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March 4, 2014

Rumor Roundup

A Trio of Infield Updates

by Daniel Rathman

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Brewers, Pirates scouting Red Sox—specifically Mike Carp
Boston Globe national baseball writer Nick Cafardo heard over the weekend that the Brewers and Pirates have sent scouts to Fort Myers, Florida, to watch the Red Sox in Grapefruit League action. According to Cafardo, both clubs may be eyeing Mike Carp.

Both Doug Melvin and Neal Huntington were expected to address their first-base issues externally this offseason, but neither general manager has made a move on trade candidates like Ike Davis and Justin Smoak. The Brewers have Juan Francisco penciled in as their regular at the position, while the Pirates are relying on one of Andrew Lambo and Chris McGuiness to emerge as a viable platoon partner to share time with Gaby Sanchez.

If Carp’s breakout 2013 season with the Red Sox is any indication, he could offer a nice upgrade for either of the National League Central clubs, though his left-handed bat might fit particularly well in Pittsburgh. The 27-year-old Carp compiled a .312 True Average in 243 plate appearances for John Farrell’s squad last year, and he did virtually all of his damage against right-handed pitchers (.320 TAv compared to .253 versus lefties). Carp is something of an oddball, thriving against secondary pitches while struggling to get around on some fastballs, but production is production, and teams could do far worse in their search for a long-end platoon bat.

With three years and 10 days of service time, Carp is entering his first season as an arbitration-eligible player, and he forwent a hearing by agreeing to a $1.4 million paycheck from Boston. He stayed healthy for most of the 2013 campaign, save for a couple of day-to-day nicks, after making three separate trips to the disabled list the previous year.

The Red Sox are expected to start Mike Napoli at first base and use Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava in a timeshare in left field, the two positions Carp can handle defensively. Nava looked competent in his 19 appearances at first-base last year, the first time he had ever played the position professionally, and his versatility could make Carp expendable if general manager Ben Cherington finds a suitable deal with Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, or another club.

If the season started today, the Dodgers would play Dee Gordon at second base
That news comes from ESPN’s Jim Bowden, who tweeted that team evaluators have been more impressed with the speedy Gordon than their Cuban import.

Alexander Guerrero, a 27-year-old who got a four-year, $28 million outlay from the Dodgers on October 21, was a shortstop in Cuba but is expected to play at the keystone in the majors. Mattingly told reporters as recently as February 25 that ideally Guerrero would come away with the everyday second-base gig, leaving Gordon, Miguel Rojas (a Factor on the Farm), and Chone Figgins, a minor-league signee, to compete for a utility role. But if Bowden’s sources are prescient, that arrangement won’t take shape in the next few weeks.

Instead, Bowden expects Gordon to play second, Figgins and Rojas to battle for the backup middle-infield job, and Guerrero to begin his stateside career with Triple-A Albuquerque.

As R.J. Anderson pointed out in his Transaction Analysis back in October, the terms on which Guerrero and the Dodgers agreed left the coming season as “a potential developmental year” because Guerrero can’t be optioned without consent once this year ends. That likely means that whatever adjustments he needs to make once 2014 runs out will have to be ironed out in the majors, something the Dodgers—who are expected to be a perennial contender—can ill afford. By sending him down now and eating part of the $4 million Guerrero is due for 2014, the Dodgers could ensure that their long-term investment in the Scott Boras client proves more fruitful.

PECOTA is a bit more bullish on Guerrero (1.6 WARP in 512 plate appearances) than it is on Gordon (0.8 WARP in 361 PA), but that may be irrelevant, because it also expects Don Mattingly’s club to run away with the National League West. Gordon, a left-handed hitter, could also platoon with Rojas or non-roster invitee Justin Turner, who both bat from the right side.

Tommy La Stella making a name for himself in Braves camp
Tommy La Stella, the no. 6 prospect in the Braves’ farm system, turned heads last year by hitting .343/.422/.473 at Double-A Mississippi. An eighth-round pick out of Coastal Carolina in 2011, La Stella is blessed with “excellent bat-to-ball skills,” and he’s hit at every level to which he’s been assigned so far in his professional career.

That résumé has carried over to the early days of Grapefruit League play, where La Stella is now 7-for-16 with two doubles, three walks, and only one strikeout. Spring training statistics are often meaningless, but in this case, they back up the scouting reports on the 24-year-old and could force manager Fredi González to make a tough decision later this month.

Carroll Rogers of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution wrote on Saturday that the current plan has Dan Uggla taking back the second-base job in Atlanta, leaving La Stella in a utility role or back in the minors as a regular for Triple-A Gwinnett. Ramiro Pena and Tyler Pastornicky are also available to tackle either the everyday keystone gig or the backup middle-infield job. Both may be better suited for the latter than La Stella, because his fringe-average arm limits him to the right side of the infield.

Uggla’s 2013 campaign was an unmitigated disaster for the Braves, as he took home $13 million and, in return, posted a .257 True Average over 537 plate appearances while playing subpar defense. The soon-to-be-34-year-old underwent Lasik eye surgery on August 13, but he was no better after returning from the procedure, going 6-for-49 (.122) with 21 strikeouts during the final month of the regular season and getting left off the Braves’ postseason roster.

Uggla has hit well in very limited action so far this spring, collecting three hits and three walks in 10 trips to the box, and he has another $13 million payday coming this year—plus one more in 2015. PECOTA expects a rebound to 1.7-WARP performance in 2014, with 18 home runs in 433 plate appearances, but it also sees the Braves facing a horserace to return to the playoffs. That could shorten Uggla’s leash, notwithstanding his salary, and La Stella could force the issue by staying hot throughout March and into next month.

Be sure to read Jeff Moore’s Minor League Update for daily notes on La Stella and other prospects who could work their way into the majors by performing well this spring.

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

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