Roster decisions are looming, and Alex Guerrero‘s fate is one which the Dodgers have been postponing for nearly three years now. Somehow, Guerrero has stuck around this long, and we may not see the last of him thanks to the rash of injuries befalling the Dodgers this spring.
Even though Guerrero’s contract has been a debacle, there are legitimate reasons to keep him around at least a bit longer in order to hold onto as much depth as possible.
Guerrero is still trying to find his niche on the team three seasons later after failing to prove his defensive capability and also showing inconsistent offense. He has been adamant up to this point that he doesn’t want to play in the minors. Barring a change of heart, he will either have to be included on the 25-man roster, traded, released or placed on the disabled list.
Last spring, Guerrero’s stock was seemingly on the rise, and then-manager Don Mattingly had this to say about the Cuban infielder:
“I really do think the second year [in camp] he looks a lot different as far as being relaxed,” Mattingly said. “He’s swinging the bat well and he keeps improving.”
Mattingly also mentioned, as Ken Gurnick of MLB.com reported, that “Guerrero is beginning to impress the club as he learns to play third base. The more he hits, the better he’ll look at third.”
After position less Alex Guerrero got two hits, Manager Don Mattingly said he likes the way Guerrero looks playing third base.
— Ken Gurnick (@kengurnick) March 5,
After Dee Gordon won the starting second base job in spring of 2014, Guerrero began to work at third base with some time in left field as well. Considering the injuries to Andre Ethier, Howie Kendrick and Corey Seager, the Dodgers could hang on to Guerrero and use him off the bench like last season.
Arguments for the Dodgers to release Guerrero and eat the remaining $10 million owed to him are certainly valid, but I can also see the Dodgers retaining Guerrero with the hope of salvaging some of his thorny contract by utilizing him as a pinch hitter and occasional back up to Justin Turner at third base, with maybe some time in left field.
The Dodgers could absolutely absorb the $10 million and part ways with Guerrero, but the frustrating string of injuries could leave the door ajar for Guerrero yet again.
The easiest way to procrastinate would be to place Guerrero on the disabled list to begin the season. He has been nursing a sore knee this spring, and it seems like a real possibility.
If Guerrero should break with the team, that could push Charlie Culberson to Triple-A. A similar situation happened last spring when Guerrero made the team over utility man and Gold Glover Darwin Barney thanks to the clause in his contract which does not allow for him to be optioned to the minors without his permission and his ability to elect free agency at the end of the same season if he should be traded.
The younger Culberson, 26, has shown that he is quite capable around the infield this spring with the Dodgers as a non-roster invitee, but his past offensive performance over parts of three seasons in the majors is nothing to get excited about. Culberson and Guerrero’s career lines are similarly lackluster. Culberson has a career line of .221/.265/.314 in 360 plate appearances with 19 extra-base hits including 12 doubles and 5 home runs. Guerrero’s line of .224/.251/.414 with 21 extra-base hits including 11 home runs in 243 plate appearances at the major league level show a bit more pop.
Guerrero, 29, may be more potent than Culberson off the bench, but Culberson’s ability to play three infield positions (second and third base and shortstop) sets him apart. In a 135 2/3-inning sample (extremely small sample) at shortstop, Culberson has 3 defensive runs saved and a 15.7 UZR/150. That’s better than anything Guerrero can do defensively at third base (-1 DRS, 12.0 UZR/150 — surprisingly not terrible) or in left field (-4 DRS, -22.6 UZR/150).
Below is video I took of Guerrero, Rob Segedin and Turner working at third base on March 25, 2016 at Camelback Ranch. Guerrero reportedly had knee soreness at this time.
If there is any consolation prize for having to keep Guerrero around, it’s his power. Although inconsistent, it offers much more punch off the bench in late innings. Three of Guerrero’s home runs have come as a pinch hitter.
We don’t know if the Dodgers have tried to trade Guerrero (you have to assume they have), but with his shackling contract there hasn’t been a willing trade partner. The Dodgers have to see something in Guerrero. This is the same team that paid Brian Wilson $10 million not to pitch for them and paid the Padres $32 million for Matt Kemp to play against them.
Guerrero impressed during his hot start to last season when he hit 10 home runs in his first 40 games, but his playing time and power stroke quickly fizzled out. We saw a glimpse of that power when he hit two home runs earlier this spring before he was sidelined with knee soreness.
After the Dodgers abandoned the idea of Guerrero playing second base, his capableness at third base has improved since I first saw him taking grounders at third last year at Camelback Ranch. Guerrero is never going to be a Nolan Arenado or Juan Uribe at the hot corner, but the Dodgers may still see him as a decent backup to Justin Turner at third base and a right-handed pinch hitter with some power off the bench.