Perhaps the most amusing topic of discussion this spring as position players fight for roster spots is a stipulation of Ronnie Belliard's agreement with the Dodgers and manager Joe Torre: Lose weight, gain a roster spot.
That's right. The Dodgers want Belliard—just not as much of him.
As the 2009 season came to a close, no one was more prominent of an influence in the Dodgers' playoff run than Ronnie Belliard.
With clutch hits and ice in his veins, Belliard was seemingly fighting not only to propel his team to the next level, but also to secure his position for next season.
As we all know, the Dodgers fell short in the NLCS to the Phillies in almost an exact repeat of last season. In the off-season conversations that followed, much concern was shown for the potential second base job that was going to be vacated by Orlando Hudson.
Before the season even ended, Hudson lost his job to Belliard. While Hudson added a dynamic of superior fielding, he lacked the offensive accolades of Belliard. On the other side of the coin, Belliard was noticeably slower to the ball.
With the almost immediate signing of Jamey Carroll, a utility infielder at a "bargain" price, even more questions arose.
Finally, to the delight of Dodgers fans, Belliard was re-signed with a condition: He must be under 209 pounds before the end of the spring. The resilient second baseman has shown improved effort and has trimmed around the edges. He currently weighs just over his target weight, but has not been productive this spring.
However, Blake DeWitt, the Dodgers' 2009 opening day starting third baseman, has been making solid contact at the dish and looks versatile in the infield. Obviously there is much to be said about a tremendous fielder changing the complexion of a game, but as the great Ted Williams put it, "The hardest thing to do in baseball is to hit a round baseball with a round bat, squarely."
Worth a mention: The Dodgers are currently experimenting with Belliard at first base. Although Torre won't mention it, Belliard doesn't appear to be adapting well. With Doug Mientkiewicz struggling and nursing a sore shoulder, increased pressure could be placed on Belliard to step up. However, Angel Berroa was recently released, so there's one less utility infielder in the mix.
The Dodgers seem to be more concerned about a productive offense to back their rotation and put ease on the bullpen. Thus far Carroll has performed right where he is expected to: a utility man to pinch-hit late in games. DeWitt has always taken the skipper's decisions in stride but might just catch his fancy this time around.
If Belliard does reach his target weight, he is the likely suitor to see the majority of innings at second base, but don't count out DeWitt. If he can make the Opening Day roster once, you can be sure he'll do it again.
Updates to come...