LaRoche Finds Out Life Isn't Fair

Andy LaRoche, injured during spring training, underwent surgery and rehab, then was reinstated off the disabled list days before he was scheduled to, was optioned to Las Vegas instead of being called up to the Dodgers.

The young third baseman, who went into spring training as the leading candidate for the third base job, has suddenly been passed over.

It was through no fault of his own and at the same time, it's not the Dodgers' fault for staying with a known entity -- Blake DeWitt -- instead of flying to an entity they know not of.

Sorry to sound so Shakespearian but a number of unrelated things came together to bring about this situation.

Let's set the stage.

Seemingly unsignable and after turning down a $200,000 draft and follow offer by San Diego He was drafted by the Dodgers in the 39th round of the 2003 draft, luring away from college with a $1 million bonus.

LaRoche thundered through the Dodgers' minor league system, hitting .333 at Vero Beach, .309 at Jacksonville and .322 and .309 at Las Vegas, banging 30 home runs in 2005; 19 i 2006 and 19 in 2007, although he was injured part of the '06 and '07 seasons,

Given a cup of coffee in The Show in 2007, he hit .226 and apparently didn't impress manager Grady Little although he posted a .365 on base percentage and drew a base on balls every 5.75 plate appearance, third in the National League among players with 100 plate appearances.

LaRoche has plus power, the ability to hit the ball to all parts of the park, and great pitch recognition. His bat speed is also superior, indicating he'll hit for both power and a high batting average. His on-base plus slugging at Las Vegas was an superb .988 and his contact rate was an above average 84%.

He came into spring training in great shape as the heir-apparent for the third base job but was prepared to battle Nomar Garciaparra.

Early in the spring, Garciaparra was hit by a pitch on the wrist and was put out of action. Many felt that Andy would finally get an extended look during spring training and start the season on the Los Angeles roster.

But just minutes later, a throw to third base glanced off the runner, striking LaRoche on the right thumb. Surgery was necessary to repair a torn ligament and suddenly Nomar and Andy were in a race to see who could overcome their injuries and return to action first.

Tony Abreu was the natural replacement at third base but he was still having trouble with the stomach surgery he had late in 2007.

So the Dodgers, going to plan D, pressed 22-year-old Blake DeWitt into action until they could make some sort of a trade to fill the gap at third base.

Knowing the Dodgers needs, many teams went through the "Kershaw-Billingsley-Loney" routine, hoping Los Angeles was desperate enough to include a top prospect or two in a trade.

GM Ned Colletti, after a look at the sub-par crop of players available, said no to all the trade offers.

During this time, DeWitt, given an extended length of time to settle in, was proving that even though he only had some 60 games at the AA level, he could play with the big guys.

Compounding things, Torre and most of his coaching staff went to China, thus missing evaluation of LaRoche, as well as many other players, impossible.

Garciaparra healed first, played a handful of games, and DeWitt took the next plane to Las Vegas. He wasn't unpacked before Nomar was injured again and Blake was back in The Show.

DeWitt continued to open eyes with his play both at the plate and on the field, so when LaRoche, who has worked extremely hard to get back in the competition was ready to be called up, there was, in the opinion of the front office, no room for him and he was sent to Las Vegas instead of DeWitt.

During a rehab stint LaRoche had hit .318 in six games at Double-A Jacksonville and was moved up to Triple-A Las Vegas, where he was hitting .154 with one homer in four games.

He was then reinstated from the disabled list -- but optioned to Las Vegas.

"The guys we have now are playing well," Torre said. "DeWitt has done a nice job. It's best for LaRoche to play more baseball and get it going a little and play every day."

So now perhaps his future with the Dodgers is a bit more murky for the 24-year-old LaRoche who has still never been given a real opportunity at the Major League level.

We are in agreement with Jon Weisman on his site Dodger Thoughts: "... I'll even give the Dodgers the benefit of the doubt that they're making this move for LaRoche's benefit, to give him some useful low-pressure at-bats before putting him on the major-league roster - as opposed to the way Garciaparra rushed back into the lineup.

"At this point, Andy is healthy, and we want him to stay down there and get at-bats," Dodgers assistant general manager Kim Ng told Tony Jackson of the Daily News. But essentially, on nights like Saturday, the Dodgers are choosing to start Bennett over LaRoche. And if LaRoche is healthy, that becomes pretty senseless.

"There used to be a code that a player shouldn't be demoted because of an injury. Based on what happened with Matt Kemp last year and LaRoche this year, the Dodgers don't honor that code."

And now, Nomar Garciaparra has resumed baseball activity. And Manager Joe Torre acknowledged Garciaparra likely will need a minor-league rehabilitation assignment before being activated.

"Garciaparra was playing well when he left," Torre said. "He really didn't do anything wrong, and he got hurt. I think he certainly needs an opportunity to pick that up."

That wasn't said about LaRoche.

Manager Joe Torre admitted that he doesn't know when Andy will be recalled, pointing to the overcrowding at the position because of the surprising play of rookie Blake DeWitt and Garciaparra's expected recovery.

"Sometimes the game is unfair," Torre said, adding that he would speak to LaRoche in the near future in part to tell him not to worry about his numbers.

LaRoche said he found curious was the timing of his activation and subsequent optioning. His rehab assignment ended short of its maximum 20 days, costing him about a week's worth of major league salary and service time. LaRoche said his guess was that the motive was financial.

General Manager Ned Colletti said that wasn't the case, stating, "He was healthy enough to play."

Like James Loney before him, Andy has little to prove at AAA but he will play for the 51s and wait for that all important call.

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