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Pal Joey
2003-03-25 09:00
by Jon Weisman

The arguments are mounting to send Joe Thurston down to the minor leagues. (By the way, has it been decided yet whether it's Joe or Joey?)

Thurston has not hit, hit with power, or walked much this spring. Vin Scully raved about his fielding on Saturday's telecast, but others have made his glovework sound as compelling as an ABC sitcom.

He missed a bunt Monday, which has been made out to be a cardinal sin, although in the No. 7 slot in the order, where he would figure to bat in the regular season, there won't be much need for him to lay one down.

Meanwhile, the Dodgers could use his spot - especially while Guillermo Mota serves his suspension - to hang onto an extra reserve from the Ron Coomer, Terry Shumpert, Calvin Murray crew. (I'm deciding that Jolbert Cabrera is on the team already, and Larry Barnes and Jason Romano are already ticketed for Las Vegas.)

Thurston could go to Las Vegas, get his confidence back, give the Dodgers time to sort out their reserve situation, and come back ready to contribute by May.

These are all decent arguments, and the whole of them is greater than the sum of their parts, or however that goes.

Here's are the reasons to ignore them.

With Kevin Brown and Darren Dreifort pitching well, the Dodgers have had a quiet spring. The most interesting story for most of Spring Training has been the emergence of an actual competition for the final spots on the roster. All the reserve candidates mentioned above have played well.

That this competition has been the big story has made it seem more important than it is. At best, Coomer, Shumpert, or Murray will be the least valuable player on the team.

That is not to say they won't have any value at all. Coomer could hit a home run off the bench. Murray could make a great ninth-inning catch in place of Brian Jordan. Shumpert - frankly, I don't know what Shumpert would do. The guy's 36 and had a .676 OPS with Colorado last year.

But they will have the least impact on the team. They are the 25th men. They will not bring their .300-plus Spring Training averages into the regular season. If the Dodgers are depending on Ron Coomer to win them games, plural, then the Dodgers are simply in trouble.

When the season starts, Thurston might not do any better than Coomer, Shumpert or Murray would. Thurston's probably never going to be an All-Star. His best will, frankly, might resemble Mark Grudzielanek at his best. Slap a lot of singles and doubles around, but not walk much and not make anyone forget Ozzie Smith.

The thing with Thurston, though, is that he just might do that well. Whereas, there is no reason to believe Coomer or Shumpert will. They are aging veterans with track records of decline. They do not have the potential upside of a Joey Ballgame. Murray - I don't know, maaaayyyybe - he's not necessarily over the hill yet, and he resembles Dave Roberts too much to completely write him off.

Bottom line: Jim Tracy's skill is finding ways for borderline ballplayers to succeed. Who do you want him applying that skill to? Terry Shumpert, Ron Coomer or Joe Thurston?

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