Monday, November 16, 2015

The Great Improvening: Improving the Dodgers Part 2 - Second Base

Heading into the final months of the year, second base remains a mystery going forward  for the Dodgers and many young teenagers around the world.  Howie Kendrick has declined his qualifying offer leaving the position open for the taking.  Mid-season acquisition Jose Peraza filled in for Howie Kendrick for a bit this year when he was dealing with hamstring issues but didn't get much playing time and eventually went down with hamstring issues too.  The 21 year old prospect is considered a speed and defense type of player first with a hopeful league average bat but has never played more than 115 games in a season (and that was this year).  For a team that goes into the season with World Series expectations and is already projected to have a rookie starting at shortstop, having two rookies middle infield may prove too much of a gamble.

That potentially leaves things to everyone's favorite: the free agency pool!

The Dodgers and pools have a very nice history
The list doesn't run very deep but there are a few standout names that a championship seeking team would be interested in:

Howie Kendrick

He's coming off a solid effort in 2015 with the club but is on the wrong side of 30 and could be due for decline.  He was known for his high average (a career .293 hitter) and performed as one would've expected him to with the bat but his defense, which was usually a fairly solid part of his game, was borderline awful.  In terms of DRS (Defensive Runs Saved used by Fangraphs) Kendrick was severely in the negatives with a -12.  In the majors that was tied dead last among qualified (and unqualified) fielders with ironically enough, Johnny Giovotalla: Kendrick's replacement with the Angels.  His UZR (Ultimate Zone Rating) was also 14th out of 18th among qualified major league second basemen (the man he took the position from, Dee Gordon, led the majors and recently won the Gold Glove for the position in the NL).  Now defense can vary from year to year and throughout his career Kendrick has been a pretty consistently positive defender, but as the years go on and quality diminishes you start to wonder if this is going to be a trend moving forward.

Ben Zobrist

Recent World Series winner, Ben Zobrist, joins the fray of free agency.  Zobrist is an extremely sought after commodity for his versatility at playing shortstop, second base, and the outfield and has done it all pretty well in his career.  However, like Kendrick, 2015 wasn't a great year for him defensively (-7 DRS, unqualified with too few innings but that would've made him the 4th worst).  He's also one of the more older options as he turns 35 next year.  What could make him a valuable addition to the Dodgers (and again every single team imaginable) is that he can play shortstop and the outfield and fill in when someone like a Corey Seager or Andre Ethier need a day off.  Because of his utility and without fear of giving up a draft pick by signing him, the front office might be a little more justified in giving out a multiyear deal as there is always a place to play someone like Zobrist (whether he performs positively there could still be a gamble though).

Kiké Hernandez

Combo Breaker!  Not a free agent but you'd be hard pressed to find a Dodger fan that would object to Kiké Hernandez becoming the Dodgers' starting second baseman.  An almost instant fan favorite for his rally bananas and his fun and laid back demeanor, Kiké became one of the nice surprise additions in the trade with Miami that brought over Chris Hatcher, Austin Barnes, and landed the Dodgers Howie Kenrick by trading Andrew Heaney.  Posting a .307 average in his 218 plate appearances, his bat was steady and like Zobrist a huge utility player who played almost every position on the field at some point.  The big question for going with Kiké at second base would be what happens in center field if Joc Pederson keeps struggling like he did much of the second half of 2015?  If it becomes an issue and Hernandez has to man center field once again then it might lead to another in house solution of Jose Peraza, but then if he struggles what then?  It could potentially lead to issues but it could also be a wonderful cheaper idea and allow the money to be spent elsewhere.

Daniel Murphy?
A man not too favored among Dodger faithful as of the 2015 NLDS, but there have been rumors floating around that the Dodgers are interested in Murphy.  Despite his Godlike NLDS and NLCS, Murphy has never been a big flashy hitter with a career wRC+ of 109 but with a clunkier glove (second base is not his best position defensively over the years and his -7 DRS this year shows it's still a trend).  Murphy's agent is most likely playing up his Postseason performance in seeking a huge deal this offseason and I'd hope the Dodgers front office is smart enough to not shell out a huge contract to him without some larger plan in the making.  I can see a Murphy/Kiké platoon working out but only if the money is right.  If that is indeed the vision it would most likely be wiser choosing someone like Chase Utley who despite being older will most likely command a smaller contract and could still end up bouncing back from a lackluster 2015.  Also unlike signing Murphy, Utley won't cost a draft pick.

There are a handful of options and directions that the Dodgers can go in for second base but if the big names come off the board of free agency before the Dodgers make a move it might be Peraza or Hernandez manning the position.  But after last off season don't be surprised if Farhan Zaidi and Andrew Friedman aren't cooking up an unorthodox trade that shakes up the roster.

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