Daily Distractions: What Derek Jeter taught a 22-year-old Hanley Ramirez.

Hanley Ramirez

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez (left) participates in the first pitcher/infield drill of spring training. He considers retiring Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter his idol. (@jphoornstra on Twitter)

Dodgers shortstop Hanley Ramirez learned many lessons in his rookie season with the Florida Marlins. One was a lesson in leadership.

“Don’t let my teammates down. Where I go, they go,” Ramirez recalled. “I’ve got to be their leader, keep my head up and play hard. Be a leader on and off the field.”

The message came directly from no higher authority than Derek Jeter, who knows a thing or two about leadership and is “pretty close” to Jesus.

So it was that Ramirez took on a leadership role with the Marlins early in his career. He was only 22, working on an eventual Rookie of the Year campaign, when he met Jeter during a series against the Yankees in June 2006.

When the Yankees’ shortstop announced his retirement Wednesday, Ramirez wrote an unusually candid tweet:

Why is Jeter Ramirez’s idol?

“Because he has respect for the game on and off the field, and how much dedication he’s put into the games,” Ramirez said. “We’re going to miss him in the game. Nobody I think can replace him.”

And not many players can get through to Ramirez like Jeter.

Some bullet points for Valentine’s Day:
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Daily Distractions: Dodgers to sign Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena, per reports.

The Dodgers are reportedly close to signing 23-year-old Cuban shortstop Erisbel Arruebarruena.

Here’s what we know about the latest Cuban defector:

According to ESPN Deportes, Arruebarruena is a “defensive artist” who batted .320 in 2011-12 and .293 last season. Arruebarruena played for Cuba in the most recent World Baseball Classic. He went 6 for 16 (.375) with a stolen base in six games. Here’s a clip of his two-run single against Brazil.

Since Arruebarruena has six years’ experience in Cuba, the Dodgers aren’t limited by the spending restrictions placed on international amateurs. ESPN reported that most scouts believe Arruebarruena is capable of winning a Gold Glove but don’t consider him an “offensive force” in the majors. BaseballAmerica.com recently offered this scouting report:

At 6 feet, 195 pounds, Arruebarruena has clean hands, quick actions and good body control. He’s a below-average runner, but his quick first step and instincts give him good range. He has a quick transfer and a plus-plus arm with accuracy, which allows him to make throws from deep in the hole and turn 4-6-3 double plays with ease. His awareness in the field is advanced and he’s shown the ability to make the barehanded play look routine and make strong throws from different angles.

The video above certainly confirms the “clean hands.”

Knowing nothing else, Arruebarruena could be a valuable complement to offensive-minded shortstop Hanley Ramirez, if his defense is as good as advertised. But without any sterling offensive evaluations to point to, it’s not clear if Arruebarruena is major-league ready. It will be interesting to see what kind of a contract he commands.

Arruebarruena established residence in Haiti and displayed his talents for teams in the Dominican Republic.

His name is admittedly difficult to pronounce.

 

If it seems like the Dodgers practically have their choice of Cuban defectors, well, maybe they do.

Some bullet points for a Wednesday:
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Daily Distractions: Devising the Dodgers’ resolutions for 2014.

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is set to become a free agent at the end of the 2014 season. (Associated Press photo)

While others lose weight and read more books and call their parents, we tried to go beyond the obvious here — i.e., “Win a World Series” — to come up with a checklist of some New Year’s resolutions more specific to the Dodgers.

In no particular order, here we go:

1. Don’t let Clayton Kershaw reach free agency. Jan. 17 is when teams and players exchange salary arbitration figures, and Kershaw is in his final year of arbitration eligibility. There’s an element of curiosity here: How much could the game’s best pitcher make in arbitration? The Dodgers, and their fans, would rather not know. The other important date to circle here is sometime in late October, the date when eligible free agents hit the market once the World Series ends. If Kershaw doesn’t have a contract by then, what will it take for the Dodgers to re-sign him? Would a championship and the largest contract in baseball history — the Dodgers might be able to offer both — be enough? The longer the left-hander goes without a multiyear extension, the more tempting it is to speculate why he’s determined to test the market. Until he re-signs, that speculation will linger.

2. Stay healthy. OK, this one applies to every team, and the Dodgers have enviable depth in their outfield, starting rotation, and bullpen to withstand the inevitable DL trips of 2014. That said, it’s not a stretch to say that the October injuries to Hanley Ramirez, Matt Kemp and (to an extent) Andre Ethier are what separated the Dodgers from the 2013 World Series. Dodger players spent more days on the disabled list in 2013 than all but six MLB teams. Luck always plays a significant role in injury statistics, but Stan Conte will try to create some better luck in 2014. He’ll absorb the duties of head athletic trainer Sue Falsone, who left to pursue other opportunities.

3. Re-sign Ramirez. Ramirez is set to become a free agent at the end of the season, too. Thanks to a lot of bad injury luck, he played only 86 games in 2013, but he was the Dodgers’ most productive offensive player when healthy. A full season of a 191 wRC+ is probably unsustainable. Anything close to that will result in a lucrative payday.

4. Manage the farm intelligently. A concern for any team in any year, but consider recent history. Relatively speaking, there wasn’t much to manage in the Dodgers’ system until mid-2012. Because of that, they aren’t in great position to package any prospects in an off-season trade — say, for David Price — or sign a free agent who would cost a first-round draft pick. Now, the Dodgers at least have some intriguing prospects at Double-A (Joc Pederson, Ross Stripling, Zach Lee), High-A (Corey Seager) and Low-A (Chris Anderson, Julio Urias). If they aren’t traded, they need to produce. If they are traded, the return needs to be huge.

5. Make a decision on Don Mattingly. At the end of the season, this is what I wrote: “If [Mattingly's] contract isn’t extended by the time the 2014 season begins, questions about his standing within the organization remain legitimate. The challenge of commanding a clubhouse as a ‘lame duck’ manager will linger. If Mattingly does get his extension between now and spring training, then we’re all left to wonder what took so long.” These questions haven’t been answered yet.

Some bullet points for a Berchtold’s Day:
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As Juan Uribe remains a free agent, Ned Colletti is expanding Dodgers’ infield options.

Hanley Ramirez

The Dodgers haven’t talked to Hanley Ramirez about being their starting third baseman in 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti hasn’t eliminated the possibility of re-signing Juan Uribe. But now that Uribe has rejected multiple contract offers, Colletti sounded more open to other alternatives Saturday than he has at any point this off-season.

“We’ve been in contact with Juan. Been in contact with a handful of agents for players who can play the infield,” Colletti said. “Really our emphasis is on infielders and relief pitching right now.”
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Daily Distractions: Predicting the Dodgers’ agenda for the Winter Meetings.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe is the Dodgers’ first choice to play third base in 2014. (Associated Press photo)

Tuesday was such a busy day for free agent signings and trades around baseball, one website asked what many major league beat writers were probably thinking: “Who needs the Winter Meetings”?

For the Dodgers at least, next week could be a productive one. The Brian Wilson deal isn’t official yet, despite reports that he passed his physical. Assuming that contract has been signed by the time Dodgers officials land in Orlando, Florida, here’s what will top the to-do list:

1. A third baseman. General manager Ned Colletti is still hoping to bring back Juan Uribe, who is reportedly seeking a three-year contract. If the Dodgers are willing to go to a third year, there must still be a gap in dollar figures being exchanged by the two sides. Maybe they can overcome their differences in a week. Maybe not. If the Dodgers aren’t ready to commit to Hanley Ramirez as their third baseman for 2014, they might be best suited to resolve the position via trade if Uribe signs elsewhere. The free-agent crop at third base is really that thin.

2. A left-handed reliever. The Dodgers have a nice stable of right-handers among Kenley Jansen, Wilson, Chris Withrow, Brandon League and Jose Dominguez. Other than Paco Rodriguez, who petered out around the time of his 66th appearance in 2013, they don’t have a single established lefty reliever who will be healthy to start next season. (Scott Elbert underwent Tommy John surgery in June.) Re-signing J.P. Howell seems like the logical move, even if he is seeking a three-year contract. At age 30, Howell is a less risky investment than, say, Randy Choate, who was 37 when the Dodgers wouldn’t give him a three-year contract at this time last year. Javier Lopez raised the market value by signing a 3-year, $13 million deal to stay in San Francisco and Howell’s numbers are comparable. If the Dodgers can’t re-sign Howell, they may turn to a veteran such as Scott Downs on a shorter-term deal.

3. A bench. After losing Skip Schumaker and Nick Punto as free agents, the Dodgers lost arguably the two most proven quantities on their bench. Backup catcher Tim Federowicz, first baseman/outfielder Scott Van Slyke, outfielder Mike Baxter and whatever-he’s-playing-these-days Dee Gordon are all in line for bench jobs. The Dodgers would like to bring in another infielder as insurance if Alexander Guerrero isn’t ready to be the everyday second baseman. They could also shake up the equation by accepting trade offer for Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier or Carl Crawford.

Some bullet points to tide you through the weekend:
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Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti talks Juan Uribe, Alexander Guerrero, outfielders.

Juan Uribe

Juan Uribe is still the Dodgers’ preference to be the everyday third baseman in 2014, according to general manager Ned Colletti. (Associated Press photo)

Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti divulged some of the Dodgers’ off-season plans Tuesday in an interview with MLB Network Radio on Sirius XM. There were no major revelations, but these were among the talking points:

1. The Dodgers would prefer to re-sign Juan Uribe to fill their starting third base job.

2. Plan B could involve moving shortstop Hanley Ramirez or second baseman Alexander Guerrero out of those positions, and/or acquiring an infielder through trade. The organization isn’t there yet. No mention of Guerrero’s recent health concerns.

3. The Dodgers aren’t shopping any of their outfielders, but that is one area in which Colletti “would like to get younger if possible.” (In other words: Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier and Carl Crawford are much more available than Yasiel Puig right now, which isn’t news.) Multiple teams are inquiring about the Dodgers’ outfielders and Colletti is listening to offers.

You can listen to the interview here:

Dodgers’ National League MVP votes split after 2013 success.

A 92-win season and a division title usually begets an MVP candidate. Or four.

For the Dodgers — a team of several superstars and, this year, several superstars with injuries — the National League MVP votes were more fractured than Hanley Ramirez‘s rib.

Clayton Kershaw, who won the National League Cy Young Award on Wednesday finished seventh in the MVP race with 146 points. Ramirez followed in a distant eighth, with 58 points. Yasiel Puig (15th) and Adrian Gonzalez (19th) were the only other Dodgers listed on ballots.

Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen won the award, handily outdistancing runner-up Paul Goldschmidt of the Arizona Diamondbacks.
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Which players might the Dodgers pursue in free agency?

Masahiro Tanaka

Soon-to-be free agent pitcher Masahiro Tanaka hasn’t lost a decision since Aug. 2012 and will pitch Game 6 of the Japan Series on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Yesterday, we analyzed the Dodgers’ 12 in-house free agents. Don’t be surprised if only a few players out of that group return — say, four or less. Signing 26-year-old infielder Alexander Guerrero was the first indication that the Dodgers are serious about getting younger. All of their in-house free agents are more than 30 years old. So are all of the players on this list, with one outstanding exception at the top.

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Hanley Ramirez a late entry in Dodgers’ lineup.

Hanley Ramirez did not take part in the Dodgers’ batting practice or warmup drills Friday, but found himself in the starting lineup a few minutes later.

Playing with a hairline fracture in in his 8th rib, Ramirez will bat cleanup in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series. After the announcement, made less than 20 minutes before the first pitch, Ramirez briefly played catch on the outfield grass at Busch Stadium.

Prior to the game, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said that Ramirez’s condition had worsened.

“I told some of the radio guys before I had come in, if something would change before game time, we’d switch up,” Mattingly said. “All of a sudden he’s trying to do things and he could get loose, he may be in there. But I don’t anticipate that.”

Here is the Dodgers’ new lineup:

Carl Crawford LF
Mark Ellis 2B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Hanley Ramirez SS
Yasiel Puig RF
Andre Ethier CF
Juan Uribe 3B
A.J. Ellis C
Clayton Kershaw P

Hanley Ramirez scratched from Dodgers’ lineup for Game 6 of the NLCS.

Hanley Ramirez

Hanley Ramirez was diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his 8th rib after Game 1 of the NLCS. (Associated Press photo)


Hanley Ramirez is not in the Dodgers’ starting lineup for Game 6 of the National League Championship Series on Friday in St. Louis.

Ramirez has been attempting to play with a hairline fracture in his left ribcage since he was hit by a pitch there in the first inning of Game 1 of the series. Nick Punto will play shortstop and bat eighth, with Yasiel Puig moving from sixth to fourth in the Dodgers’ lineup.

Dodgers manager Don Mattingly is expected to update Ramirez’s condition shortly.

For the Cardinals, Shane Robinson is taking Jon Jay’s place in center field. Robinson bats right-handed, which Cardinals manager Mike Matheny said was the critical difference against a left-handed pitcher, Clayton Kershaw.

“The thought process is to try to get more offense if we can,” Matheny said. “There’s no secret how Kershaw has done against left-handers. I know (Jay) would have done well today.

“Especially Shane, going off some confidence against a big pinch hit, and we know he plays good defense.”

Here are both teams’ lineups for the 5:30 p.m. game:
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