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March 22, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Dearth of Infield Depth

by Will Woods

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Happy March Madness, everybody! It’s the only tournament we’re actually less excited for as it moves along, and somehow everyone’s okay with that. No matter—we’ve got baseball news: The Dodgers are juggling their infield, the Yankees are looking “fill vacancies at Scranton,” and The Man is holding down Aroldis Chapman (and he likes it that way).

Hanley out eight weeks; Dodgers look inward
Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez will have surgery today to repair a torn tendon in his left thumb. Ramirez sustained the injury diving for a ball in the World Baseball Classic final, when he could have been sitting in a protective formaldehyde tank like every other baseball player does at this time of year.

The Dodgers aren’t nearly as blessed with infield depth as they are in the starting rotation. Compounding the problem is that Ramirez’s supposed replacement, Luis Cruz, is also the nominal third baseman. Should Cruz move to short, Steve Dilbeck theorizes, “the Dodgers will likely rotate Juan Uribe, Jerry Hairston Jr. and Nick Punto at third base.” (If you’re curious, Skip Schumaker has not played a professional inning at either third or short. Elian Herrera, despite having an excellent spring and a modicum of experience at the position, does not appear to be under consideration.)

Ken Rosenthal speculates that a little rehab time might help get Ramirez more comfortable at shortstop, a position he has hardly played since joining the Dominican Republic team for the WBC. But Dilbeck feels the opposite, saying the injury might precipitate Ramirez’s permanent move to third base. That would require Cruz to back up his surprising 2012 numbers (.272 TAv), but manager Don Mattingly was non-committal: “Am I going to be comfortable in eight weeks with a guy who hasn’t played if it’s a mess there?...Depends what his work looks like, I guess.”

It’s a strange brew the Dodgers have concocted in this infield. For the number of spare parts they’ve acquired—Uribe, Punto, Hairston, Schumaker—it’s strange there isn’t a capable shortstop in the bunch. It’s the kind of strategy that would make you think they’d be willing to start last year’s Opening Day shortstop, Dee Gordon, in the event Ramirez went down. But now Ramirez is injured, they won’t go with Gordon (opines Dilbeck), and yet none of the veterans they’ve acquired can really play the position. Ronny Cedeno, released by the Cardinals on Tuesday, is still relaxing by the phone, but GM Ned Colletti appears to be standing pat.

Aroldis Chapman happy to put cap on earnings potential by closing
The decision is not yet final, says this Danny Knobler piece, but all signs out of Cincinnati point toward Aroldis Chapman opening the season as the Reds’ closer. Chapman has essentially been treated as a starter this spring—he has made three appearances, tossing two, two, and four innings respectively, the latter outing coming on March 16—but it looks like the plug has been pulled and he’ll anchor the bullpen once again in 2013. He’s only 25, but the longer he closes, the less likely it becomes that he’ll be able to stretch his arm out to join the rotation—much less develop his secondary pitches.

Chapman wants to close, but pitching coach Bryan Price and GM Walt Jocketty made it an open question this winter when they expressed a desire to move him into the rotation. Now, Price has changed his tune:

"The risk is in starting him… There's no risk in returning him to the bullpen."

In a sense, the Chapman-as-a-starter ship has sailed, because the player himself is against the idea. Still, it's sad to hear a coach make these comments for the umpteenth time, and even sadder that these kinds of statements go unquestioned. There is risk in changing Chapman's role, but in keeping him at closer there is certainty that the Reds' most talented arm—perhaps the world's most talented arm—will not reach its full potential.

Knobler then mentions Mariano Rivera, now perhaps the ideal career track for Chapman, but a man who became a closer by necessity rather than by preference or managerial discretion. (And remember he began his career as a starter?) This is a football coach punting on fourth down when the math dictated going for it; it isn't so much that the Reds risk winning fewer games, it's that Price risks being blamed for their winning fewer games. Rather than dare to maximize his team's potential, Price would rather set the bar of expectation lower for his team, and thus himself. It's a job security issue, and it's hard to blame him, not when coaches in all sports behave this way. But in Chapman's case it's a shame that, no matter what his future holds, he could've been so much more.

And finally…

Will Woods is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Will's other articles. You can contact Will by clicking here

19 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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Peter Hood

Price has to work daily with Dusty Baker. I'm pretty sure that it could get very stressful if Price publicly contradicts Baker's preferences. We don't know what is being said privately.

Mar 22, 2013 04:26 AM
rating: 0
Mike Schieve

I would think that if Chapman stated he prefers to close, and the Reds started him anyway, his confidence might not be as high.

Mar 22, 2013 05:29 AM
rating: -1
Andy Cochrane

Rany Jazerli discussed something similar to the Chapman issue a while back regarding putting job security before the needs of the team. Short term Chapman as closer probably helps win games now. In a couple of years maybe Chapman as starter would have helped the Reds win even more.
The first scenario appears more likely to happen so is picked by the Reds. It is less obvious to the Reds, at the moment, that the latter scenario happens (although probably equally likely). Possibly the opposite way of thinking to the Nationals and how they dealt with Strasburg last year.

Mar 22, 2013 05:54 AM
rating: 0

Aroldis Chapman is listed as 25, still young, but not quite 22 as stated in the article

Mar 22, 2013 08:39 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ben Lindbergh
BP staff


Mar 22, 2013 08:48 AM

Second-paragraph dig was not lost on me. Worrying about players getting injured playing baseball at a time when they are normally playing baseball is one of the silliest criticisms of the WBC. Nicely done.

Mar 22, 2013 09:28 AM
rating: 2

"playing baseball...while normally playing baseball"

You don't think there is a significant difference between the intensity level (and likeliness of injury) of spring training games and WBC games?

Mar 22, 2013 09:56 AM
rating: 0

He hurt himself diving for a ground ball. Don't you think that in a spring training game he still would have dove for the ball? St. Louis Cardinals third baseman David Freese hurt his back earlier this month diving into the stands after a foul ball during a spring training game.

Mar 22, 2013 10:59 AM
rating: 0

I don't think it's a silly criticism at all. Obviously an MLB Spring Training camp is not a "protective formaldehyde tank," but that's beside the point.

Had Hanley been injured in Dodgers camp, it would have happened in a place where he is contractually obligated to be, presumably during an activity his contractually obligated to perform. The Dodgers pay him $$$ to be in Dodgers' camp and play in Dodgers' ST games. In this respect, the WBC is no different than the back of Jeff Kent's pickup truck.

Mar 22, 2013 11:23 AM
rating: -1

I'm afraid I don't get your point. Ramirez was engaging in exactly what he would have been doing had he been in Dodgers camp. Jeff Kent was not. Unless there's some reason to think that playing in the WBC is more likely to cause injury than playing in spring training, the criticism does indeed strike me as silly.

Mar 22, 2013 12:16 PM
rating: 0

Playing in the WBC = cleaning Jeff Kent's pickup truck in that it is an activity other than the one for which Ramirez is being paid a salary to perform.

I'm not saying that playing in the WBC is more hazardous than playing in a Dodgers' ST game - I was just being facetious with the Jeff Kent's pickup truck thing. It does not matter that Ramirez was "engaging in exactly what he would have been doing had he been in Dodgers camp."

If I'm Dodgers management, if Ramirez is anywhere other than in my camp when he gets hurt, no matter what the nature of the activity, then my reaction is WTF, you're cashing your paychecks, you're supposed to be in our camp, etc. That reaction would be the same whether he was injured in a WBC game or while butterfly-watching in Cape Cod.

If he's injured while engaging in the activity I'm paying him to perform, then that's just a risk in my business. If he's injured during the off-season doing an activity that isn't prohibited per contractual agreement, that's also a risk I can accept. If he's injured after the contractually stipulated report-to-camp date and it happens anywhere but in camp, then my reaction is WTF, I'm paying you to be in my camp, etc.

Mar 22, 2013 12:47 PM
rating: 0

Did you read this article from work?

Mar 22, 2013 18:11 PM
rating: 3

I'm not Joe Captain-of-Industry or anything (I'm more on The Dude side of the ledger), I just think the WBC is piffle or poppycock or whatever.

Mar 23, 2013 05:20 AM
rating: 0

Except that MLB clearly allows players to play in the WBC, so a WTF were you doing reaction would be totally ludicrous. If the Dodgers don't like the WBC they should whine to MLB about it.

Mar 23, 2013 06:39 AM
rating: 0

Exactly, that's what I'm saying, I'd be whining to MLB about it.

Mar 25, 2013 08:11 AM
rating: 0

WBC is paying salaries for players who lose time due to injuries incurred during the tournament, or the lead up to it.

Mar 25, 2013 08:37 AM
rating: 0

Very different. The Dodgers knew Hanley was going to the WBC, and could have prevented him doing so. Hanley did not lie to them about washing his bat.

Mar 22, 2013 13:32 PM
rating: 1

I thought I read somewhere that MLB teams were not allowed to prevent players from participating. Maybe I'm just remembering it wrong.

Mar 22, 2013 13:47 PM
rating: 0

So if you were the Dodgers you would be all over Hanley Ramirez for doing something that he was required to do by the Dodgers' "bosses" in MLB?

Mar 24, 2013 14:44 PM
rating: 0
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