Los Angeles Dodgers 2012 Season Preview: Left Field

When you’re a team full of over-the-hill or never-were veterans, a team that is offensively-challenged to the umpteenth degree beyond your dominating center fielder, and a team that has a broke owner, playing your top offensive prospect who doesn’t make a lot of money and has the most upside of any of your left field candidates is the obvious and wise choice.

Unfortunately, if you’re the Los Angeles Dodgers, and more to the point, Ned Colletti, you sign Juan Rivera for $4 million (with a $4 million club option for 2013) and confuse the whole baseball world yet again.

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Rivera – after being plucked off waivers following his release from the Toronto Blue Jays – stepped to the plate 246 times over 62 games and hit .274/.333/.406 with a .324 wOBA.

Now, you may be asking yourselves how anyone could be impressed with this, aside from the fact that it meant sayonara to Marcus Thames, Jay Gibbons, and Eugenio Velez. Well, Rivera’s impressive play, in the eyes of Colletti, is based on two things: a BABIP-fueled (.358) 34-game stretch in which he smacked the ball to the tune of a .322/.367/.496/.863 line, and 46 RBIs in those 62 games in Dodger Blue. In his last 28 games to end the campaign, Rivera’s slash line: .221/.297./308/.605 with a .236 BABIP. Rivera’s career batting average on balls in play is .283, but it has not exceeded .300 since 2006. He most certainly has a place on this team, and one we should all welcome, but that place is not making four million dollars and starting in left field every day.

Rivera performs well against lefties, to the tune of a .289/.335/.495/.830 line, and the Dodgers have a first baseman and a right fielder who can’t hit lefties to save their tails. A match made in baseball heaven this should be. Platoon Juan with both Andre Ethier and James Loney, leaving left field wide open for the club’s best offensive prospect, who has nothing left to prove in the minors: Jerry Sands.

Rivera has never been more than a 2.8 WAR player, and Sands has displayed power, a good eye at the plate, and the ability to get on-base. Plus, and this can’t be stressed enough: he’s got upside and is only 24 years of age. If either of their respective glove work is concerning (Rivera actually boats a career UZR/150 of 4.8 in left and Sands’ best work in the field in small sample sizes has been in right), Tony Gwynn, Jr. is always around to play late-inning caddy.

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The moral of the story is this: don’t sign Juan Rivera for four million bones to be a starter on your team, and don’t let Ned Colletti have control of the signings to begin with.

About Greg Zakwin

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