Jul 08

The end of the line for Juan Uribe … or not?

Dodgers at Diamondbacks, 1:10 p.m.
Tony Gwynn Jr., CF
Mark Ellis, 2B
Bobby Abreu, LF
Juan Rivera, 1B
Jerry Hairston Jr., 3B
Elian Herrera, RF
Luis Cruz, SS
Matt Treanor, C
Chris Capuano, P

I didn’t come up with the thought, but quickly I realized it made sense. Presuming that Matt Kemp comes off the disabled list before Friday’s post-All-Star opener against the Padres, Scott Van Slyke will return to Albuquerque. But when Andre Ethier comes off the disabled list, it might mean the end of Juan Uribe’s Dodger career.

Since a second-inning double June 20 at Oakland, Uribe is in the midst of an 0-for-27 slump, with three walks and nine strikeouts. That happens. The problem is that when he hasn’t been slumping … well, Uribe can hardly say he’s ever not been slumping as a Dodger.

If Uribe gets an at-bat today and makes an out, that will leave him with exactly 80 hits in 400 at-bats as a Dodger – a pristine .200 batting average. He has 25 walks and has been hit by more pitches (eight) than he has hit home runs (five). His OPS as a Dodger is .546.

That Uribe, who is still owed $8 million on his contract after this season ends, is still the Dodgers’ best defender at third base has been the lone remaining argument in his favor. However, that saving grace has been weakened by two emerging factors.  One is that Jerry Hairston Jr. has played capable defense at third while swinging a more reliable bat, and the other is that the injury to Dee Gordon has meant that Luis Cruz needs a spot on the Dodger roster.

Unless the Dodgers are willing to start giving Uribe time at shortstop – he played 21 2/3 innings there in 2011 after 103 games for the Giants at short in 2010 – Cruz is staying. That leaves a battle for the final roster spot between Uribe, Elian Herrera and Adam Kennedy.

The choice might seem obvious, but you can’t rule out the possibility of Herrera, who has minor-league options, going back to the Isotopes. He’s been 100 times more fun to watch than Uribe and his versatility is an asset, but once Kemp and Ethier are back in their starting roles, Mark Ellis is re-entrenched at second base and Bobby Abreu, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Juan Rivera are holding down left field, there’s going to be less call for Herrera to roam around the diamond. That’s not to say that he’s without a purpose, but with his own slump to a .326 on-base percentage and .335 slugging, the difference between him, Uribe and Kennedy (.315 OBP, .309 slugging) isn’t overwhelming.

Who will bat leadoff for the Dodgers when Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier return?

Dee Gordon is injured, and Tony Gwynn Jr. won’t start often. That leaves Luis Cruz, Bobby Abreu, Jerry Hairston Jr., Mark Ellis and A.J. Ellis.

Assuming Dodger manager Don Mattingly still can’t stomach the idea of his catcher leading off a game, I would say Abreu, Hairston and Mark Ellis all have a case. Something tells me, though, that we might see Cruz there as much as anyone.

By optioning Herrera, the Dodgers can put off making a final decision on Uribe or Kennedy, neither of whom can be sent down. The question is whether those decisions need any more putting off. Do the Dodgers see any hope left in Uribe? Before you answer, note that Andruw Jones has an .820 OPS in more than 1,000 plate appearances since the Dodgers got rid of him.

My instinct is to cut Uribe, but I wouldn’t call it an automatic decision. The defense is there, and once Ethier and Kemp are back, you don’t lose much by sending Herrera down and keeping Uribe as a defensive specialist who bats eighth, nor by just getting rid of Kennedy, who doesn’t give you defense or a bat (.617 OPS against right-handed pitching).

The best news is that the Dodgers might finally be healthy enough that they can even make the decision.

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