MLB Breaking News: LA Dodgers Sign Juan Uribe, Are They the New NL West Faves?
The Los Angeles Dodgers stayed busy Monday, as they appear to have secured the services of free-agent infielder Juan Uribe for the next three seasons at a cost of roughly $21 million.
Uribe helped lead the charge for the World Series champion San Francisco Giants in 2010, belting 24 home runs and playing three infield positions well defensively.
Uribe's loss makes the Giants' quest to add a shortstop even more urgent, and it likely spells the end for Ryan Theriot (a fellow middle infielder who was a serious candidate to be non-tendered this winter anyway) in Dodger blue.
In terms of its on-field impact, though, how important is this signing? Are the Dodgers gaining serious ground on the Giants? Did they just steal a key cog in San Francisco's success?
There are a lot of angles to cover in dissecting the two teams' off-season activities so far, and it really is tough to say which team would be stronger if the season started tomorrow.
Read on to see just what it all means.
A Gigantic Upgrade
Ryan Theriot, 2010 Stats with Dodgers: .242/.323/.283, 228 plate appearances, 4/7 stolen bases, 22 walks, 28 strikeouts
Jamey Carroll, 2010 Stats with Dodgers: .291/.379/.339, 414 plate appearances, 12/16 stolen bases, 51 walks, 64 strikeouts
Juan Uribe, 2010 Stats with Giants: .248/.310/.440, 575 plate appearances, 24 home runs, 45 walks, 92 strikeouts
The Dodgers lacked any consistent offensive production at second base in 2010. In fact, the situation was even more dire than it may appear: Carroll (whose .379 OBP would otherwise be redemptive) batted only .256/.330/.305 at second base, spending most of his productive time in place of the injured Rafael Furcal at shortstop.
Uribe brings pop into a lineup that had almost none in 2010: His 24 home runs were a fifth of the entire Dodgers' offensive total for the season. Second base was the greatest culprit by position, with the comically lacking power of Theriot and Carroll creating a black hole of powerlessness.
Theriot and Carroll each handled the glove well enough at second base, though Theriot had a hard time adjusting from life as a shortstop. Uribe posted a 2.1 UZR (16.0 UZR/150) in 22 games at second in 2010, though, so he is no slouch there either.
What Uribe Leaves Behind
It might be tempting to view Uribe's departure as a devastating loss for San Francisco, especially given his versatility. Don't forget, though, that the Giants have a pretty fair replacement for Uribe's all-around contributions already in the wings.
Mark DeRosa signed a two-year deal worth $12 million before the 2010 season, but missed the enormous majority of the season with a wrist injury. He should be back in 2011, though, and he offers some of the same things Uribe did for the Giants: He can hit for some power, fields well at multiple spots (though not shortstop) and has been around long enough to add a certain presence to the team.
DeRosa might even have a higher ceiling than Uribe, owing to his superior batting eye: DeRosa has a .352 OBP since the start of the 2006 season, while Uribe's OBP over the same period is .294. Uribe is a better power hitter and fielder, but the final products have roughly equal value.
Short On Shortstops
The Giants have no readily obvious replacement for Uribe, which is part of what makes Los Angeles' acquisition such a coup. Yet, San Francisco is not left without some options:
Edgar Renteria: It took less than a week for the World Series MVP to come to his senses and put to rest implications that he would retire at 33 years of age. He is a free agent, but the Giants surely top his list of preferred destinations after they gave him his starting job back and allowed him to regain his reputation as a premier playoff performer.
He hardly replaces the offensive productivity of Uribe, though, and is no better with the glove, so San Francisco will surely try to find a better solution.
Derek Jeter: The Yankees have to remain the overwhelming favorites to hang onto Jeter, but if the sour negotiations do not sweeten soon, the two sides could part ways for good.
If that happens, one has to think that San Francisco and St. Louis stand the best chance of luring in the competitive Jeter, with good teams just waiting for a shortstop to become championship contenders.
J.J. Hardy: Hardy is Twins property and will almost surely be tendered a contract, but that might not stop Minnesota GM Bill Smith from shopping his veteran shortstop. The Giants have plenty left in the system to get that kind of minor deal done, and Hardy (who is an underrated defensive stud at short and a decent hitter) could help the team forget about Uribe, save when he comes into AT&T Park wearing the Dodgers uniform.
The New-Look Lineups
|Dodgers||Team/Batting Order Slot||Giants|
|Furcal, SS||1||Torres, CF|
|Loney, 1B||2||Sanchez, 2B|
|Kemp, CF||3||Huff, 1B|
|Ethier, RF||4||Posey, C|
|Uribe, 2B||5||Burrell, LF|
|Blake, 3B||6||Ross, RF|
|Varitek, C||7||Sandoval, 3B|
|Gibbons, LF||8||Renteria, SS|
These two groups have not fully materialized yet, of course, but it seems fair to believe that these could be the starting lineups for each side on Opening Day. Los Angeles certainly has more power than it once had, although without the on-base ability and speed around which the team had been built for the past half-decade.
San Francisco sees only a very small drop-off with the loss of Uribe, since they astutely acquired Pat Burrell and Cody Ross in-season last year.
That lineup features a bunch of power hitters, in fact, but only Huff and Posey have the ability to consistently get on at better than a .350 clip.
The Winter So Far
Somewhat predictably, it has taken the Giants a few weeks to really get into off-season mode after celebrating their title. They did move to keep Aubrey Huff, but they remain an unfinished product for 2011 that will need to make a big splash at the Winter Meetings next week to be the NL favorites next season.
The Dodgers, by contrast, are arguably the biggest winners of the off-seaosn so far. They have successfully held onto starting hurlers Ted Lilly and Hiroki Kuroda, and even added Jon Garland. They may not have the elite talent of San Francisco's Lincecum-Cain-Sanchez combo, but they are as deep and strong in general and only a small step behind the Giants in starting pitching.
They still need to bolster their offense more, with left field being the obvious weak spot. With Uribe aboard, though, they now have an offense at least comparable to the Giants', and with the potential (should Matt Kemp figure himself out in the immediate future) to be much better.
Verdict: Giants, For Now
The Dodgers have made the gap much smaller, and have certainly surpassed the Rockies and Padres in this mix, but the Giants will remain the favorites in the West until one of their competitors (LA being the best bet) makes a serious move.
Ned Colletti could take an interest in an elite free-agent hitter like Adam Dunn if the team remains open to trading Loney, but the offense will need more muscle and the bullpen one more sturdy arm before the Dodgers can be considered the Giants' superiors in 2011 prognoses.