown away. Too bad; he’s a perfect fit.
Micah Hoffpauir. Hoffpauir’s an interesting case. Though he’s just turned 30, he has only 337 almost league-average (96 OPS+) MLB at-bats. Yet in the minors, he’s been a monster, putting up OPS of .917 and 1.145 in AAA in 2007 and 2008, including mashing 25 homers and 100 RBI in just 71 AAA games in 2008. He’s never really gotten a chance with the Cubs, partially because he’s a terrible fielder, and partially because he’s been stuck behind Derrek Lee and Alfonso Soriano. He’s not really a serious candidate here, because the team would never give the job to someone so inexperienced at the big league level, but that power sure is tempting, especially from a lefty 1B/OF. Still, if minor league power interested the Dodgers, they could have just kept Mitch Jones.
Mark Kotsay. Like Anderson, Kotsay isn’t, you know, good. That said, over the last two years, Kotsay has a .727 OPS, while Anderson has a .733, so he’s basically the same. While Anderson’s an outfielder in the same way that Manny is an outfielder, Kotsay’s a plus glove at 1B, and though he’s no longer the top center fielder that he once was, he’s playable in the outfield. With the White Sox loading up on every lousy Dodger outfielder of the last few years, Kotsay may be the last man to miss the roster. He’s probably not any better – if even as good as - Anderson (though he is crushing the ball in camp with a .944 OPS), but if you’ve got two evenly mediocre hitters, I’d certainly rather the one who can help you more in the field.
Laynce Nix. Nix is a plus outfielder at all three spots with some nice power – 15 homers in 337 at-bats for the Reds in 2009. Unbelievably, he’s not a creation of Great American Ball Park, since he hit 10 homers (.531 SLG) away from Cincinnati as opposed to just 5 (.428) at home last year. The Reds have a serious outfield jam, since CF and RF are committed to Drew Stubbs and Jay Bruce while LF is up for grabs amongst about a dozen contenders, including Nix, Jonny Gomes, Chris Dickerson, Wladimir Balentien, and what the hell, let’s throw Eric Davis in there as well. Unless Aroldis Chapman breaks camp with the team, the Reds could have an all-righty starting rotation, which could make for a nice fit for Eric Stults. A power lefty who’s a plus glove? I’ll take that over Anderson nine days a week. Remember, while Reed Johnson is going to spot for Manny on defense, it’s not like Andre Ethier’s a Gold Glover out there either.
Delwyn Young. Nah, just kidding. Still, would be nice to have a left-handed bat who’s torn up AAA in camp right now…
As I said, not a ton of great options, and perhaps none that really stand out over Xavier Paul (other than Nix, who I was surprised to find that I really liked). Really, the point here is that since neither Anderson or Mientkiewicz are going to help you in the field (either in quality or flexibility) and neither are likely to be huge pluses at the plate, you might as well try to improve where you can.
Update: Figures, I post this and then Anderson gets 3 hits today. Still, that doesn’t change my opinion. There’s better options out there than him.