16 September 2014

the evolution of the dodgers' first baseman, part 2

in the first installment of the evolution of dodger first basemen, we ended with hall of famer eddie murray signing a free agent deal with the mets, making room for someone else on the evolutionary chain.  the dodgers acquired todd benzinger via trade shortly after losing murray, but a rookie ultimately won the job in spring training.

eric karros (1992-2002)
yes, for 11 seasons, karros was the dodgers' first baseman.  that is the longest tenure since gil hodges, who just happened to be karros' dad's favorite player.  karros (shown on his 1992 upper deck card) was never an all-star, but he put up solid numbers.  he won the 1992 nl rookie of the year award with 20 homers and 88 rbi, and had probably his best all-around season in 1995.  that year, he led the dodgers to the postseason for the first time since 1988 with a .298 average and 32 homers and 105 rbi - good enough to win the silver slugger and finish 5th in the mvp voting. he also hit 2 homers with a .500 average in the nlds against the reds, but the dodgers were swept.  following the 2002 season, karros was traded to the cubs, but his name remains at or near the top of many los angeles dodger leader boards today.  karros is the all-time la dodger leader in home runs (270), and he is fourth (behind bill russell, willie davis, and steve garvey) in games played.  he trails only davis and garvey in total bases and doubles, and only garvey in rbi.  karros is also currently the all-time la dodger leader in strikeouts, but matt kemp (should he remain a dodger next year) will pass him as soon as he k's 54 more times.

i suspect that the karros/mark grudzielanek for todd hundley/chad hermanson deal was a salary dump (the dodgers saved themselves over $10 million (if one assumes that karros' option would have kicked in) with the trade, even taking on hundley's salary.  the dodgers had paul loduca behind the plate, so they didn't need hundley, but they did need a first baseman to replace karros.  so, they took the guy who had been playing there for the cubs.

fred mcgriff (2003)
a couple of weeks after trading karros to the cubs, the dodgers signed former southsider first baseman fred mcgriff.  that's his 2003 playoff prestige card, giving a sort of o-pee-chee vibe.  the crime dog had joined the cubs during the 2001 season after it became apparent that the team had gotten rid of mark grace too soon - matt stairs wasn't cutting it as grace's replacement.  mcgriff, who had averaged 30 home runs a season in his previous 16 seasons, needed just 22 to reach 500 for his career, and i sure thought that he would do it with the dodgers.  unfortunately, mcgriff hit only 13 home runs while playing in only 86 games.  in fact, he started only 79 games at first base, with jim tracy using seven other players at first (including ron coomer, robin ventura, daryle ward, paul loduca, mike kinkade, larry barnes, and even jolbert cabrera).  mcgriff returned to the devil rays for the 2004 season, but still fell 7 homers shy of 500.

shawn green (2004)
green, shown playing first on his 2005 upper deck card, had moved to the infield following the team's acquisition of milton bradley just prior to the beginning of the 2004 season.  earlier in spring training, green had worked out at first, but jim tracy said that he would be playing right field once the season began.  so much for that.  2004 turned out to be green's swan song for the dodgers, and he hit 28 homers with 86 rbi and a .266 average.  he also hit 3 homers in the nlds against the cardinals that year.  i was a big shawn green fan even before he joined the dodgers, and i was sad to see him go.

hee-seop choi (2005)
that's a 2005 bowman sterling bat relic card of hee-seop choi, once thought to be the answer for the cubs at first base following the departure of the aforementioned fred mcgriff and some seasoning behind karros.  instead, the cubs dealt choi to the marlins for derrek lee (a good deal as it turned out), and the fish sent choi to the dodgers in the 2004 trade that broke jim tracy's heart.  ok, that might be a bit extreme, but tracy lamented the loss of paul loduca in that trade, and i'm not completely certain that he didn't take some of his frustration out on choi.  choi began the 2005 season as the team's first baseman, and wound up hitting 15 homers with 42 rbi in 133 games, only 78 of which were starts at first base.  choi participated in the home run derby during the all-star break (he had hit 3 homers in a game against the twins in june and 6 in the series against the twinkies) but was essentially just a pinch hitter for tracy following the break.  he lost most of his starts to olmedo saenz in the second half.

nomar garciaparra (2006)
nomah! that's nomar's 2006 upper deck sweet spot update card - not sure why upper deck issued an update to sweet spot, but i'll take it.  there are too few cards of nomar as a dodger.  nomar had never played first base in the major leagues before joining the dodgers, but that's all he played in 2006.  he appeared in 122 games for the dodgers that year, 117 of which were starts at first.  as the nl comeback player of the year, nomar hit .303 with 20 homers, 82 runs scored, and 93 runs driven in.  he made the all-star team and finished 13th in the mvp voting, while helping the dodgers reach the postseason.  despite a move to third in 2007, nomar still played more games at first base, but not as many as james loney, the next step on the evolutionary chain.

james loney (2007-2012)
after four 'one and done' first basemen, loney (shown on a 2008 upper deck baseball heroes relic card) brought some stability back to the position.  he hit .331 as a rookie in 2007 in 96 games (85 of which were starts at first) and also hit 15 home runs.  other than a dip in 2010, loney was pretty consistent in his first few seasons with the dodgers, driving in around 90 runs and hitting in the high .280's.  he was slumping in 2012, batting just .254 with 4 homers and 33 rbi after 114 games played, when he was traded to the red sox in the megadeal that landed the dodgers their current first baseman.

adrian gonzalez (2013-present)
that's gonzalez's 2013 topps finest card, by the way.  gonzalez hit .297 as a dodger during the 2012 season after the trade, and then hit .293 in his first full season with the club.  this year, he is batting just .276 (through this past sunday), but he has eclipsed last year's 22 homers and 100 rbi with 23 long balls and 103 runs driven in so far this year.  i am hoping that he eclipses his postseason numbers from last year as well, as he hit over .300 with 3 homers and 7 rbi in the 2013 playoffs.

and so we have reached the end of not only the dodgers' first baseman evolution, but the evolution of each position.  you can use the 'evolution' label to find the posts for all of the positions (some may be slightly outdated as i began this with a run through the managers over five years ago).  it's been fun tracking the history of the dodgers by position using baseball cards, which was one of the goals i had when i started this blog almost 6 years ago, although that also means i am getting closer to the end.

1 comment:

Nick said...

Hee Seop Choi for Derrek Lee. One of the best trades the Cubs have ever made.

I have to remind myself that McGriff was once a Dodger. He never looked right in the Dodger blue to me.