USA TODAY Sports
The versatile infielder homered Sunday but might have to do more than that in order to earn a spot on the bench, despite his hefty contract.
Juan Uribe made his fifth start of the spring at first base on Sunday for the Dodgers, a position he had never played in his 16 years as a professional prior to this spring. Adding the position adds to Uribe's defensive versatility, as he could back up any of the four infield positions.
If he makes the team, that is.
"Before this camp is over I need to probably get Juan an inning or two at short, just so he gets back to the middle of the diamond, and maybe at second," said manager Don Mattingly on Sunday. "With the way we are matched up right now, it looks like he's going to play a little bit all over, especially if Cruzer does what we expect him."
Uribe has played only first base, third base, and designated hitter for the Dodgers this season, though he has played 7,753 innings at shortstop and 1,688 innings at second base in his career.
But none of that defensive value matters if Uribe doesn't hit. In his first two years as a Dodger, Uribe has hit .199/.262/.289, and so far this spring has four hits in 20 at-bats through Sunday, including a home run almost literally right as this published.
"He's been okay (at the plate). I know his average is not very good but he's looked a lot better. He's hit some balls to right center. His BP has been different, working on closing up a little bit," Mattingly said. "We'll keep getting him his at-bats, trying to get him to feel as good as he can before the season starts."
Mattingly said he would be more inclined to use Nick Punto at shortstop over Uribe on the days that Hanley Ramirez rests, which pushes the versatile Uribe down the depth chart on a bench filled with versatile players.
The bench already includes Skip Schumaker and Jerry Hairston Jr., both of whom will play outfield in addition to the infield. Schumaker will spell Mark Ellis occasionally at second base, and it's likely that Hairston is ahead of Uribe as the backup first baseman, in addition to third base.
The Dodgers' bench is in desperate need of power, and that could come in the form of Alex Castellanos, who leads the Dodgers with three home runs this spring and hit .328/.420/.590 in 94 games at Triple-A Albuquerque in 2012. Castellanos also give the Dodgers a true backup outfielder, rather than the utility men Hairston and Schumaker, and the right-handed Castellanos can spell Carl Crawford or Andre Ethier against tough lefties.
But with Uribe under contract at $7 million for 2013, would the Dodgers bite the bullet and release him if he continues to not hit?
"That's a discussion not only for me, but that gets into Ned (Colletti, general manager) and maybe even farther than that," Mattingly said. "We'll give our opinion when there are decisions to be made."
Those decisions don't have to be made for another three weeks, and with Crawford's rehab from elbow surgery progressing slowly he might not be ready for opening day, which would create an opportunity to have both Uribe and Castellanos on the roster.
Predicting Uribe's demise has been a fool's errand for some time, so I won't do that here. But given the Dodgers' depth and alternative options, one has to wonder if Uribe's days in blue are numbered.