Teams should treat veterans slightly differently, particularly ones they’ve had a long and successful history with. They have earned a certain amount of deference and latitude. That’s the theory, anyway.
It doesn’t always work out that way, of course. Too often a veteran who for years has been a key figure to a team is deemed disposable when some higher-up has determined he’s past his prime.
Naturally their objective is to win, and win now. Sentiment cannot stand in the way, and I’m not suggesting it should. But that doesn’t mean a veteran should be unceremoniously discarded when his peak years are likely behind him, whether it’s Andre Ethier or Matt Kemp ... or Juan Uribe.
This is Uribe’s fifth season with the Dodgers, and if the initial two were greatly disappointing, the past two have been huge successes. Over the last two-plus seasons he has batted .293 and played a Gold Glove-caliber third base.
Now he’s 36 and likely in his final season with the Dodgers. Already his playing time is being pared by the strong play of Justin Turner and Alex Guerrero. And still to come is Cuban Hector Olivera, who continues to await his visa.
Uribe has started 20 of the Dodgers’ first 28 games, though it might have been less if Guerrero hadn’t also started five times in left field and the versatile Turner not made at least one start at all four infield positions.
When Guerrero was going nuts in April, there were cries to start him over Uribe. Now Turner has hit .350 over his last 14 games, and with somewhat surprising power (four homers), and there are those who want to see him start at third.
Yet, as he should, Manager Don Mattingly has declared Uribe his main third baseman. Uribe is in the lineup again Friday night in Denver, assuming the weather allows the game to be played. Turner gets the start at second and Guerrero in left.
Uribe has a hit in 11 of his last 12 games (.308) and gives the Dodgers their best defensive asset at third, something that has been increasingly emphasized under the new front office regime. And it’s not like the current rotation at third has been a problem.
Including one game at third by Darwin Barney, the Dodgers have received the best production at third of any team in the majors. Their third basemen have combined to produce a baseball-best .348 batting average and .598 slugging percentage, and lead with 21 RBI. They’re tied for second in homers (seven).
For now, it’s not only working, it’s working extremely well. This juggling act could change when Yasiel Puig and Carl Crawford return and Guerrero cannot be shifted to the outfield, or when Olivera finally shows up.
But it’s not like Uribe has played so poorly that he can simply be shoved aside in the name of the future. He’s earned the right to be treated with respect. As long as he’s being productive, he deserves playing time. It makes for a tough juggling act for Mattingly, but that doesn’t make it a bad problem to have.