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So, the Dodgers’ backup centerfielder
2003-01-27 11:05
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

So, the Dodgers’ backup centerfielder is: Shawn Green. Or Brian Jordan.

That is one conclusion you can draw from the team’s latest acquisition – Houston Astros leftfielder/first baseman Daryle Ward.

True, worrying in January about the Dodgers’ backup centerfielder is a bit of folly (I do think it's weird that the backup in center is the starter in left or right). But if it’s any consolation, the acquisition gives me other things to worry about, too.

Daryle Ward is not a terrible player, necessarily. He’s only 27 years old, and in 2000, he homered 20 times in 264 at bats.

But compare his 2002 stats to those of Eric Karros:

Ward: .276 batting average, .324 on-base percentage, .424 slugging percentage, .748 OPS, 12 HR, 72 RBI
Karros: .271 batting average, .323 on-base percentage, .399 slugging percentage, .722 OPS, 13 HR, 73 RBI

Pretty scary, huh?

Ward was the slightly better player (in slightly fewer at-bats). And Ward is projected a backup, whereas Karros was a starter.

But Ward is a truly mediocre defensive player. A left-hander, he hits lefties poorly. He did most of his damage at home, and Houston’s Minute Maid (nee Enron) Park is a much better park for hitters than Dodger Stadium. He makes $1.35 million this year – not a small amount for a bench player these days.

Will the trade help the Dodgers reach the playoffs this year? I doubt it.
Will the trade help the Dodgers reach the playoffs in coming years? I doubt it.

I can understand the temptation that Dan Evans and the Dodger management faced. The Dodger bench right now is really an embarrassment. Ward will probably shine by comparison. And again, he’s not too old to improve.

But Ward plays the same positions as Mike Kinkade, the same as Luke Allen, the same as Chin-Feng Chen. Will he do so any better? Maybe. Will he do so so much better as to make a difference? Again, I don’t think so.

Ken Gurnick of MLB.com quotes Evans as saying that he had tried to find a replacement for Marquis Grissom, last year's complimentary centerfielder.

"But we didn't find a perfect fit for center field," Evans told Gurnick. "It's more important to have a presence on the bench. We like Ruan and Hermanson as right-handed hitters who can play center field and be a fifth outfielder perfectly fine."

What would have been more important than Ward's presence on the bench? Building for the future.

In exchange for Ward, the Dodgers gave up minor league righthanded pitcher Ruddy Lugo (apparently, those double-Ds are natural). Lugo was 11-3, 2.84 last year between high Class A Vero Beach and Double-A Jacksonville, with a 100-39 strikeout-walk ratio in 120 innings. Lugo was a ways from being a lock for the Dodger rotation, and may never pan out. However, I find it discouraging that the Dodgers find ways to discard their minor league starting pitchers as if they’re never going to need them.

Over the past two years, that has been the Dodger way. They say they’re building from within, but I don’t really see a commitment – especially to young pitching. They are all too seduced by the lure of marginal improvements to the big-league roster.

To make room for Ward on the 25-man squad, the backup centerfielder spot that Chad Hermansen or Wilkin Ruan would have claimed will have to go to Ward. Hence, Jordan and Green become the Dodgers’ second- and third-most experienced centerfielders behind Dave Roberts. No big deal. But I think the move betrays conflicting goals by Dodger management.

If they were going to acquire someone for the bench, I think the Dodgers should have acquired someone who could hit a little and play either third base or center field – because the Dodgers are woefully thin there – or someone who could hit a lot. Ward does neither.

Better still, the Dodgers should be hoarding starting pitchers, instead of giving them away, in commitment to a plan to win in 2004 or 2005.

In the 14 Z years since Kirk Gibson, the Dodgers have refuse to rebuild, and they sorely need to. As I’ve said before, the Dodgers’ goal used to be to win the World Series. Now it’s to somehow sneak into the playoffs one year and get lucky.

Unless Daryle Ward has the right biorhythms or astrology, I don’t see how he will help toward either of those goals.

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