Dodgers' two-year plan seems to be Hanley at third

Hanley Ramirez is setting himself up for a pretty handsome payday.

One could argue he was, when healthy, the best offensive player in baseball not named Miguel Cabrera or Mike Trout last season. After a few down years, perhaps due to his recovery from shoulder surgery, Ramirez returned to being the force his early career had suggested.

And, for a player who has been dogged for a while by questions about his attitude, he showed up this spring in good shape and saying all the right things. The Dodgers have made it known they'd like to sign Ramirez to a long-term contract extension to keep him in Los Angeles beyond 2014. Ramirez said he'd like that, too.

But where should he play? That's the question that has followed Ramirez around for the last few years. Dodgers manager Don Mattingly told Bill Plunkett of the Orange County Register this week that, presuming the Dodgers can sign him long-term, a return to third base is in the works.

"I’ve asked him, ‘Honestly, where do you think you’re going to end up?’ " Mattingly told Plunkett. "And he says, ‘Third base.’ I think he knows as you get older, you make that move. Hanley is like Alex (Rodriguez). He’s got third base power and pop. As he gets older, obviously guys are going to slow down."

Ramirez was agnostic about the move, saying he'll do whatever the Dodgers ask and that he only would object if he's asked to move back and forth within a season. The move seems to be in keeping with the Dodgers' long-term plan of using slick-fielding Cuban defector Erisbel Arruebarrena at shorstop and shifting Juan Uribe into a utility role for the second season of his two-year deal.

The only problem with the plan is that Ramirez might be a worse third baseman than he is a shortstop. The Dodgers would simply be stashing him at a position where he his shaky defense would be less exposed, because third base typically sees the least action of any of the infield spots. In 2012, his one season at third base, Ramirez had an Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) of -3.6 and his Defensive Runs Saved (DRS) was -11. These are worse numbers than in five of Ramirez's seasons at shortstop, including last year, when he may even have been above-average in a smaller sample.

Essentially, the Dodgers seem to be hinting that Ramirez would do less harm at third than he would at shortstop. That begs the question of whether his best long-term trajectory might be in left field, first base or designated hitter. Of course, none of those options are open to the Dodgers at the moment.