Earlier this evening, Ned Colletti was on “Dodger Talk,” and he touched on a few topics, but didn’t really provide a lot of new info. We knew that Michael Young is deciding between returning or retiring, that Chad Billingsley won’t be ready until June, that Josh Beckett should be ready at the start of camp, and that the Dodgers made an offer to Masahiro Tanaka. He also touched on second base, and again mentioned Dee Gordon and Chone Figgins and Miguel Rojas as possibilities should Alexander Guerrero not be ready.
Again, nothing new there, really, though he did mention that he wants more depth at the infield corners, which obviously explains the interest in Young, and I begrudgingly admitted that I could stomach Young as a bench guy if we had to. But what I can’t accept is the idea of Young having to play second base if Guerrero isn’t ready, as ESPN’s Mark Saxon alluded to:
Guerrero might even begin the season in the minor leagues. The Dodgers continue to try to convince Michael Young to put off retirement and return as a place-holder second baseman, bench contributor and veteran presence.
I hardly need to tell you that this just isn’t going to fly, because Young is now 37 years old, and he wasn’t even a particularly skilled defensive second basemen even when he was still allowed to play there. He’s a lousy third baseman, and he’d be an atrocious second baseman.
But that doesn’t preclude the fact that Guerrero may need to start in the minor leagues, and while that would be portrayed as a disaster by some, I really don’t see it that way for all the reasons you should know. (Didn’t play last season, slowed by injury this winter, only made it into America in the last two weeks, not every Cuban is Yasiel Puig, etc.) If he needs some time in the minors, so be it: it’s completely reasonable.
Yet filling in with Young, or Gordon, or Figgins or Rojas — who can certainly field, but probably has the “Young playing defense” equivalent of a bat — doesn’t really do much either, and it certainly doesn’t help the bench if Young isn’t even part of the equation. I think we all knew that replacing Nick Punto and Skip Schumaker and Mark Ellis and Jerry Hairston with “nothing” wasn’t going to fly, but I think we also thought that meant someone new would be here by now. Camp starts in just over a week, and no one has arrived.
So it’s time to do something, but it has to be the right something. It’s not going to be a star, because stars don’t just appear out of nowhere, and you wouldn’t want to bury Guerrero before he got going anyway. Ideally it’s not just a second baseman either, because if Guerrero just needs a few weeks in the minors to get going, you want this player to be able to help out elsewhere. Just someone who can play league-average or slightly better would be a huge help right now.
As the subject already told you, this is going to end up settling on Daniel Murphy, but it doesn’t have to. There are 51 players who had at least 200 plate appearances at second base in 2013, and most aren’t options right off the bat. Obviously, you can scratch off the big-time guys like Matt Carpenter and Dustin Pedroia right away, and the lesser guys like Maicer Izturis or Chris Getz or Elliot Johnson aren’t worth your time. Some guys will be too expensive (Howie Kendrick, Rickie Weeks) or can’t play other positions (also Kendrick and Weeks). Some are more long-term fits than they are stopgaps, like Nick Franklin.
You’re left, really, with Dustin Ackley and Murphy, and neither option is perfect. Ackley spent most of last year playing center field and is penciled in to start there for Seattle again, which isn’t a small hurdle; he also didn’t hit a lick, and it’s not like the Dodgers have a need for more outfielders should Guerrero take the second base job.
Murphy is preferable because he’s a slightly better than league average hitter (106 wRC+ last year, 107 career) who is only a mediocre defensive second baseman (as opposed to a complete butcher, like Young) and has experience playing first and third as well. The Dodgers have been connected to him in the past, but the Mets are also counting on him to play second, and might not be thrilled by the idea of Eric Young and Wilmer Flores otherwise.
Then again, Murphy is making $5.7m in a deal to avoid arbitration this year and becomes something of a non-tender candidate in his final year of arbitration next year should he end up making in the $7m-$8m range, but more importantly, Mets GM Sandy Alderson isn’t stupid. He knows the Mets aren’t contending against Washington or Atlanta this year, not with Matt Harvey out, and he almost certainly knows that Murphy is more of a “nice guy to have” than “a guy you build around” as the Mets target 2015 or ’16 for a run.
But really, Murphy’s name is used here because he’s the construct of the player we want. Whether it’s actually him or someone like him is immaterial, so a discussion of “what would it take to get him” is probably not that important. (Short version: the Mets want future talent, but we’re obviously not talking about the Julio Uriases or Joc Pedersons of the world here. Would Chris Reed and a second piece do it? I’m not sure.)
More than likely, it’ll be a Justin Turner or someone else in on an NRI, and maybe that’s fine. (Sadly, our binky Jeff Baker doesn’t appear to be in the mix, not that he’s much of a second baseman anyway.) It just has to be someone, doesn’t it? As much as we all hope Guerrero takes this job by the throat from day one, it’s unfair to put that on him, and the infield needs depth even if he does.