With just a month to go until spring training starts (pitchers and catchers report February 8), the Los Angeles Dodgers are finalizing their roster and sending out final spring-training invites. With a fairly set roster, though, there are so many options the Dodgers have.
Last season, the backup shortstop was an integral part of the team because starter Hanley Ramirez played just 86 games. The rest of the time, Nick Punto, Dee Gordon, Justin Sellers and Luis Cruz filled in. As the primary backup, Punto was especially valuable—and indeed, he put up nearly 2.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs.
However, Punto is now a member of the Oakland Athletics, and the only shortstops currently on the 40-man roster, other than Ramirez, are Gordon and Sellers, neither of whom has proven to be a quality major league backup.
In addition to backup shortstop, expect the Dodgers to look at bullpen arms and catchers—both of which are positions that organizations often look at for cheap alternatives.
Players mentioned here will be ranked based on their likelihood to make the team and contribute, and all free agents are courtesy of the extremely helpful list at MLB Trade Rumors.
Alex Gonzalez is similar to the next name on this list in that he is an old (36 years old) utility infielder who will provide no offensive value. For his career, he has been a good defensive shortstop who has never been able to hit.
This is not necessarily a problem because utility infielders earn that title due to their lack of bat, but Gonzalez has played just 65 games in the majors over the past two seasons—so teams clearly believe he’s done.
However, it might be worth a shot to bring him to camp and see what kind of defensive skills he has left.
Never one to stand out with his bat, John McDonald has nonetheless carved out a long career as a backup infielder because of his glove. Obviously, he is not as good as he used to be, but his overall career defensive numbers at shortstop remain quite good.
The problem here is his bat. The only season in his career that he has ever posted positive offensive value was in nine games in 2000—a sample size so small that it clearly doesn’t count. In fact, he is so bad offensively that his advanced age (he’s 39) makes him virtually indistinguishable from Justin Sellers, the Dodgers’ current iteration of the no-hit, all-glove shortstop.
The Dodgers don’t particularly need a catcher, as both starter A.J. Ellis and backup Tim Federowicz are cheap. However, Hill would be a solid addition to the spring training roster to provide a potential alternative to Drew Butera.
Defensive statistics are notoriously unreliable for catchers, but throughout the years, reports such as this one from ESPN's Bruce Levine mentioned Hill’s reputation for handling pitching staffs and overall catcher defense. All in all, there are worse options for an organization’s fourth catcher.
Like everyone else on this list, Dewayne Wise can’t hit. His career offensive value is negative, and he will be 36 in February, so we won’t see any improvement. However, he can play center field, which is not something that can be said for many people currently on the Dodgers’ 40-man roster.
The nominal center fielder is Matt Kemp, but repeated hamstring injuries have to raise questions about his ability to stay in the middle of the field. Andre Ethier filled in for Kemp last year, but he’s never had elite speed and has a career-negative UZR, despite playing right field for most of his career.
The fact that the Dodgers chose Ethier over Yasiel Puig to play center last year indicates they don’t trust the young Cuban with the extra responsibility, and Carl Crawford’s arm simply isn’t strong enough. Finally, their top outfield prospect is Joc Pederson, who is expected to profile in left field as well according to Jason Parks of Baseball Prospectus (subscription required).
All of this is to say that inviting Wise to camp would be more about what the Dodgers don’t have than what Wise does have.
With Paco Rodriguez and J.P. Howell on the roster, the Dodgers actually have a solid combination of left-handed relievers. However, with Rodriguez’s collapse down the stretch last year (he had a 5.68 ERA in September), legitimate questions have been raised about his future.
Therefore, bringing in Mike Gonzalez would be a good insurance policy. He’s not a great pitcher by any means, but left-handed hitters have a career .634 OPS against him according to baseball-reference.com, and he’s just a couple years removed from back-to-back seasons of fantastic performances against lefties in 2011 and 2012.
Offensive value stats courtesy of FanGraphs.