Dodgers’ Plans for Jordan Schafer Defy Logic

The Dodgers’ have basically failed to address the needs of the bullpen this offseason, instead appearing as of now to approach 2016 with pretty much the same group of set-up men who poured gasoline upon the fires of opposing bats last year. There are two new names coming to spring training, however, who are given chances to win bullpen spots. One is Joe Blanton, and I’ve already expressed my opinion of that signing. All that still needs to be said is that apparently the team has no plans to have him attempt to


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start games, but will offer him and his inferior talents the chance of winning a spot in the pen. But the other name is even more curious.

While the Dodgers over the past several years have suffered mightily at the hands of inferior relief pitching, the primary culprits last season threw from the right side. The Dodgers did get outstanding production from veteran J.P. Howell, and he returns as the key lefty in the pen. During the season they acquired Luis
Avilan, and while no great talent or untapped potential there, despite his 5.17 ERA over 23 appearances with the Dodgers late last season, he has been a serviceable guy for an out here or there. And after them, the next guy in line might just be journeyman center fielder Jordan Schafer.

Laughing can stop now.

Schafer, 29, came to the majors in 2009 with the Braves, then spent some time in Houston, returned to Atlanta, and then played parts of two seasons in Minnesota. He was actually the Twins’ starting center fielder when 2015 began, but after hitting .217, he was released in mid-June. He’s a lifetime .228 hitter, but can play a solid center field and is an excellent baserunner and has stolen as many as 30 bases in a season, playing part-time.

But, he last pitched in high school, like 11 years ago. Not even in a mop-up role in a blowout game has he taken to a major (or minor) league mound in all that time, yet, the


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Dodgers seem to think that he could made the pitching staff in a relief role. With Joc Pederson seemingly set in center, with Kike Hernandez the all-around back-up, with Andre Ethier and Scott Van Slyke available as short-term fill-ins, and with newcomer Trayce Thompson in camp trying to win a roster spot in the outfield, the team has little need for another center fielder, certainly not one who would not also be useful as a pinch hitter.

So, what is the thinking when the team signed Schafer to a $1 million, though non-guaranteed, contract? MLB.com’s Ken Gurnic, who has followed the Dodgers for years, has written that the team does envision Schafer as a “defense-first center fielder and a left-handed reliever, with the emphasis on pitching”.

While many pitchers, some very successful on the mound, have throughout baseball history given up the resin bag for the bat, from Babe Ruth to Willie Smith to Rick Ankiel and others, few have ever made the opposite transition from position player to pitcher, late into a career, with any measure of success. The last name that comes to mind is that of Brooks Kieschnick.

Kieschnick, like Schafer though not to the same extent, came to the majors with a reputation and potential and with anticipated stardom. Kieschnick played the outfield part time for the Cubs and Reds in the late 1990s, early 2000s, then returned to the minors and took up pitching. When he took the mound for the Milwaukee Brewers in 2003, he had pitched in 35 minor league games. In fact in 2002 in Triple-A, over 25 appearances he posed a 2.59 ERA with almost a strikeout per inning. He went on to pitch in 74 major


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league games, going 2-2 with a 4.78 ERA, over 2003 and 2004, then pitched another two seasons in the minors before calling it quits.

Then there is 39-year-old Jason Lane. Lane began his career in 1999 in the low minors, and along with coming to bat 283 times, took the mound on one occasion that season, pitching a single shutout inning. He then played first base and the outfield for a myriad of teams in the minors, in the majors, in Mexico, and in South
America, for more than a decade. Then, in 2012, he took to the mound, pitching some, and playing in the field some, with moderate success at both, even as high as in Triple-A. In 2014, after time in Venezuela and the PCL, he was signed by the San Diego Padres, and pitched in three games, allowing only one run in 10.1 innings. However, he did that at age 37, and San Diego felt he had no major league future. He spent last season back in the PCL, and his 5.71 ERA over 164 innings does not bode well for any return to the majors.

But, the first maxim of baseball is that if you’re left handed and can pitch at all, there’s a job for you, and the Dodgers seem intent on putting that to a real test this spring, giving the ball to Jordan Schafer.

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