The Los Angeles Dodgers have a lot invested in their bench.
Between Juan Uribe ($7 million), Jerry Hairston Jr. ($3.75 million), Nick Punto ($1.5 million) and Skip Schumaker ($1.5 million), the Dodgers are laying out nearly $14 million this season for an assortment of guys who often play overlapping positions and, on any given day, might only get two at-bats between them.
Nonetheless, there will be times when fringe players will play important roles this season. Let’s take a look at the likeliest candidates to fill important needs for the Dodgers in 2013, in order of expected impact.
When the Dodgers traded young shortstop Jake Lemmerman to the St. Louis CardinalsSt. Louis Cardinals for Schumaker this winter, it was buried by the rest of the noise the team made from November through January. Now, it’s looking like one of the shrewder moves Ned Colletti made.
In the quite likely event that Carl Crawford is not ready on Opening Day, Schumaker figures to be the left-handed side of a platoon with Hairston in left field while Crawford is out.
In the two seasons in which Schumaker got more than 500 at-bats (2008 and 2009), he hit .302 and .303, respectively. He’s adept at getting on base (.345 lifetime OBP) and can handle four positions (if you don’t count the inning he pitched last year).
Cardinals manager Tony LaRussa seemed to have more use for Schumaker than Mike Matheny, and last season he had his fewest plate appearances in five years. The other concern is that he’s been more of a second baseman than an outfielder the past few years, but his background is in the outfield. In 2008, he ranked fourth in the National League in total zone runs as a left fielder.
The Dodgers would be in a lot worse shape this spring if they didn’t have Schumaker.
After 15 seasons with nine different organizations, there aren’t a lot of situations that are going to catch Hairston off guard. Once a slick-fielding second baseman, he’s settled nicely into a bench career. He handled left-field duties fine and his ability to cover second and third gives the Dodgers versatility if they decide to move Uribe.
He’s also a meaningful presence in the clubhouse -- a vocal guy who’s not afraid to speak up in team settings.
On the other hand, Hairston turns 37 in May and is coming off of hip surgery, so you wonder how many days a week he’ll be able to play. He also has never been the most dynamic offensive player, with a .259 lifetime average and .327 lifetime OBP. He had a strong season, batting .273, last year, but a .292 BABIP suggests some good luck could have been part of the reason.
Last season, he played six positions, if you count designated hitter. In limited doses, particularly against left-handed pitchers, he’s among the most valuable reserves in their clubhouse.
It became a running joke this spring. Manager Don Mattingly would be asked how much he would miss the players participating in the World Baseball Classic and he would remark that he didn't expect to miss Punto for very long.
Well, lo and behold, the Italian team advanced to the second round.
Punto, at age 35, is a known quantity at this point of his career.
He's scrappy -- the kind of guy who dives head-first into first base -- and he's a reliable glove at most infield positions. Beyond that, you don't get much for the money. He's a .249 lifetime hitter whose career high for home runs is four. He used to play almost every day for the Minnesota Twins, but his days as a super utility player appear to be over.
It's not that he can't plug some holes for you, but if Mark Ellis proves healthy, you wonder how more much he can accomplish than someone else who could do as well or better.
Colletti might never live this contract down, but cut him a little slack. The market was drying up for Uribe a few years ago and Colletti, handcuffed financially, saw the signing as a way to get some relatively inexpensive pop.
Three years and $21 million really isn’t all that outrageous these days, especially for a middle infielder with a history of hitting 20 home runs.
If he’d only known then what he knows now. In two seasons as a Dodger, Uribe has batted .199 with a .262 OBP and .289 slugging percentage.
If the Dodgers see no role for him -- and that was pretty much the case at the end of last season -- you wonder why he’s still around. It would be one thing if neither Hairston nor Luis Cruz could play shortstop, but the Dodgers have capable replacements in case something happens to Hanley Ramirez.
On a bench of grizzled veterans, Castellanos, 26, could provide a little energy and a bit more durability.
When he was first traded from the Cardinals' organization, it looked like the path to the major leagues would be a bit clearer for Castellanos. Then, the Dodgers went out and got both Crawford and Schumaker, and now he’s fighting to make the team.
Castellanos is showing surprising power, with a team-leading three home runs this spring, but his chances hinge on a lot of things outside his control. In the unlikely event that Yasiel Puig makes the team, there’s virtually no chance Castellanos will be on the Opening Day roster. He does have a leg up on the non-roster contenders for bench roles like Alfredo Amezaga, Jeremy Moore and Tony Gwynn Jr. because the Dodgers wouldn’t be forced to make a roster move to squeeze him into their plans.
He’s shown good on-base skills (.365 OBP) and some pop in the minor leagues, so he’ll get a long look this spring.