Gwynn Top Dodgers Defensive Outfielder

Even with two new outfielders signed recently -- Marcus Thames to a major league deal and Gabe Kapler to a minor league deal -- Tony Gwynn Jr. is almost guaranteed of making the Dodgers' Opening Day roster. The reason is his defense. As the Dodgers' fifth outfielder he'll be used as a late defensive replacement, and there will be no shortage of teammates for him to replace.

Based on last year's Ultimate Zone Rating numbers, the Dodgers could have historically one of the worst outfield defenses ever this season.

Center fielder Matt Kemp posted a minus-24.0 UZR last year, the worst of any outfielder in the majors.

Right fielder Andre Ethier had a minus-15.4 UZR, the worst of any right fielder (and the next-worst was Milwaukee's Corey Hart at minus-6.4).

Left field is expected to be a platoon of Jay Gibbons and Thames. It's possible that infielders Casey Blake and Jamey Carroll could see time there as well.

In the last three years, Thames' UZR was -12.4, -2.2 and -4.3 over 133 games in the outfield. Those numbers would be worse if the Tigers and Yankees played him more in the outfield. Instead, they wisely used him as a designated hitter. If you project his UZR over 150 games, the numbers are -28.1, -23.8 and -33.0 the last three years.

During those last three years, Gibbons was out of baseball, working his way through an independent league, winter ball and then organized baseball, so his recent defensive numbers don't have much data.

But he clearly struggled in the field over the last six weeks of the season, posting a -2.6 in 16 games (or -21.2 over a full season). Earlier in his career with the Orioles, Gibbons' UZR fluctuated from above average (3.4 in 2004 and 6.4 in 2005) to below average (-7.8 in 2003 and -4.6 in 2006).

Before signing Thames, the Dodgers kicked around the idea of moving Ethier back to left field, Kemp back to right field, and starting Gwynn in center field if his offense was respectable enough.

That idea is almost shelved now pending the performance of Gwynn's bat.

Ethier is clearly better in left field (career -1.3 UZR) than right field (career -32.1). But at this stage of Ethier's career, teams like the Dodgers are reluctant to move one of their top hitters from one outfield corner position to another on a regular basis. And it's not as if you'd rather have Gibbons or Thames in right field.

If Kemp can return to his 2009 defense (3.0 UZR) and Gwynn is used a lot in left field, the outfield defense will be acceptable.

If not, all the outfielders will need to hit -- and hit a lot -- to make up for the runs they give up.

NOTES, QUOTES
--3B Eric Chavez worked out for the Dodgers at their Camelback Ranch-Glendale facility Jan. 20 in front of hitting coach Jeff Pentland and assistant general managers De Jon Watson and Logan White. Chavez has already worked out for the Blue Jays, Mariners and Yankees. The San Diego native intrigues the Dodgers, but he hasn't played more than 90 games in a season since 2006. If signed and if he stays healthy, he would platoon with Casey Blake at third base.

--RHP Chad Billingsley avoided arbitration with the Dodgers, signing a one-year contract for $6.275 million. The Dodgers didn't discuss a multi-year contract with Billingsley. They were disappointed in the performance of all three arbitration-eligible players who signed two-year deals last year -- OFs Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp and RHP Jonathan Broxton.

Billingsley resurrected his reputation with a strong final five months last year, but the team wants to see more consistency out of him, and the Dodgers haven't minded paying a little extra each year rather than risk a multi-year contract.

--LHP Hong-Chih Kuo isn't likely to go to arbitration, since the dollars each side submitted are so close. Kuo requested $3.075 million, while the Dodgers are offering $2.55 million. Kuo earned $975,000 last year.

--1B James Loney's arbitration numbers are putting his salary at a range that they find harder to justify because of his lack of power at a premium hitting position. Loney's camp is asking for $5.25 million, compared to the team offer of $4.7 million. Loney earned $3.1 million last year, when he posted career lows in all three of his slash lines: .267/.329/.395, along with just 10 home runs. He did smash a career-high 41 doubles.

--OF Gabe Kapler was signed to a minor league contract, although his odds of making the Opening Day roster are scarce. Besides the obvious starters, Andre Ethier and Matt Kemp, Kapler is behind Jay Gibbons, newly signed Marcus Thames, Tony Gwynn Jr. and Xavier Paul. He would be insurance in the minor leagues if he's willing to accept a minor league assignment.

BY THE NUMBERS: 17 -- Spring training games to be broadcast on 790 KABC-AM, the Dodgers' flagship radio station, up from 15 last year. All Saturday games, Sunday games and night games will be broadcast, along with the final three games exhibition games in Los Angeles at Dodger Stadium or Angel Stadium in Anaheim.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "Actually, Casey understands. Casey is at a point in his career where he's getting older. We really feel like he may benefit from playing a hair less and get more production out of him. I know (ex-Yankees manager Buck) Showalter did it with me late. Those extra days off that I didn't necessarily want made me better. We talked about that a little bit. You hear what you want to hear because he wants to play every day. You like that. But he's also realistic to a point that he knows what may be best for him. He wants to be a team guy, he wants to help the club win." -- New manager Don Mattingly, on resting Casey Blake more, or perhaps even using him in the outfield, during the 2011 season.

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