When Tony Gwynn signed a 2-year/$2 million contract prior to the 2012 season, he may have envisioned a bigger role with the Dodgers and really, that’s not saying much.
The Dodgers acquired Shane Victorino on July 31, all but ending any hopes that Gwynn would be able to retain any playing time out in left field.
Gwynn was optioned to Triple-A Albuquerque on Aug. 6 after hitting .232/.276/.293 with 17 RBIs and 13-of-19 stolen bases in 103 games played for Los Angeles.
Surely the Dodgers would have called the speedster up to the big leagues in September when rosters expanded, right?
Gwynn watched as the Dodgers fought throughout the month to catch the St. Louis Cardinals for the second wild-card spot and an opportunity to play for the playoffs.
Victorino wouldn’t be too much better than Gwynn, hitting .250/.322/.358 with 2 home runs and 15 RBIs, with 15-of-17 stolen bases in 52 games, but he did provide an upgrade.
Another player stands in Gwynn’s way with the upcoming season — Carl Crawford, who the Dodgers received alongside Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto in a trade that sent James Loney, Jerry Sands, Ivan De Jesus and Rubby De La Rosa to the Boston Red Sox on Aug. 26.
Crawford is a career .292/.332/.441 hitter with 118 career home runs and 667 RBIs.
He is two years removed from hitting .307/.356/.495 with 19 home runs and 90 RBIs to go along with 47-of-57 stolen bases in 154 games for the Tampa Bay Rays.
That was before he signed a 7-year/$142 million contract with the Boston Red Sox prior to the 2011 season.
His time in Boston was disastrous. In 2011, his first season with Boston, he hit .255/.289/.405 with 11 home runs and 56 RBIs, with 18-of-24 stolen bases in 130 games for the Red Sox.
It almost seemed as if 2012 would be his time to rebound, but then he sprained his UCL, ending a short season that saw him hit .282/.306/.479 with 3 home runs and 19 RBIs, as well as 5-of-5 stolen bases in 31 games.
Dodgers general manager Ned Colletti told MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom in an interview that there is a chance that Crawford could open the 2013 season in left field.
But, Colletti goes on to warn that the left fielder’s arm could take a little longer to heal. But not that much longer, perhaps taking the team to May, the second month of the season.
The question is finished as Colletti shares his intent for Crawford to work on his batting at Spring Training, which will keep him warm for the day he’s ready to field like the former Gold Glover he once was.
Back to Gwynn though, what does this all mean for him?
He hasn’t asked for a trade and seemingly has not thought about it.
“(He hasn’t asked for a trade) Not as of yet,” he said. “I don’t know if I will. I haven’t had a discussion with anybody in the organization.”
The Dodgers shouldn’t even think about trading him either, especially given the prospects of Crawford’s injury.
Gwynn will serve as protection for their newest hefty investment, one which will pay Crawford $20 million in 2013. Meanwhile, Gwynn prepares to make $1.15 million, or 17 times less than Crawford.
Let’s say Crawford goes down midseason, the Dodgers wouldn’t have to test their luck by placing a minor-leaguer in left. Guys like Alex Castellanos and Scott Van Slyke could provide a spark, but don’t have the proven bat that Gwynn provides.
Castellanos hit .200 in 16 games this season, while Van Slyke hit .167 in 27 contests.
“You have to take advantage of going down and working on things that you can’t work on at the Major League level when every game and every at-bat means so much,” Gwynn said.”
“It wasn’t anything major. I worked on my mindset and approach, just sharpened the focus and got into a rhythm. Going down, I was ticked, but I actually benefited.”
Crawford has the potential to be a key contributor to the Dodgers, but it doesn’t mean Gwynn isn’t important.
If the Dodgers get to the July trade deadline and are fully confident with what Crawford brings to the table, they could trade Gwynn to another team that could offer him the opportunity to play every day in exchange for a chance to fill a hole.