The 3B Dilemma

It was no secret that there was an ongoing battle at 3B between two very different players this spring training at Dodgertown. Nomar Garciaparra; the beloved former all-star and hometown hero. Andy LaRoche; the withdrawn country kid with amazing power potential. The one thing that they now share in common, sadly, is injuries. With the news that LaRoche will be sidelined for 8-10 weeks with a ligament tear in the thumb in this throwing hand and will miss the rest of spring training, Nomar slides into the starting job at the hot corner. Many had hoped to see the youth movement win out this spring and for LaRoche to land the starting gig but that obviously isn’t going to happen now. Once he recovers from the injury he will almost certainly have to spend a few weeks (at least) in AAA to rehab and get back into playing shape. This sets the Dodgers back for a number of reasons. We all know that Nomar has dealt with injuries throughout his career and isn’t getting any younger. Manager Joe Torre said in an interview from Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Florida that he would like to rest Nomar at least once or twice a week throughout the season in order to keep him healthy. There’s no question that he’s on his last legs at the age 34 (35 in July) but what’s a bit more concerning than that is the fact that he is a defensive liability at 3B. We’ve already got Juan Pierre’s noodle arm in LF so another weak spot on the field won’t help…especially when it is at a position as important as 3B.
So what are the Dodgers’ options? There are several that they will have to explore before the season starts. It’s been reported that manager Joe Torre and GM Ned Colletti have already had several discussions about what to do to fill the hole. They have discussed internal options as well as external options…i.e. trade scenarios. If this report is true it goes to show that whatever Joe may say publicly, he doesn’t really envision Nomar as his starting 3B for the season. I recall from day one of spring training Torre was talking about what a luxury it would be to have a super-utility/clutch hitter like Nomar coming off the bench for him. By bringing in another 3B, internally or externally, the front office would ensure that Nomar would be that super-utility/clutch hitter for Torre once LaRoche recovered from his injury. Since that will be the case heading into the season, let’s take a look at what’s out there.

I’ll go over a few of the internal options first since there aren’t nearly as many of them as the countless numbers of external option that are out there. First we’ll start with the most likely candidate to fill the role:

-Internal Options

-Tony Abreu – Abreu got a cup of coffee with the big team last season, filling in at a number of positions including 2B and 3B. He is a capable 3B but is the future at 2B once Kent retires and is much more in the mold of a prototypical second bagger. There is some pop in his bat but he’s far from the power prospect that LaRoche is. Teams usually want a power hitter at their corner infield positions if possible. Abreu’s power ceiling is probably somewhere in the 15 HR range. Anything is possible but those numbers aren’t generally what you want from a power position. Nonetheless, he’s a good all around player and can be productive as a backup or as an everyday player. Plus, he’s one of the only guys we’ve got who can play the position at the major league level who’s in the system right now. We do have other 3B prospects who are the prototypical power guys in Josh Bell and Blake DeWitt, but as of now, neither player seems to be on Joe Torre’s radar. Abreu is the odds on favorite to win the role but again, he’s not a true 3B and is not the power bat that a team usually wants at the hot corner. He has a decent glove though and if he’s going to be spelling Nomar, we’re going to need him to be a + player…meaning that he produces more runs than he costs us…which is something Abreu will do.

-Ching-Lung Hu: Hu is another internal option who, like Abreu, would be playing out of his natural position if he wins the 3B job out of spring training. He’s a shortstop who was named the organization’s top minor league player last season. Hu was also awarded the MVP of the All-Star Futures Game. His glove would work out nicely at 3B but he has even less power potential than Abreu. I see him as more of a long-shot but it all depends on how desperate Torre gets for a glove behind Nomar. Hu has plenty of potential…but it’s at shortstop…not 3B.

-Low End External Options

-Brandon Inge, Detroit Tigers: The Tigers have been trying to unload Inge ever since they made the big trade for superstar 3B, Miguel Cabrera, during the winter. Inge has a nice glove and can hit for good power but posts abhorrent batting averages and OBP%s. To add to that, he’s owed a lot more money than the Dodgers will want to pay him over the next three seasons. It was reported in the Detroit Free Press that the Tigers would be willing to accept aging, maxed-out, reliever, Scott Proctor for him in a trade but the Dodgers have been reluctant to pull the trigger. It’s smart on their part. Inge may not even be a big leaguer for much longer if he keeps batting in the .220-.230 range and his contract would surely bog down the payroll much more than the front office can afford. If a trade were to happen between the two teams, the Tigers would have to eat a lot of the salary…but then again, in that case they’d want a better player in return which would be an unwise move. I don’t see Los Angeles as Brandon Inge’s new home.

-Joe Crede, Chicago White Sox: It’s widely known around the league that Chicago White Sox GM, Kenny Williams, has been trying to unload Joe Crede’s contract for quite some time. With the emergence of top prospect, Josh Fields, and nagging health problems with Crede, the ChiSox are ready to part ways. He has excellent power potential and has proven in the past that he is capable of posting all-star caliber numbers but the problem has always been his fragility. It’s a nice idea to trade for him in theory but probably wouldn’t work out so well in reality. If you’re going to give up talent and take on payroll, you’d at least want a player that you know will be able to play. That is a big question mark for Crede right now and when you add those concerns to the weight of his contract, he would be a very heavy burden for any team to take on. Not even the offensively-challenged San Francisco Giants have been willing to pull the trigger on a Joe Crede deal. If Crede can prove he’s healthy this spring (which is a really big IF), then it might make sense to go after him in a trade. I’d imagine that the White Sox would cover some of his salary in order to get a better player back in return but if they don’t, we may eventually be able to deal a guy like Esteban Loaiza for him if the ChiSox become desperate enough. Regardless, I see a Crede trade as a long shot. San Francisco is a much more likely destination.

-Melvin Mora, Baltimore Orioles: Now that the Baltimore Orioles are in rebuilding mode, they are willing to listen to offers for some of their veteran players, including 3B, Melvin Mora. Mora is getting up there in age, 36, but can still man the hot corner effectively. He obviously wouldn’t be much of a long-term option for the Dodgers but could be of use for a couple of years. Over the past few years, Mora has been an above average 3B. He hit .274 over the past two seasons with 14 and 16 HRs respectively. However, between the years of ’03-’05 one could make the case that Mora was an elite 3B. In ’03 Mora hit .317 with 15 HRs, which is pretty good but in ’04 he had the best season of his career, by far. In ’04 Mora hit an amazing .340 with 27 HRs and 104 RBIs. Those numbers are on an elite level, problem is, he hasn’t come close to repeating those numbers ever since. If the team that trades for him is expecting that Melvin Mora, they’ll likely be disappointed. In ’05 he actually hit another 27 HRs but his batting average dropped from .340 to .283 which is quite a drop but still good regardless. It would be difficult for any player, even the best of them, to maintain a .340 average but in ’06 and ’07 his power dropped off as well. Again, he is 36 so it no surprise that his career is winding down. If the Dodgers are looking for an eventual platoon partner for LaRoche or Nomar, Mora would not be an option. Like LaRoche and Nomar, he too is a right handed hitter. The team would be better served by trading for a lefty if their ultimate plan is a platoon…which makes a lot more sense that taking on another righty 3B.

-Casey Blake, Cleveland Indians: Blake is yet another righty option at 3B who may be available via trade. He, like Mora, is also up there in age at 34…and also like Mora, has been a productive player since the 2003 season. In 2004 Blake hit 28 HRs with a .271 batting average but the very next year his batting average fell off the map when he hit .241 (but still hit 23 HRs). The last two seasons Blake hit 19 and 18 HRs respectively and batted .282 and .270. He’s also a capable OF who can play either corner OF spot if need be. 1B is another position that he’s spent a little bit of time at. He’s a better option than most and likely wouldn’t be too costly (that is, if the Indians are willing to trade him, which they should be because they also have top prospect Andy Marte at 3B). Injuries have never really been a problem for him so he’d be good in that respect. His OBP% has fluctuated throughout the years. Some years he gets on base more than most players and them some other years his OBP% is virtually non-existent. For example, he posted a .354 OBP% in ’04 and a .308 OBP% the very next season. That’s a rather large fluctuation. All in all, I like Blake but don’t think he’s the right option for the Dodgers.

-Andy Marte, Cleveland Indians: If the Indians don’t want to deal Blake, then you’d have to think they will want to deal Marte. Andy Marte is a 24 year old former top prospect with excellent upside. He too wields a righty bat and has a decent glove but has failed to capitalize on his potential in recent years. He’s showed good power in the minors by hitting 20 HRs in AAA in 2005 but hasn’t been the same since then. In ’06 he hit .261 with 15 HRs at AAA Buffalo. When the Braves (his original team) called him up in ’05, he failed to impress in only 57 at-bats. He hit an appalling .140 and didn’t hit a single HR. Of course, he was only 21-22 years old at the time so it’s hard to expect much from a player who’s that young. However, after that disappointing season, the Braves had seen enough and traded him to the Red Sox for Edgar Renteria. Obviously, Edgar Renteria is an all-star caliber player so you can see just how much potential scouts thought he had at the time. The Red Sox never found much use for him and ended up trading him not long after they got him to the Indians for CF Coco Crisp. Like Renteria, Crisp was also an above average player which demonstrates the value that teams were placing on Marte. Since then his value has taken a hit since he’s never been able to put it together at the big league level. I’d be shocked if Marte still carried such a high price tag. He’d be worth a chance for any team but could end up costing a lot more than some of the other options (which is funny because he’s a lot less productive). His contract is reasonable and he would be under the club’s control for a number of years but when it comes down to it, if you’re going to make a deal for a 3B, you’re going to want to get someone that you know is ready for big league baseball. At this point, Andy Marte is not that guy. Still an intriguing option nonetheless.

-Nick Punto, Minnesota Twins: Punto is an undersized utility man who is a capable defender and played at 3B for the majority of last season. At 5’9, 186 Ibs., his power numbers are lacking to say the least. He hit 1 HR in over 470 at-bats last season but he did steal 16 bases. At the age of 30 there probably isn’t much room for upside left so he is who he is. He had a terrible season last year, batting .210 with a .291 OBP% in ’07. Since he bottomed-out, the Twins replaced him this season with another veteran utility man, former Astro, Mike Lamb, rendering Punto expendable in the process. He hasn’t always been a bottom feeder though. In ’06 he hit .290 with a .352 OBP% and stole 17 bases. Again, he only hit 1 HR that year as well so it’s pretty plain to see that power numbers are not one of his strong points. Ideally, you’d like to get power numbers from your corner infield position but beggars can’t be choosers. Punto does make sense for a few reasons…he’s a switch hitter first of all, making a platoon possible and is a utility player as well which would mean he’d still have a job when LaRoche returns. He can play all of the infield positions and I wouldn’t be surprised if he could play the OF as well. Now that he is expendable to the Twins (he’s now a 3rd stringer, behind prospect Brian Buscher on the depth chart) he could likely be had for a very reasonable price. Esteban Loaiza would be too much to give up for a player like that… We could probably trade a C-level prospect for a player of Punto’s caliber. He’s obviously not a long-term option at 3B but could fill in for a while and could be used at multiple positions once LaRoche returns.

-Greg Dobbs, Philadelphia Phillies: The Phillies used a platoon at 3B last season consisting of Greg Dobbs (L) and Wes Helms (R). This season they decided to abandon that strategy and turned the everyday job over to former Giant Pedro Feliz, making both players expendable. In my opinion, Dobbs would be the better fit of the two because he is a lefty and could eventually platoon with Nomar or LaRoche if need be. He’s 29 years old and hit .274 last season with 10 HRs in only 324 at-bats. The problem is in only 68 games at 3B last season he made 7 errors at the position and isn’t a very good defender. If the Dodgers are going to target a low-end external option, it would make a lot more sense to target someone with a glove to backup Nomar. Again, Dobbs wouldn’t be expensive at all but is more of a 1B than a 3B. The fact that he bats from the left side makes him a fit in one respect but his glove really takes away from the overall package if the plan is to try to find someone to give Nomar the occasional day off.

-Wes Helms, Philadelphia Phillies: Helms was the other half of the Philly platoon at 3B last year and is a couple years older than Dobbs (31). He’s a righty with decent power and has actually been a decent contact hitter over the years. In ’07 he hit .246 with 5 HRs and a .297 OBP% which was a far departure from the numbers he usually provides. The previous year, in ’06 he hit .329 with 10 HRs and a .390 OBP% in only 240 at-bats. If we could get those numbers from Helms, I’d say sign him up right now but the problem is, Wes Helms is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re going to get. Sure, he could come over here and smash 10 HRs in only 250 at-bats and post jaw-dropping OBP’s and batting averages but he could also flounder as well. Like Dobbs, he’s not much of a defender at the hot corner. Last season he made even more errors than Dobbs did. He played the same number of games at the position, 68, and made 9 errors (as opposed to 7 from Dobbs). Even so, Helms is a better option offensively and could get by in limited time. If the team is still serious about Andy LaRoche, we won’t need to make a big trade for a stud 3B and will only have to get by for a short time with a fill-in. Helms or Dobbs fits that description but in no way would be the answer at the at the position for any significant period of time.

-Jose Bautista, Pittsburgh Pirates: At age 27, Jose Bautista is one of better low-end trade options for the Dodgers at 3B. He’d likely be more expensive than a Wes Helms or Nick Punto but would also be a lot more reliable. As far as power is concerned, he’s probably in the middle of the pack. He did hit 15 HRs in over 500 at-bats last year but a guy like Wes Helms hit 10 in only half as much time. Even so, Bautista has a much higher ceiling and is a much better defender. Over the past two seasons he’s posted batting averages of .235 and .254 but is capable of eclipsing .260 this season. I like him as a low-end option for the Dodgers but it all depends on how much the Pirates would want back for him. Unless Pittsburgh surprises the baseball world and actually contends for a pennant this season, they will likely be sellers at the trade deadline and long before then. If the front office could cook up the right deal and find the right B-level prospect to send to Pittsburgh, Bautista would make a lot of sense in Dodger Blue. He’s not the flashiest player but if the price is right he could get the job done effectively.

-Akinori Iwamura, Tampa Bay Rays: Out of all the low-end external trade options for the Dodgers, I like the Tampa Bay Ray’s Aki Iwamura the best. He’s a lefty which would make a platoon situation possible with either Nomar or LaRoche. At the age of 29, he’s not too old and could still be productive for a number of years. Since he came over from Japan, he’s still developing as a major leaguer. As he gets more familiar and comfortable with the pitchers he faces in America, his offensive numbers will reflect that. Last season he surprised a lot of scouts and hit for an excellent average (.285) and got on base at about a 36% clip (.359 OBP). There were times last season when Iwamura was among the league leaders in batting average. His power numbers are lacking but he is a plus defender and is capable of playing multiple infield positions. Due to the emergence of the top prospect in baseball, 3B Evan Longoria, the Rays will move Iwamura over to 2B this season. I actually like the Rays’ team this season but don’t think they will be able to contend with the big boys in their division (i.e. the Red Sox and Yankees). At some point it’s reasonable to expect the Rays to go to the full on youth movement and turn 2B over to a young player like Reid Brignac, Willy Aybar or Ben Zobrist. When and if that does happen, Iwamura will become expendable and his price tag will drop considerably. I’d be surprised if Iwamura wasn’t available in trade talks right now but his cost is probably higher than we’d like it to be since he’s penciled in as the starter at 2B. If the two teams could figure out an acceptable deal for both parties, I’d say that Iwamura is the best of the low-end options for the Dodgers at 3B. He makes sense in several respects; he’s a lefty which makes him a good platoon partner, he’s a plus defender, can get on base and is a good contact hitter. Of course, there isn’t a very big track record to go on here (other than his career numbers in Japan) so it could be a riskier proposition than it looks.

-High-End External Options

-Chad Tracy, Arizona Diamondbacks: It’s probably a long-shot that the D-Backs would ever make a trade to help the Dodgers but it could be a possibility if they feel like they are ready to turn over the everyday 3B job to rising star Mark Reynolds. Chad Tracy was one of the better 3B’s in the league until he blew out his knee last year. He’s a lefty bat and could platoon with either LaRoche or Nomar in the long run but he is good enough in his own right to claim the starting job for himself…that is, if he is able to rebound from his injury. In his prime, Tracy bordered on being an elite-caliber 3B. The ’05 season saw him post a .308 batting average with 27 HRs. His numbers fell off a little bit in ’06 but not by much. He still hit .281 with 20 HRs and has never posted an OBP% below .343. Without a doubt, he’s a player that is capable of posting all-star caliber numbers and is also pretty good with the glove. If need be he can also play 1B and the corner OF positions as well. I like Tracy a lot but the problem is, the D-Backs do to. From what I’ve been hearing, they plan on giving him every chance to reclaim his starting job from Reynolds, I just don’t see it happening. Unless the D-Backs plan on moving Justin Upton or Eric Byrnes to make Tracy a corner OF (which they obviously do not) he’s a good a candidate to get traded at some point during the season. The question is, would the Snakes be willing to trade him within their own division? It’s not likely but would be worth a shot.

-Edwin Encarnacion, Cincinnati Reds: At the ripe age of 25, Edwin Encarnacion is one of the up and coming young players in baseball. He’s been a considered a top prospect for years and has finally got his chance to play everyday in Cincy. His game is pretty well rounded, he has good power, a good eye, can get on base and has a good glove. The upside with this guy is limitless but so is the price. Some analysts are actually picking the Reds to compete for a division or Wild Card title this season and it wouldn’t be completely shocking if they did. Most contending teams would never even think about trading a young stud 3B like Encarnacion but coaches had a falling out with him last year which has led many to speculate that he will be traded at some point down the road. The Reds have several adequate backups in Ryan Freel and Jeff Keppinger who could replace Encarnacion but it no secret that the price would be extremely high. In order to get Cincy to trade a player as promising as Encarnacion, we’d have to come up with a pretty enticing deal. That’s the catch…in order to land a player with Encarnacion’s potential, the team would have to pay up. It remains to be seen whether the Dodgers will make a big splash at 3B or will be more content to go with internal or less expensive options. If they do decide to pay up, Encarnacion would make a very attractive trade target.

-Garrett Atkins, Colorado Rockies: Like the Diamondbacks, it’s hard to believe that the Rockies would do anything to help the Dodgers. Garrett Atkins has quickly become one of the best 3B’s in baseball. He swings a mean bat and has become a perennial threat to post a .300/30/100 line. In a normal situation, it would be a given that a team would never trade a player like that but the Rockies aren’t in a normal situation. They don’t have a very large budget and have never been big spenders in the past. Like the D-Backs and Indians, they also have a top prospect waiting in the wings in Ian Stewart. Stewart is even more heralded than Reynolds or Marte and many scouts believe that he will be a better player than Atkins in time. Even so, another obstacle in landing Atkins is the expectation that the Rockies will contend for the division title this year. He’s the most unlikely of all the candidates to become a Dodger but is also one of the best options out there. If a situation were to arise in which Atkins was offered to us, it would cost us a king’s ransom to land him. I’m sure the Rockies would ask for a prospect like Clayton Kershaw in return, which is something that we would not do. In all likelihood, an Atkins-to-the-Dodgers trade will not happen. It would be too cost-prohibitive if the Rockies would even do business with us in the first place. Atkins sure would look good in Dodger Blue but is probably the biggest long shot of all of the external candidates.

-Mark Teahen, Kansas City Royals: Teahen is a former 3B who has recently been converted to a corner outfielder in order to accommodate top young talent, Alex Gordon. That’s key to understand…he wasn’t moved to the OF because of lacking ability. Unless reality rips apart at the seams and the Royals actually compete this year, Teahen will be available via trade and is probably available right now. He’s a 26 year old, 6’3, 220 Ilbs, multi-positional, lefty bat who has all of the intangibles that you’d want from an everyday starting 3B. However, his case is a bit puzzling. In his second full year in the big leagues in ’06 it looked like Teahen had emerged. He posted a .290 batting average, a .357 OBP% and belted 18 HRs in only 393 at-bats. That kind of power obviously grabs your attention and at 6’3, 220 Ibs. you better believe it’s legitimate but in ’07 his power production was suddenly halted. All of his other numbers stayed the same…a .285 avg., a .353 OBP% but only 7 HRs in almost twice as many at-bats. So what happened? Who knows? That’s something for a determined batting coach to figure out but it doesn’t take a fool to understand that you sell high and buy low. If ’06 was the real Mark Teahen, trading for him in ’08 would definitely be buying low. It would still be costly compared to a guy like Nick Punto or Wes Helms but wouldn’t be nearly as expensive as a 3B like Garrett Atkins or Edwin Encarnacion. Needless to say, the Royals could use a lot of help and one would think they’d be enticed by an offer of someone like Chin-Lung Hu, Tony Abreu or Jonathan Meloan. No doubt we’d have to give up some top talent but we’d be getting a stud in return. His contract is cheap and under control for a number of years. He bats from the left side which means he could platoon with LaRoche if need be or could play LF in case Andre Ethier is traded for a pitcher. The catch is if we were to trade for a player of his talent, age and ability, it would likely mean that Andy LaRoche would be playing 3B for another team because at this point Teahen is much more proven than he is. It would probably be a wash anyway, Teahen projects as a .300/30/100 guy in the long run and LaRoche projects as a .280/30/100 guy. I really like Teahen and would love to see him in Dodger Blue (Kansas City Royal Blue happens to look a lot like Dodger Blue) but the roster shuffling that would have to happen after making a deal for him makes the option less attractive.

-Bill Hall, Milwaukee Brewers: Good thing the Dodgers didn’t trade for Bill Hall this time last season. In ’06 Brewers OF/IF, Bill Hall, hit 35 HRs in the regular season. At the age of 28 it was unexpected but wasn’t seen as a fluke. Hall has always been a decent prospect but was never a top ranked player. 15-20 HRs was what he looked like he’d top out at. Surely no one within the Brewers organization (or any organization for that matter) saw him as a 30-40 HR threat. Had we traded for him this time last year, we would’ve had to pay the full price for a legitimate power hitting stud. Good thing we didn’t because in ’07 Hall came back down to Earth and hit a much more reasonable 14 HRs over the course of the season. I think it’s safe to say if we traded for him at this point we would be trading for a 15-20 HR player with the chance that he could hit a lot more. It may be worth the gamble but then again the price must be factored in when making a trade like this. He’s a nice player capable of player several positions but since the Brewers are contenders, he wouldn’t come cheap. The only way I’d pay for a 3B would be if he was young and a sure bet to produce (or at least as close to a sure bet as you can get). Bill Hall is neither of those things making him a risky proposition.

-Eric Chavez, Oakland Athletics: At one point in time, not too long ago, Oakland A’s 3B, Eric Chavez, was considered by many to be one of the elite players in the league…and for good reason. For six straight years he 25+ HRs and knocked in 100+ RBIs in 4 of those 6 years. He was a Gold Glover for six straight seasons (from ’01 to ’06) and won the Silver Slugger Award in ’02. Chavez was born in Los Angeles and played high school baseball in San Diego at Mount Carmel High School where he was a star. He was drafted by the Athletics out of high school and chose to sign with the team rather than play college ball. His early career was made famous by the best-selling book, “Moneyball”, written by Michael M. Lewis. Several years ago he would’ve made a lot of sense as a Dodger but at the age of 30, his best days are probably behind him. Over the past couple of years his career has been plagued by injuries which have affected his play. He went from being a consistent .275-.280 hitter to being a .240 hitter over the past couple of season. His contract also makes a deal unlikely as he’s owed tens of millions of dollars over the next several years. If Chavez could ever get healthy and prove that he’s back to his old self then it would be a different story but that is much easier said than done. It would be a nice fit. Chavez is a powerful lefty bat who could hit in the middle of the lineup but his future is unclear. Health concerns will certainly scare off any team that’s interested in making a deal for him. At this point in his career, he’s just too risky.

-Adrian Beltre, Seattle Mariners: Former Dodger, Adrian Beltre, quickly became a fan favorite in his near MVP season in ’04 when he hit .334 with 48 HRs and 121 RBIs. The problem was it was a contract year and the 5 seasons he played previous to that one, he came nowhere near that kind of protection. Albeit, he was very young when he first started playing with the team but hasn’t had a season like that ever since. That offseason he signed with Mariners for big money. The public reaction to the Dodgers letting him go was split. Some fans couldn’t understand why management would let a player who had a season like that go the very next year but that’s exactly what the Dodgers did. On the other hand, many of the analysts and scouts understood exactly what the Dodgers were doing and didn’t blame them for not putting up the cash. Management tried to persuade him to take a deal at a hometown discount but Beltre and his agent, the insufferable Scott Boras, weren’t having it. The Mariners ended up paying for a 26 year old, MVP-caliber, 3B…a player that Beltre is not. In his 3 seasons in Seattle, Beltre has hit 19, 25 and 26 HRs respectively…a far cry from his 48 HRs in ’04 with the Dodgers. There have been rumblings out of the Pacific Northwest that the Mariners would be willing to listen to offers for Beltre but they have found themselves in a similar situation as the Brewers. Suddenly the Mariners are contenders…and contenders don’t trade players like Beltre when the next guys on the depth chart are players like Mike Morse and Miguel Cairo. Undoubtedly the Mariners would want any team that trades for him to pay up like they’re getting the 48 HR, MVP-caliber Beltre that they originally payed for. It will be a tough sell if it ever comes to that but I don’t see it as a real possibility. Now that the Mariners have dealt for ace pitcher, Erik Bedard, from the Orioles, they’ve made a definitive statement that they are buyers, not sellers. Any offer for Beltre would have to knock them out of their seats which is something that GM, Ned Colletti, will not do. Sorry all of you old Beltre fans but he’s not coming back.

-Hank Blalock, Texas Rangers: I’ve always really liked Blalock as a player. He’s a 6’1, 200 Ibs., lefty bat who hails from sunny San Diego, CA. His power potential has always been tremendous, his best seasons were his first couple years in the league when he hit 29, 32 and 25 HRs respectively in ’03, ’04 and ’05. Injuries cut his season short last year but he showed a lot of promise in the games that he actually played. He hit 10 HRs in 208 at-bats which would translate to about 25-30 HRs if given a full season which refreshing to see because his power was completely drained in ’06 when he hit only 16 HRs in 591 at-bats. If healthy, I think Blalock could be in for a big season this year at age 27. To add to the offensive potential, he also has a good glove and is a more than capable defender. The Rangers won’t be contending any time soon and they’ve been willing to listen to offers for Blalock for some time now. The cost will be too high until he can prove that he’s healthy and his power is back. They are in full-on rebuilding mode in Texas and would either want a top shelf talent or multiple young pieces for him in return. It’s tricky because he’s the type of player who could really pay off if you invest in him while he’s down. Even if we pay for a 20 HR, 27 year old 3B right now (which would be expensive), we may end up with a 30-40 HR, 28-32 year old 3B. I’d love to see him back in Southern California but he isn’t my first choice.

-Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals: Ryan Zimmerman is my first choice. At 23 years old, he’s the best option we could possibly hope for. He’s got the size (6’3, 210) and has all the intangibles that a franchise player has. Offensively there are no limits on his potential. At only 22 years old he hit 20 HRs and drove in 110 RBIs. His ceiling is incredibly high and he could be one of the better players in the league for the next decade or so. His contract is extremely reasonable and he’d be under the club’s control for several more years. The problem here is going to be figuring out a deal that will satisfy Nat’s GM, Jim Bowden. He’s been known as a hard bargainer throughout the years and has always overvalued his players in the past. I can only imagine what he’d want for a player like Zimmerman. It would probably cost the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw at least which is too high of a price for me to stomach. If Ned could figure some kind of acceptable combination of players involving players like Hu, LaRoche and Scott Elbert (or someone like that) it’s a deal that management would have to consider. Let’s face, the Nationals are one of those teams that aren’t going anywhere soon and need a lot of help in many different areas. I’d have to think that they’d at least have to listen if the Dodgers offered multiple young players. Besides, if I had to guess, I’d say that the Nationals won’t show Zim the money when it’s time to pay up down the road. That’s not something that they’ll have to worry about for a few years but at some point, I think a trade is inevitable. I could be wrong, maybe the Nats will start winning games and selling out their new stadium and will have the money and will to keep Zim in the nation’s capitol for the long haul but until that happens I think it’s fair to speculate on trade destinations.

So as you can see, the Dodgers have plenty of options in front of them. Everything will depend on whether or not the organization sees LaRoche as the long-term answer at the position because we all know Nomar isn’t going to be around forever. LaRoche will eventually have to prove his worth if he wants to stick around on the team because the Dodgers are going to need a 3B at some point. Abreu and Hu can fill in this year but are destined to be a 2B and SS of the futre. I fully expect LaRoche to produce this season once he proves healthy and finishes his minor league rehab assignment. There’s no doubt that he has the potential to be just as good as any of the guys I’ve listed but as of now it’s all talk. We need to see him prove himself this year and he’s already off to a rough start with injuries. I believe that he can and will get the job done eventually but does management feel the same way?