News that the Dodgers are zeroing in on a deal with slick-fielding Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena -- which is easier done than said -- raises a couple of points that pertain to now and to the near-term future.
First, it proves, yet again, that the Dodgers will continue to push and pull against the MLB thrust to constrain teams from driving up the cost of players. Because Arruebarruena is 23 and has played six seasons in the Cuban professional league, his deal -- which Enrique Rojas estimates at $25 million -- will not count against international spending limits.
The Dodgers also sidestepped those limits with previous deals involving Yasiel Puig ($42 million) and Alex Guerrero ($28 million). They even found a loophole when they signed their top young pitching prospect. Former Mexican pro players, such as 17-year-old lefty Julio Urias, are not subject to the same international spending cap.
Second, the deal speaks to some worry about pairing what appears to be championship-caliber pitching with shaky up-the-middle defense.
By early accounts, which can be sketchy and unreliable, Arruebarruena is an accomplished fielder whose ability to hit major-league pitching is a major question. The comparison most commonly made is to the Detroit Tigers’ Jose Iglesias.
Projecting an everyday lineup for, say, early May, the Dodgers could have below-average fielders (and above-average hitters) at shortstop (Hanley Ramirez), second base (Alex Guerrero) and center field (Matt Kemp). That’s not exactly a good way to encourage your pitchers to pitch to contact.
Arruebarruena gives the Dodgers another way to auto-correct if their offense-first plan isn’t working. We can probably assume that Arruebarruena will begin the season at Triple-A, where he could make a dynamic double-play tandem with Miguel Rojas, another defensive specialist. Both players would be options to come up and give the Dodgers a better look when they’re in the field.
The signing raises some longer-range questions. What, for example, are the Dodgers going to do when their top position player prospect, Corey Seager, is ready if we assume they can re-sign Hanley Ramirez and that Arruebarruena pans out?
If this winter has proven anything, it’s that the Dodgers are all about keeping their options open and not at all about keeping a tidy depth chart.