Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dodgers should go all-in on Franklin Gutierrez to be their fourth outfielder

I have an affinity for former Dodger prospects. Guys like Edwin Jackson, James McDonald and Carlos Santana have been quality major leaguers whom I wish were still Dodgers.

Jackson is a quality starter with the Cubs, McDonald is a free agent who had a solid run in Pittsburgh and Santana is one of the best offensive catchers in the game.

Enter Franklin Gutierrez. The Dodgers sent him to Cleveland just before the 2004 season with Andrew Brown for Milton Bradley. I wasn't upset he got traded because Bradley was productive with the Dodgers, when he was on the field. It ended up as a good deal for the Dodgers, as they landed Andre Ethier for Bradley and Antonio Perez a couple years later.

I've been trying to "acquire" Gutierrez since last winter, when Ethier was close to being traded to the Mariners. Alas, no deal was struck. Now a free agent, there's no need to make a trade to acquire him.

Gutierrez, 31 in February, has played in 173 games in the last three years -- total. So, why would I want the Dodgers to sign a guy like this? Well, my affinity is part of it, but I also think Gutierrez is the perfect fourth outfielder for the Dodgers.

"But Dustin, the Dodgers already have four outfielders, plus Scott Van Slyke and Joc Pederson."

Yes, I'm aware of the situation. I also believe the Dodgers need to trade one of the four outfielders (more on that in my next post).

The Dodgers lacked a true center fielder when Matt Kemp wasn't on the field in 2013 (and Kemp has never been good defensively in center). Skip Schumaker was the backup in center -- so much so that he actually started a playoff game in center field this year.

Ethier filled in admirably for Kemp in center field in 2013, but I have concerns about his long-term defensive effectiveness out there (and his long-term stay-with-the-Dodgersness).

It's clear the Dodgers don't think Yasiel Puig can handle the position, and Carl Crawford isn't a viable option for the position. Pederson looks like he might stick in center field in the majors, but he isn't going to displace Kemp in the lineup (if Kemp is healthy) -- at least, not yet.

That brings us back to Gutierrez.

Gutierrez is a plus-defender in center field. In 2009, Gutierrez was a 6-win player due primarily to his elite defense. He also can hit a little bit (really, just a little).

I had the Dodgers signing Chris Young in my offseason plan, but he signed a 1-year, $7.25 million contract with the Mets this week. That's starter's money, and Young certainly wouldn't have been a starter in LA. Gutierrez is probably no better than a fourth outfielder at this rate, and seeing the inordinate number of injuries the Dodger outfield suffered in 2013, there should be ample playing time for the former Dodger prospect.

Gutierrez hasn't been great in center the last two seasons, according to defensive metrics. He posted a -31.7 and -23.9 UZR/150 and -4 defensive runs saved in 2012 and 2013. He only played 81 games total, so it's a smaller sample size. He played 92 games in 2011, posting a  28.8 UZR/150 and +10 DRS. So, the ability to roam center field at an above-average clip is still there.

His best defensive season came in 2009 (153 games), when he posted a great 29.0 UZR/150 and 32 DRS in 1,353 1/3 innings in center field. He won't play enough to match the games, innings and DRS, but he could be effective enough to post a high UZR/150.

Surprisingly, he isn't totally inept with the bat. He only has a .238/.276/.363 triple slash in the last three injury-riddled years, but he also popped 10 home runs in 145 at-bats in 2013. From 2007 through 2010, he triple slashed .261/.317/.403 and averaged 13 home runs in that time. As a fourth outfielder with the Dodgers, that's more than an acceptable offensive output.

And he's nails against left-handed pitching. For his career, he owns a .287/.344/.474 triple slash with a 25.3 AB/HR rate. Against righties, he has a .242/.290/.356 triple slash and almost double the AB/HR rate (48.6). Safe to say, he'd see most of his action against left-handed pitching. If Crawford or Ethier are still around, he could be a nice spot-starter for whoever is playing left field. He could be somewhat effective against right-handed pitchers, provided he plays sparingly against them.

The fact is, the Dodgers absolutely need a true center fielder on the roster. Gutierrez is the best one available. I'm not sure if he cares one way or another the Dodgers traded him all those years ago. I'm guessing he'd be happy to have a job with a championship-caliber baseball team.

If I'm Ned Colletti, I picked up the phone to call Gutierrez's agent the second Young signed.

As the self-proclaimed president of the Franklin Gutierrez Fan Club, this team cannot go into the 2014 season without a security blanket in center field. Gutierrez would be just that.

Photo credit: kdirk, Flickr


  1. Why is everyone trying to make Matt Kemp disappear as if he never was with LA? There's no loyalty whatsoever anymore in baseball. Kemp is very loyal to this team and always has been. The baseball writers are just a bunch of scumbags anymore including this one who started this article..

    1. I'm in no way trying to get Kemp to "disappear." All I'm saying is the Dodgers need a legitimate backup center fielder in case he's either not 100 percent to start the season or gets hurt again.

      I'm assuming Ethier will be traded, so the Dodgers have no other outfielder on the roster who is capable of playing center field.

  2. Sorry...I became disoriented at "Jackson is a quality starter..." Career H/9 is 9.5, HR/9 is 1.0, ERA is (ready???) 4.47. Or, did you mean "this year with the Cubs", when his ERA was 4.98.

    James MacDonald gave up so many solid runs (ERA 4.2, HR/9 = 1.1, BB/9 = 4.1) that the Pirates let him walk. Even more of an insult was the Dodgers trading him for an Octavio Dotel past his prime.

    Look, Gutierrez isn't going to sign anywhere where he isn't a starter. Or where he thinks he will be. I agree with your analysis...he's a good fielder except he isn't. He can't hit, except he can a little, but he really can't. And he's hurt a lot. 10 HR in 145 AB? What about the other 1,000 AB?

    Let's find out if Kemp has permanently destroyed his ankle. He was playing alright until he made the dumbest play of the year. If he can play, I'll take Dee Gordon in CF as his backup, assuming we trade Ethier. And, yes, you're right, we don't need a backup CF because Pederson is about ready. I think Puig could play there. He has the speed and the arm, at least

  3. I would pick up Franklin in a minute. Look how the defensive weak play during the playoffs hurt the Dodgers, Cardinals and Braves. A true centerfielder is critical and the Dodgers do not have one in Chavez Ravine or in the minors. Joc Pederson is rated by the scouts as a future corner outfielder and the other men in CF in the minors are not likely to reach the majors.
    Kemp was only valuable in CF when his offense overshadowed his weak defense. I hope Kemp comes back strong, but he almost certainly will not gain back his speed nor power. He actually played worse when he was in RF and LF and his ego demands CF, but I would give up Ethier and Kemp for a pure center ( and a few prospects for SS and catcher thrown in. It may be too soon to give up on Kemp, but if he fails, the Dodgers are in trouble. The old saying from the Dodgers was it is better to trade a guy too early than too late