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And now for a good Dodgers problem -- Jamey Carroll

January 17, 2011 | 10:43 am

Who would have thunk it?

When Jamey Carroll was signed as a utility player a year ago, it was fairly underwhelming stuff. Nice addition, not exactly significant. Some thought Nick Green should have had the role.

But Carroll not only proved valuable, by season's end, many thought him the team's most valuable player.

He played hard, he hustled, he cleanly played four different positions, and perhaps most surprising, he excelled when teammate injuries frequently pushed him into a starting role.

By season's end, Carroll had started 101 games. He had the second-most at-bats (351) of his nine-year career.

He batted .291 with a team-high .379 on-base percentage and stole 12 bases in 16 attempts. And although he's a few light-years away from being a power hitter, he responded in the clutch, batting .326 with runners in scoring position and two outs.

Starting 64 times at shortstop while Rafael Furcal was out, he made only four errors in 573 innings.

"We found out last year how valuable he is," said Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly. "He can play everywhere -- three infield spots, the outfield if you need it in a pinch."

Which leads to the question ... now what do you do with the Mighty Mite?

Given the continued need for a right-handed bat in left field, there are several scenarios in which Carroll could get regular playing time.

He could start at second base, moving Juan Uribe to third (where his limited range makes it his best spot) and Casey Blake to left. Less attractive is simply starting Carroll at third, and moving Blake to left. Or you could simply start Carroll in left.

He certainly isn't that power bat longed for in left, but he is right-handed and probably a better option than anything else the Dodgers have right now.

Plus, playing Carroll could eliminate another nagging Dodgers problem -- the lack of a No. 2 hitter in the lineup. Carroll mostly batted at the end of the order last season, but his on-base percentage makes him a much more attractive candidate than any of the other current starters.

All those scenarios figure to happen at some point this season, but the current intention is for Carroll to return to his original job description.

"You want to have a plan," Mattingly said. "To me, we got Jamey to be a utility guy, and that's what we want him to be. If he's in there on an everyday basis, I don't think we're the club we want to be.

"You want to be able to use his flexibility and give guys days off in certain spots and keep everybody strong. How left field turns out, we're going to see. It's going to be a competition."

Sure, ideally, Carroll would make an All-Star utility player. But that assumes there's a right-handed bat in left field that's superior to what Carroll brings to the lineup.

And I don’t see that guy right now, not in Tony Gwynn Jr. or Trayvon Robinson or Russell Mitchell or, at the moment, Jerry Sands.

If the Dodgers are going to field the best daily lineup with the players they currently have, they need to consider making Carroll an everyday player.

-- Steve Dilbeck