Mailbag: Who's up, down at third?
Beat reporter Ken Gurnick answers Dodgers fans' questions
Terry Tiffee is hitting nearly .440 at Triple-A Las Vegas. When is this guy going to join the club in Los Angeles?
-- Steve W., Auburn, Wash.
Good question, and the answer might be never, which brings up other questions -- like how many third basemen would you like the Dodgers to carry? Should Tiffee play ahead of Blake DeWitt or Nomar Garciaparra or Andy LaRoche, who has caught fire since being optioned to Triple-A?
It also brings up the issue of 40-man roster spots. Tiffee doesn't have one because the Dodgers -- along with the rest of baseball -- weren't expecting him to hit .439 through Sunday's action. He had never done anything in his career to indicate this would happen. So, to add him to the 40-man roster now, somebody would need to be removed and possibly lost to another club. Those spots are valuable because the amount is fixed. Nobody is added without somebody being subtracted. You would consider a move to open such a spot for someone like 20-year-old phenom Clayton Kershaw, because you expect him to provide long and excellent service in that roster spot.
Taking nothing away from what he's done so far this year, do you expect the same from Tiffee? And even if you did that, who would come off the 25-man active roster to make room for him? Would he play ahead of DeWitt, or would you risk losing a player so Tiffee could sit on the bench? Often, when a player is or isn't promoted, there is more involved than whether the player deserves a promotion by his play. And if the Dodgers have a need for an infielder, it would be a middle infielder, not another corner infielder. With LaRoche playing third at Las Vegas, Tiffee has seen action at first base and the outfield.
Why in the world is Andre Ethier out of the lineup? I just don't get it.
-- Jeff H., Los Angeles
It's easy to understand, if not easy to agree with. They have more outfielders than spots. Somebody is going to sit. It's been a problem since Andruw Jones was signed and it will remain a problem for as long as you try to divide four into three.
Manager Joe Torre talks about this being a good problem and that the players understand, but it's hard to agree with either point. Conspiracy theorists submit that Jones and Juan Pierre are starting ahead of Ethier to justify big contracts. Torre offers explanations that focus on Jones' defense and Pierre's speed. You can argue that the Dodgers shouldn't have signed Jones, but regardless, Torre insists he won't bench Jones -- not that Torre hasn't reversed course on other comments. As for Pierre, Torre is old-school and appreciates the potential value of Pierre's speed game, even if many fans don't. Ethier will force Torre's hand with more three-hit games like Sunday's.
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Why is Matt Kemp off the All-Star ballot?
-- Gerry B., Monterey Park, Calif.
In Spring Training, each team submits a projected starting eight position players, as selected by the manager. Joe Torre submitted the three outfielders with the most Major League service time.
What would you do when Garciaparra returns?
-- Glen W., Hollywood, Calif.
Assuming DeWitt continues to handle the position well, I would turn Garciaparra into the versatile utility infielder that the Dodgers desperately need. During the offseason, when it was assumed that LaRoche would make a strong bid for the starting third-base job, Garciaparra was being readied for moving all around the infield. Clearly, second baseman Jeff Kent at age 40 needs more rest than in earlier years. Rafael Furcal just missed a week with a bad back and the offense really sputtered without him. Garciaparra's ability to play all four infield positions would make it easier for the Dodgers to keep 12 pitchers. Plus, Garciaparra has been injured repeatedly since coming to the Dodgers and spot duty might help him avoid injuries. And regardless of DeWitt's relative inexperience, he's done nothing to show that he doesn't deserve to keep playing.
Who's been the most pleasant surprise for the Dodgers this year?
-- Parker E., Panama City, Fla.
Easily Chan Ho Park. The Dodgers have come up with a reclamation project pitcher nearly annually and Park is this year's winner. He appeared in only one Major League game last year and was released by two clubs. So far this year, he's appeared in 12 games and has an ERA of 2.16. He's been able to pitch multiple innings, saving the back end of the bullpen. He's not the power pitcher of his younger days, but he's healthy again and effective.
A reader suggested DeWitt, no argument there. I'll take Park though, because everybody thought he was finished after last season. DeWitt has always been well-regarded, but he's ahead of schedule.
Ken Gurnick is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.