Dodgers counting on Uribe at third base

Dodgers counting on Uribe at third base

Dodgers counting on Uribe at third base
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- If not Juan Uribe, then who plays third base for the Dodgers this year?

Uribe came to camp in pretty good shape, considering his body type, saying all the right things about having something to prove after last year's injury-riddled bust of a season.

Nonetheless, after hitting .204 with virtually no power in 2011 and looking like the next Andruw Jones, Uribe will be on a very short leash this year.

Not that the Dodgers have great alternatives. They added utilitymen Jerry Hairston and Adam Kennedy to bolster the bench, but neither has been an everyday third basemen nor projects the run production assumed from the position. Justin Sellers can play third but is considered primarily a middle infielder.

Russell Mitchell is still in camp after being taken off the 40-man roster, having lost 20 pounds and determined to show he's a Major Leaguer. The Dodgers signed one-time White Sox budding star Josh Fields and former Angels farmhand Jeff Baisley for Triple-A insurance, but one-time prospect Pedro Baez has been injured much of the last three seasons and the organization really doesn't have any heir apparent at the position.

And that's nothing new. The Dodgers have shuttled 30 players in and out of third base since Adrian Beltre left after the 2004 season. They had no real replacement for him at the time, either. The Dodgers have never made a third baseman their first choice in the Draft, and Blake DeWitt is the only one they've taken in the first round (their first choice that year was Scott Elbert).

The names of band-aid attempts to fill the hole since Beltre range from players in the twilight of their careers (Nomar Garciaparra, Jose Valentin and Bill Mueller), to young washouts (DeWitt, Willy Aybar and Andy LaRoche) to out-of-position experiments (Russell Martin, Cesar Izturis and Joel Guzman) to international imports (remember Norihiro Nakamura?).

It's been quite the wasteland, same as it was leading up to the Ron Cey era of stability. It has tended to be a virtual revolving door, as it is again now, with the spotlight on Uribe, signed as a second baseman a year ago to a three-year deal with the expectation that he'd eventually slide over and replace an aging Casey Blake.

Blake filled the spot capably, if not spectacularly, until his body gave out, although he came at a significant cost -- $17.5 million in salary over three years, plus top catching prospect Carlos Santana, sent to Cleveland in a deal that could have included CC Sabathia and/or Cliff Lee had the Dodgers been willing to spend the money.

Now Blake's gone and the Dodgers have moved Uribe over to third in hopes that there will be less demand on his body than in the middle of the diamond.

A little over a year ago, Uribe was fresh from World Series stardom and the Dodgers thought they had made quite a score taking him from the Giants with a three-year, $21 million deal. Now he's coming off sports hernia surgery and they are desperate for him to produce.

"He recognized that he tried too hard with a new three-year contract," said coach Manny Mota, who has known Uribe since he was a teenager. "He knows he didn't play up to his potential. This year, he's more relaxed and he's going to put last season in the past. He's ready to have a good season. He knows last year we expected so much from him and he didn't fulfill the expectations.

"He wasn't happy at all with last season. He feels like he let everybody down. He can be much better than last year. He can be the Uribe we saw the year before. He's a good clutch hitter, and that's what we're looking for. He doesn't blame anybody but himself."

The imagination can run wild with scenarios should Uribe flop again, especially with a new owner providing the resources to make a midseason acquisition for an upcoming free agent like David Wright. But to start the season, it's Uribe or bust.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.