April 21, 2014

Who’s on Third (For the Dodgers)?

One key question that needs to be answered during spring training is who the Dodgers will entrust with the third base position at the beginning of the season.

Much speculation has been floating out there about who Torre’s choice might be. Will he go with Garciaparra, whose 11 years of MLB experience (plus a stint last year at third for the Dodgers) certainly makes him a contender or will he lean towards rookie Andy LaRoche?

The answer was very noncomittal when the boss was pressed. “Nomar’s experience will certainly play into this thing,” said Torre. “There are going to be tough decisions here, and when you have a lot of young players, they can’t all play. In a way, it’s a good problem to have. In another way, you’re dealing with people’s lives, so it becomes a little more of a sensitive issue. Only so many people can make the club, and only so many people can play at one time.

“I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s (LaRoche’s) job to lose. Nomar, with his experience, we’ll have to see how he best helps our club and go from there.”

Garciaparra’s strong bat may actually hurt him in the race for a starting position at third, as Torre may decide that Nomar’s pinch hitting abilities would be a better strategic play for the team. During the last two seasons, Garciaparra batted .370 with runners in scoring position. Then again, the Dodgers were able to land former SF Giant Mark Sweeney for one-year deal and he led the majors with 24 pinch hits last season.

One possibility – a “job share” of sorts whereby LaRoche starts most games and Garciaparra comes in as a pinch-hitter when the opportunity presents itself (but typically earlier than most pinch hitting situations late in the game due to Garciaparra’s ability to cover third effectively). Executing this strategy frequently enough would enable Nomar to stay fresh at either first or third while giving the Dodgers some additional flexibility to leverage opportunities where the bases are loaded and a power hitter could significantly impact the game. Until the lineups are firmed up, however, it’s difficult to see how this would play out as optimal situations to utilize Nomar may mean someone other than LaRoche being asked to ride the pine and some shuffling of the positions…