While it’s not a completely direct line between these three for a roster spot, they were all connected in some way. It seemed like a fun idea to track how one thing led to another over the span of two seasons, with none of it really working out as intended (for the Dodgers or even the teams on the other side of a few of these deals).
Wilson Betemit … And Bill Mueller
Opening the 2006 season with the 35-year-old Mueller starting 25 of the first 26 games at third base, the Dodgers appeared to have found a solution for the Oscar Robles/Antonio Perez/Mike Edwards/Jose Valentin/Willy Aybar/Olmedo Saenz/Norihiro Nakamura adventure there that included no player spending more than 37 games at the position in 2005.
Signed to a two-year contract worth $9.5 million in December 2005, Mueller joined the Dodgers after three years with the Red Sox, where he won the AL batting title in 2003 and a World Series in 2004. Slashing .299/.404/.483/.887 in April, Mueller’s hot start came to a sudden halt just two weeks later. Playing in all 29 games to begin the season (pinch hitting in the two games he didn’t start), Mueller and his history of knee problems popped up as he was forced out of a game on May 4. Returning on May 9 after an MRI showed no damage in his right knee, Mueller lasted three more games before the following happened:
- May 12, placed on 15-day DL with soreness in his right knee
- May 13, if the inflammation does not improve, arthroscopic surgery is a strong possibility
- May 13, (yes, just later that same day), will undergo arthroscopic surgery, expected to miss 4 to 5 weeks
- May 16, underwent “successful” surgery to remove loose cartilage in his knee
- June 2, will have his knee looked at by team doctors as he is coming along slowly
- June 3, he may be out a little longer than initially expected
- June 17, Dodgers “at least somewhat concerned about” Mueller’s recovery
- June 20, transferred from the 15-day to the 60-day disabled list
- June 23, knee injury likely will end his season and could end his career
- July 21, doctors eliminated all procedures for fixing the knee deterioration
- Sept. 16, Mueller said he doesn’t plan to retire after the season is over
- Nov. 17, Dodgers announce Mueller’s retirement
With Mueller unfortunately gone just as soon as it seemed he was bringing some stability to third base, it brings us to Betemit. The Dodgers moved back to Aybar, Saenz, Robles, Ramon Martinez and one straight week of Joel Guzman (that effectively decided his future with the organization) at third base from early May to late July. Now in search of a long-term solution at third, the Dodgers sent Danys Báez, who was just five months and 46 appearances into his tenure in Los Angeles, and the 23-year-old Aybar to the Braves for the 24-year-old Betemit a few days before the trade deadline.
Aybar had actually hit .280/.394/.430/.824 in 256 plate appearances between 2005 and 2006 after originally ranking as a Top 10 prospect in the organization back in 2000 and 2001. However, Betemit was just a few seasons removed from ranking among the Top 50 in baseball and No. 1 or No. 2 prospect in the Braves’ organization. Hitting .281/.344/.497/.842 at the time of the trade, Betemit was behind Chipper Jones at third and Marcus Giles at second with the Braves looking for bullpen help as they were 6.5 games back in the Wild Card at the time of the trade.
The Dodgers made the move for Betemit as they were six games behind the first-place Padres, sitting in fifth in the NL West, and seven games behind the Reds for the Wild Card. Going 3-for-4 against the Nationals in his Dodgers debut on July 30, and 2-for-5 against the Reds on Aug. 1, Betemit needed seven more games to get his next five hits, and hit .224/.294/.400/.694 in his final 53 games of the season. After coming up with three extra-base hits in those first two games, Betemit had 13 the rest of the way.
Swept by the Mets in the NLDS, the Dodgers entered the offseason with Betemit still in the plans at third base, while Andy LaRoche entered 2007 ranked as the Dodgers’ No. 1 prospect and 19th in all of baseball according to Baseball America.
Starting 17 games in April, Betemit hit just .125/.297/.167/.464 and lost any hold he may have had on the position as the Dodgers called up LaRoche on May 6 and then Tony Abreu on May 22. After the Dodgers played all three in May, LaRoche went back to Triple-A in early June and Betemit started just 12 more games between June and July, while Abreu started 20 in June. Despite slashing .278/.391/.611/1.002 in his 128 plate appearances from May 1 to July 29, Betemit’s brief time with the Dodgers came to an end as Nomar Garciaparra took over as the primary third baseman at the end of June, with James Loney finally pushing his way in at first.
A game out of first place in the NL West on July 31, and leading the Wild Card, the Dodgers sent Betemit away for 30-year-old reliever Scott Proctor, who had been drafted by the Dodgers in 1998 and sent to the Yankees in 2003 for Robin Ventura.
Trying to survive in the playoff race with Chad Billingsley, Mark Hendrickson, Brett Tomko, David Wells, Hung-Chih Kuo, Eric Stults and Esteban Loaiza starting behind Brad Penny and Derek Lowe after Jason Schmidt and Randy Wolf went down for the year, the Dodgers needed someone to reliably eat innings out of the bullpen.
Coming off a 2006 season that included 102 1/3 innings in 83 games (fifth in the majors that season) for Joe Torre’s Yankees, Proctor pitched in 31 of the Dodgers’ final 55 games. Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti said at the time of the acquisition:
“Scott has a record of durability and success in one of the major markets in the country. We see him as a solid addition to our bullpen down the stretch.”
Unsurprisingly, the team’s starting pitching struggled over the final two months and Proctor couldn’t do much to solve those issues as he just tried to bridge the gap to Jonathan Broxton and Takashi Saito. Proctor did finish the year with a 3.38 ERA in his 32 innings with the team, but the Dodgers went just 24-31 down the stretch, including losing streaks of six and seven games. Between his time with the Yankees and Dodgers, Proctor once again pitched in 83 games, tying for third in the majors in 2007 with fellow Dodgers Broxton and Joe Beimel.
Returning to the Dodgers’ bullpen in 2008, Proctor was reunited with Torre who replaced Grady Little during the offseason. Pitching in 13 of the team’s first 26 games, and eventually 33 of the first 74, Proctor struggled mightily with a 6.82 ERA in 31 2/3 innings, including 36 strikeouts to 22 walks and six homers allowed through late June. The breaking point finally came on June 21 when Proctor entered a 1-1 tie in the 11th against Cleveland and allowed three singles and two walks with Los Angeles falling behind 7-1.
Landing on the DL with an elbow injury, Proctor didn’t return until early September, after which he actually finished with a 2.57 ERA/2.99 FIP in 7 innings. Closing the season with a 17-8 record in September, the Dodgers turned a 2.5 game deficit to the D-backs into a 2.0 game lead to end the season with an NL West title.
Leaving for the Marlins as a free agent ahead of 2009, Proctor finished his brief run with the Dodgers with a 4.84 ERA in 70 2/3 innings, including 73 strikeouts and 39 walks across 72 games. Proctor threw in 166 games between 2006 and 2007, accounting for 54 percent of his career games during his seven years in the majors.