Over on ESPN.com, former Mets GM and current ESPN baseball analyst Steve Phillips has posted his report on the top 50 free agents this offseason. Included in the report is his guess as to where each free agent will end up. I want to talk about it, but I have to warn you all that this is one of those posts that reminds the reader that while I love baseball in general, I am a Dodger fan first and foremost.
There are four free agents who Phillips lists as likely to sign with the Dodgers: Nomar Garciaparra, Kenny Rogers, Bill Mueller, and Joe Randa. Yes, you read that right: two third basemen, one guy without a position who was most recently a third baseman, and a 41-year-old pitcher with an attitude.
Let’s start with the third basemen. The Dodgers currently have 32 guys on their roster, and four of them are listed as third basemen (Willy Aybar, Mike Edwards, Antonio Perez, and Oscar Robles). Having never been a Major League manager, I don’t know this for sure, but I think carrying seven third basemen might put unnecessary strain on the pitching staff. Honestly, if the Dodgers were to sign all three of Mueller, Randa, and Garciaparra, I don’t see how there would be room for any of the other four on the roster. Perez and Aybar are both young guys with a lot of potential, and with Perez being a natural middle infielder it would make sense to keep him around. But let’s face it: with a 10-man pitching staff and the eight starting fielders, you only have seven roster slots left for backup infielders, outfielders, and catchers.
Let’s suppose the Dodgers decide to carry two catchers and five outfielders; that leaves room for four extra infielders. We know that Jeff Kent will be at second base and Cesar Izturis will be at short. Would the Dodgers convert one of these extra third basemen to be the starting first baseman? It would make the most sense for Garciaparra, who has proven that he is a consistent offensive threat when he is healthy. Could he make the transition defensively? That is one of the big questions, along with whether he would be willing.
Okay, so let’s suppose that the Dodgers sign Nomar to be their starting first baseman. If he can do the job defensively, I will certainly take that offensive upgrade over Hee Seop Choi. So that leave Mueller and Randa, two aging third basemen who aren’t over the hill, but who certainly have passed their peaks both offensively and defensively. It would not make sense to sign both of them, and I don’t think they would both sign knowing they would be competing with (at least) each other for the starting job. Neither seems suited to being a backup or a platoon guy, so I would take Mueller over Randa, due to his being slightly younger, being a switch hitter, and being a better hitter overall (remember, he won the AL batting title just two years ago).
So if the Dodgers don’t sign Randa, they can keep Perez as the utility infielder, Choi as the backup first baseman, and a couple other guys to round things out. That situation can work out, but only if they DON’T sign all three guys, and DO convince Nomar to play first base.
Now let’s talk about Kenny Rogers. He turned 41 years old yesterday, and while he has been as good recently as he ever has, the fact is that pitchers break down physically at his age. Will it happen to him? There is no way to know, but it sure isn’t worth the risk. And while the physical breakdown is in question, the mental breakdown has already happened. I mean, come on, this guy cracked under the harsh glare of the Dallas media. No offense to my in-laws in Dallas, but it isn’t exactly the media center that some other places are. If I were Kenny Rogers, I would have the Dodgers no higher than 26th on my list of teams I wanted to go to, somewhere in there with the Cubs, Yankees, Mets, and Red Sox. I would much rather go to a place like Kansas City, where the media isn’t as harsh and where my inevitable decline wouldn’t be as obvious.
From a Dodgers point of view, it would be ridiculous to sign this guy. Do the Dodgers really need another reason for sportswriters to refer to them as dysfunctional? And whenever they do get a new GM, does he (or she) want the first move of the new regime to be bringing in a problem child who is on his way down the hill? I think not.