Daily Dodger in review: Juan Rivera earns return engagement
Final 2011 stats: .258, 11 homers, 74 RBI, .319 on-base and .382 slugging percentages in 466 at-bats (combined Dodgers/Blue Jays).
Contract status: Signed this month for next season at $4.5 million.
The good: Picked off the scrapheap when designated for assignment by the Blue Jays at the All-Star break, Rivera was a pleasant surprise, particularly early. Of course, he was being compared with the right-handed bat he replaced in left field, Marcus Thames.
What Rivera did best was drive in runs. He had 46 RBI for the Dodgers (sadly just one behind Rod Barajas for fourth on the club) in just 219 at-bats and hit .344 with runners in scoring position. He was given much credit for giving Matt Kemp protection in the batting order and helping to ignite the team’s improved second-half offense.
Played left, right and first base.
He’s not much of a defender anywhere on the field, and a serious drop-off when he platooned with James Loney at first base.
What’s next: The Dodgers didn’t give him a guaranteed $4.5 million for next season to be their right-handed pinch-hitter. Ladies and gentlemen, meet your Dodgers starting left fielder for 2012.
The take: Despite cooling off, he still proved a better bat than anything else the Dodgers consistently sent out to left. Of course, re-signing Rivera doesn’t bode well for the immediate future of Jerry Sands.
The Dodgers shelled out a lot of money for a player they essentially picked up off the waiver wire, though discovering such successful pieces has proven something of a nice trick by General Manager Ned Colletti.
Rivera’s inconsistency is troubling, but it’s relative considering he’s being compared with the disappointment of Thames (that was disappointing, wasn’t it?). His 74 total RBI were actually the third highest of his nine-year career, so it’s not like he can’t still be productive.
During a modest free-agency winter for the bankrupt Dodgers, Rivera will need to prove a more dependable bat. And since for now it looks like he’ll again be hitting behind Kemp, the Dodgers are almost oddly counting on it.
— Steve Dilbeck
Photo: Dodgers left fielder Juan Rivera. Credit: Thearon W. Henderson / Getty Images