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Ventura - The Backup - Signs
2003-12-08 08:56
by Jon Weisman

I need to start out by correcting an error I made last month. The deadline for offering salary arbitration to those eligible for free agency was Sunday. However, the deadline for offering arbitration for those not eligible for free agency - notably, Adrian Beltre and Dave Roberts - is not for another two weeks.

So Beltre is still the Dodger third baseman - and Sunday's signing of Robin Ventura does little to affect the Dodgers' evaluation of Beltre as their hot corner man for 2004. Ventura instead takes over the Ron Coomer role of backup at first base and third base. More accurately, Ventura takes over the role filled by Dave Hansen for most of the past decade, but left unfilled last year.

The signing of Ventura surprised me - as I saw the news, I let out a manly gasp that sent my wife running out of our bathroom thinking I had hit my head against the wall accidentally, rather than metaphorically. The dollar value attached - $1.2 million plus incentives for a year - took me aback. For example, here are Hansen's age, OPS+ (courtesy of Baseball, major league average is 100), and salary for the past two seasons, plus what he's looking at in 2004:

2002: 33 years old, OPS+ 107, salary $675,000
2003: 34 years old, OPS+ 90, $550,000
2004: 35 years old, $550,000

Now, here are Ventura's:

2002: 34 years old, OPS+ 121, $8,500,000
2003: 35 years old, OPS+ 99, $5,000,000
2004: 36 years old, $1,200,000

Ventura compiled his numbers over more plate appearances, and has the advantage of being a better fielder, but you might surmise that the Dodgers are spending a few hundred thousand dollars to pay for Ventura's reputation, to pay for hits in his past.

That being said, Ventura did hit a home run every 22 at-bats with the Dodgers, walks more often than the average Dodger, and used judiciously, can be a positive player. He'll make less money for his full season with the Dodgers than he made during his partial season in 2003. So if they overpaid, it's not by that much.

Along with signing Ventura, the Dodgers offered Paul Quantrill and Wilson Alvarez salary arbitration. For Quantrill, it was a formality that, after much confusion on this writer's end, apparently will provide the Dodgers compensation in the 2004 draft. Alvarez is still not a Dodger - he can decline arbitration if he wants to - but the Dodgers' show of interest in Alvarez among a field of free agents who were mostly spun away by their teams speaks to a likely signing.

Jeromy Burnitz, Brian Jordan, Rickey Henderson, Andy Ashby, Fred McGriff and Coomer are gone. Is that it for Rickey in the majors?

You'll notice that I haven't talked at any length about Nomar Garciaparra yet. I'm working up to it.

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