Dodgers have some question marks on the infield
When the Dodgers open their upcoming season, Chase Utley will be 37. But as he works out this off-season, he does so with the idea that he could still be their everyday second baseman.
“I’d like to play as much as possible,” he said.
Andrew Friedman, the team’s president of baseball operations, didn’t dismiss the possibility or, rather, couldn’t.
Although the Dodgers have question marks up and down their roster, the most pronounced might be in the infield.
About the only sure thing is Adrian Gonzalez at first base. The Dodgers can count on him playing nearly every day and driving in around 100 runs. Part of the reason the Dodgers re-signed Utley to a one-year, $7-million contract was to safeguard against some of the uncertainties elsewhere on the diamond.
Justin Turner is expected to be the team’s starting third baseman again, but is recovering from a microfracture operation on his knee. Corey Seager is considered a star in the making and will be the everyday shortstop, but the 21-year-old has only one month of major league experience. As for what the Dodgers will do at second base, that remains a mystery.
The Dodgers believed they had introduced a measure of stability to the group last spring when they signed former Cuban national team standout Hector Olivera to a six-year, $62.5-million contract. Olivera was supposed to be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter. Primarily a second baseman in his homeland, he was believed to be capable of playing third base as well.
In the months that followed, the Dodgers determined they didn’t like Olivera at either second base or third base. They flipped him and the $34 million that remained on his contract to the Atlanta Braves as part of a three-way trade that included the Miami Marlins.
There were regrettable elements to that trade, namely starting pitcher Mat Latos and reliever Jim Johnson, who performed well below expectations. But the Dodgers also received a couple of players who should remain useful in the upcoming season in Alex Wood and Jose Peraza.
Wood is projected to be a back-of-the-rotation starter and Peraza will be part of the team’s mix in the infield.
A right-handed-hitter who runs well, Peraza will be one of two utilitymen auditioning to start at second base. The other is Enrique Hernandez.
Peraza, 21, appeared in seven games last season for the Dodgers after batting .293 with 33 stolen bases in 118 triple-A games.
Hernandez, who also bats right-handed, played a more prominent role on the Dodgers this year. The 24-year-old played in 76 games, batting .307 with seven home runs and 22 runs batted in.
Hernandez had a .423 average against left-handed pitchers but only .234 against right-handers.
One possible scenario is that Hernandez or Peraza will be part of a platoon at second base with Utley, who bats left-handed.
Utley offers the Dodgers not only a left-handed bat off the bench, but also provides them with a steadying veteran influence, something the Dodgers are also looking for in a backup for Seager. The former first-round pick batted .337 as a September callup but the team doesn’t know how he will hold up over a 162-game season.
Utley, who batted a career-low. 202, could also be a factor at third base. A career-long second baseman, Utley started working out at third base shortly after he was acquired in a trade with the Philadelphia Phillies.
Turner, the Dodgers’ cleanup hitter in the postseason, had a procedure on his left knee that was similar to the one Matt Kemp had on his left ankle after the 2013 season. While the Dodgers were in the playoffs, a piece of cartilage tore off the outer part of Turner’s knee, which resulted in swelling and discomfort.
He underwent surgery after the Dodgers’ elimination.
“They drill holes in it and let the blood come out and refill the area that the cartilage broke out of,” Turner said last month.
Friedman said last week that Turner’s rehabilitation remains on schedule and the Dodgers remain confident he will make a complete recovery. Even if he does, the Dodgers could call on Utley to occasionally start at third base so they could avoid wearing down Turner.
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