Juan Uribe‘s 2011 and 2012 campaigns with the Dodgers were so bad that he could have easily been cut heading into the 2013 season and nobody would have been able to argue against such a move. What a difference a year makes.
Uribe was still with the club when the season opened, but he was sent to the bench in favor of 2012 flavor of the month Luis Cruz. After an early flame-out from Cruz, the sure-handed Uribe was given the third base job back, and he proceeded to not just cement himself as the third baseman for the remainder of the season, but put together his best season ever, and one that made him one of the more valuable and underrated Dodgers of 2013.
Uribe has always been an excellent defender at multiple infield positions, so to see him put together a Gold Glove caliber season with the leather is not necessarily surprising. Juan saved the Boys In Blue roughly 16.5 runs with his glove at the hot corner, an especially significant contribution considering the man to his left, Hanley Ramirez, has never been known for his range.
What was quite shocking about Uribear’s 2013 season was his offensive contributions. After hitting .199/.262/.289/.551 over his first two seasons in Los Angeles (143 games, 474 plate appearances, and losing his starting gig), Juan slashed .278/.331/.438/.769 with a .334 wOBA and 116 wRC+ in 132 games and 426 plate appearances. An increased BABIP certainly aided Juan to some extent — .322 in ’13, 40 points higher than his career mark — but he also cut down on his strikeouts a bit. More importantly, Juan swung at less pitches outside the zone and more inside the strike zone, while hitting more line drives and fly balls.
Add up the improved offense, always-superb defense, and average to above average baserunning, and we find a ~5 WAR year for Juan. I would have never said this coming into 2013, but after seeing his improvement – and recognizing he likely won’t be as good offensively in 2014 — I’d be in favor of Uribe receiving a two-year deal if he’d accept such an offer.
After “bursting” onto the scene in 2012, Cruz was handed the starting third base gig entering 2013. Dodger fans were enamored with the career minor-leaguer and his 2012 season (.297/.322/.431/.753 with plus defense), but a turn for the worse was obviously coming if Cruz was expected to be the same player in 2013 and do it as a full-time starter.
Cruz, not surprisingly, struggled immensely out of the gate this year, slashing a horrendous .127/.175/.169/.344 with a .156 wOBA and -8 wRC+. The inability to draw a walk while hitting for no power will generally do that to a ballplayer. He was cut and picked up by the injury-ravaged New York Yankees.
Cruz is back with the Dodgers and is playing winter ball in the Mexican Winter League. He has no spot on a major-league roster beyond late-inning defensive replacement going forward, but could be organizational depth.