While the Juan Uribe contract has been a disaster for the Dodgers, the one thing the infielder has provided in two otherwise subpar years has been solid defense, and versatility within the infield. This spring, says manager Don Mattingly, not only will Uribe see time at third base and second base, his two primary positions with the Dodgers, but also shortstop and even first base.
"Juan will be a guy who gets at-bats, at least down here in spring training, all over the field," Mattingly said on Tuesday.
Uribe has been a plus defender at third base and second base with the Dodgers, and while his 31 innings in two seasons at shortstop aren't conclusive enough to gauge, he has at least proven competent at shortstop throughout his career.
But none of that defensive value matters much when hitting .199/.262/.289, as Uribe has done in the first two years of his three-year, $21 million contract. Uribe found himself buried on the bench in the second half of last season, as he started just once in the final 66 games. He has all of 16 plate appearances in August, and had just one plate appearance in his one game played of the final 34 contests of 2012.
"You have a guy who was brought in as a free agent, a veteran who was part of two World Series teams, and he's not playing," Mattingly said. "He could have been a disruption in the clubhouse, and been a guy who was not involved, but he wasn't. He showed himself to be a good teammate. He was helpful to Hanley and Cruz."
Mattingly, though he didn't play him, sympathized with Uribe, and singled him out in the year end meeting with the team as a great teammate.
"He had a great attitude about it. He could have made it real bad for me, he could have made it tough on teammates, and he didn't," Mattingly said. "I thought it was important to recognize that."
Uribe is due $7 million in 2013, the final year of his contract. But that doesn't mean he has a spot on the team locked up. The club has Jerry Hairston Jr., Skip Schumaker, and Nick Punto as backup infielders on the bench, with Hairston and Schumaker also slated for some backup work in the outfield as well. That's why Mattingly wants Uribe to play all over during the spring, including at first base, since the club doesn't really have a backup for Adrian Gonzalez.
"Is he going to be able to handle different positions for us? I think we all know that Juan has great hands. We put him at third, he catches everything. Juan's never been a liability defensively. We're going to try and expand that a bit, with first base," Mattingly said. "He's not quite typical shortstop in body type, but he's been there and he's not going to be lost. He's not going to be lost playing second base."
While Uribe would add to his value by playing four infield positions, he has to hit to make the team, something he hasn't done since donning a Dodger uniform.
If Uribe does stick on the roster, he'll be part of the backup plan at third base, which Mattingly described as "mix and match" if Luis Cruz doesn't work out. Mattingly said should Cruz not pan out at the hot corner, he would split time between Uribe, Hairston, and Punto, though the manager didn't sound enthused about the fallback options.
"That's kind of Plan B," Mattingly said. "But I want Plan A to work out, but we know we have to have backup ideas and have the flexibility to go different directions."