While there is not too much for which 2016 Manager of the Year Dave Roberts can be criticized, one area regarding which he was frequently second-guessed last season was over his personnel moves at second base. The Dodgers re-signed Howie Kendrick just before the start of the season, and it figured to most fans and observers that the then 32-year-old, nine-year veteran, coming off a great first season with the Dodgers in which he hit .295, would be the everyday automatic write-in at second. Alas, injuries and other problems in the outfield arose, and lo-and-behold, Howie played in only 32 games at second, as he became pretty much the regular starter in left field. Overall he appeared in
146 games, but the late start to spring training and the frequent moving around between not just second base and left field, but also to first and third base, took its toll, as his average fell to a career low .255, almost 40 points under his lifetime average.
The starter most of the time at second was Chase Utley, who at 37, did a fine job for most of the season, but he had been a longshot to return in 2016, and seemingly a no shot for 2017. Playing some at second against lefties, as well as in numerous other spots around the infield and outfield, was a Roberts’ favorite, the no-hitting Kike Hernandez (.190 B.A, .607 OPS, 0.1 WAR), who clearly, and despite his very occasional power, is a major leaguer only because of his defensive versatility. Roberts even used Micah Johnson for a few innings at second, but after his limited exposure to the majors, he was dispatched to Atlanta this offseason. Kendrick was also traded away, and seemingly, the Dodgers had little if any interest in re-sining Utley. Thus much of the past few months involved speculation as to who would be at second base for the Dodgers come the start of the 2017 season.
Trade rumors abounded, most centering around the Minnesota Twins power hitting second baseman Brian Dozier, 29, who had a breakout 2016, hitting 42 home runs. But Dozier is much more than just a power bat (he also averaged 23 homers over his prior three season before 2016), playing a solid defense and providing excellent base running that includes stealing 30 bases in 36 attempts over the past two seasons, and he would have been a great addition to the Dodgers’ infield. However, the price was just too high for the Dodgers’ who were willing to trade their next best young starting prospect after the now major-league-entrenched Julio Urias, 24-year-old righty Jose de Leon. The Twins, however, wanted multiple additional bodies, including perhaps two prospects rated even higher than de Leon, Willie Calhoun and Yadier Alvarez. The proposed deal met a slow agonizing death, and the Dodgers began to look elsewhere, and what they found was a reasonable facsimile of Dozier, in Tampa Bay second baseman Logan Forsyth, who they were able to acquire straight up for de Leon and no more.
The similarities between the two abound: Forsyth is four months older than Dozier, he also provides unusual power for a solid-fielding second baseman, and while he’s never come close to the 42 homers Dozier hit last season, his power has similarly increased over the past three seasons, with him hitting a career high 20 in 2016, despite missing over 30 games. He won’t steal 20 bases or so like Dozier, but his career batting average is nine points higher, .255 compared to .246. Forsyth also provides more versatility than Dozier, whose entire career has been at second base, save for 80 or so games at shortstop. Forsyth has seen action at first base, third base, and in the outfield. Wouldn’t it be funny if he ended up playing left field for the Dodgers, just like Kendrick did a year ago?
But seriously, don’t laugh that off too quickly, as surprisingly, the Dodgers in the past few days ended up re-signing Utley for 2017 after all. With question marks among right-hand hitting outfielders on the Dodgers’ roster, including Tracy Thompson still reportedly
having yet to recover from last year’s back injury, with Scott Van Slyke coming off wrist surgery, and with the enigmatic Yasiel Puig always a question mark, it’s not too foolish to imagine games in which Utley starts at second with Forsyth moving to left field.
But even more seriously, the likelihood of that happening was significantly reduced just a day or two after Utley’s signing, when the team then signed veteran right-hand hitting outfielder Franklin Gutierrez, who should provide not just a right-handed bat filling in in any of the three outfield spots, but also some additional very much needed right-handed power. Over his last three seasons playing in Seattle, in a total of only 564 at bats, Gutierrez hit 39 home runs and drove in 98 runs. Whatever his role, this under the radar pick-up could be a major plus as well for the 2017 Dodgers.
While de Leon’s young and healthy right arm may end up being sorely missed in the 2017 starting rotation, the acquisitions of first Forsyth, a solid, potentially every-day player at the team’s previously weakest position, and then with Utley and Gutierrez, proving added infield and outfield depth, the Dodgers have seemingly solved some major issues that severely hurt the team a year ago.