Now that the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 2013 season has reached a disappointing conclusion, it’s time for the Blue Crew to recharge and gear up for another exciting season in 2014, one that they hope will yield a World Series title.
In search of the franchise’s first World Series crown since 1988, the Dodgers have a few key decisions to make this offseason with their free-agents.
One such undeclared decision concerns whom will play third base for the team next year, as Juan Uribe will soon become a free-agent.
Uribe engraved his name in Dodgers history this postseason with a decisive two-run home run that lifted the Dodgers to a Game 4 victory over the Atlanta Braves and sealed the NLDS, triumphantly sending the Dodgers to the NLCS.
Had Uribe not hit that clutch home run, there’s a very good chance that the Dodgers would have lost the series, as Game 5 would have been played in Atlanta and the Dodgers would have likely thrown struggling starter Ricky Nolasco on the mound.
Uribe’s success wasn’t limited to the postseason, though.
After two years of subpar play—in which he hit a combined six home runs and drove in 45 runs with a measly .199 batting average—the veteran Dominican third baseman hit .278 with a .331 on-base percentage, 12 home runs, and 50 runs batted in during the 2013 regular season.
His success at the plate was complemented by a stellar season at the hot corner, in which he made only five errors, making himself a serious contender for a Gold Glove.
The soft-spoken Dominican was also a key figure in the clubhouse, as he formed a brotherly relationship with Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, who would mockingly pound their chests and feed him bananas to mimic his gorilla-like strength.
Yet, despite all the varnish Uribe slathered all over himself this season, the Dodgers would be extremely foolish to re-sign him.
Firstly, there’s very little coincidence that Uribe’s best season with the Dodgers came in the final year of his contract. A similar pattern is apparent from his tenure with the San Francisco Giants.
He understood that at 34—turning 35 in March—he needed to work his tail off this season to land a decent contract or to even continue playing professional baseball. With his success this season, he deserves it, but not from the Dodgers.
Although Papi is a joy in the clubhouse, the Dodgers will have to sacrifice clubhouse chemistry for stability at third base.
To do that, they’ll have to look no further than one of Uribe’s closest comrades on the team: Hanley Ramirez.
Ramirez’s shift back to the hot corner after returning to shortstop for a full season is imminent for two reasons—one of them very telling.
1) Although he possesses a strong arm, his range has steadily been decreasing, which is increasingly becoming a liability. Also, his back pain may continue to linger throughout the rest of his career, and moving to a position that requires less movement is a sustainable solution to suppress his injuries.
2) The Dodgers just signed top-prospect shortstop Alexander Guerrero.
MLB.com reported on Monday that the Dodgers signed the 26-year-old Cuban shortstop to a four-year, $28-million deal, which suggests they expect him to have a quick turnaround into the majors much like Puig did.
Of course, the Dodgers could also leave Ramirez at short and slide Guerrero over to second base, as Mark Ellis will also be a free-agent this year; however, they’re more likely to pursue an established second baseman this offseason now that they've signed Guerrero.
With all signs and analysis pointing towards Uribe’s exit, the Dodgers will applaud the veteran third baseman as he departs, which few would have believed a year ago, when he was riding the pine behind Luis Cruz.
Although he’ll be sad to see Papi go, Ramirez will continue to pound his chest—this time for himself, as he displayed the potential this past season to become one of the best-hitting infielders in Dodgers’ history.