Mailbag: Who'll roam center in 2007?

Mailbag: Who'll roam center field in 2007?

Who will play center field for the Dodgers next year?
-- Bill C., Grass Valley, Cal.

Assuming one isn't acquired, you could make a case for and against each of the logical candidates. There might be the temptation to move J.D. Drew from right field to center, but having nursed a full season out of Drew in 2006, moving him to a more demanding center field would be a risk. Jason Repko has the speed and defensive skills, but he hasn't proved he can hit as an everyday player. Andre Ethier is a pure hitter, but center field might be a stretch. Kenny Lofton is a free agent and he might be better suited for left field if he returns. Manager Grady Little likes to play Matt Kemp in center field, although his routes to balls in the gaps are exciting and he needs to cut down on his strikeouts to play anywhere.

Who is going to be the third baseman next year -- Wilson Betemit or Andy LaRoche?
-- Randy P., Beaverton, Or.

You mean, you aren't expecting the Dodgers to trade for Alex Rodriguez? OK, let's say the big bat they are trying to get isn't a third baseman. And let's say Nomar Garciaparra isn't re-signed to move to third base. Then, a platoon of Betemit and LaRoche would seem to make sense during winter planning. The switch-hitting Betemit hit .281 with an .849 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) batting left-handed, but only .189 and .574 batting right-handed. LaRoche is a right-handed hitter coming off a productive season splitting time between Double-A and Triple-A. He's also, however, coming off left (non-throwing) shoulder surgery.

Will the Dodgers bring back Joe Beimel? If not, who will be the situational left-handed reliever?

Beimel had a disastrous finish to an unexpectedly effective season. The hand injury he suffered in a bar undermined the club's playoff chances and his initial lie about how it happened blew his credibility with management. Left-handed relievers who can make 62 appearances in five months with an ERA below 3.00 are coveted, yet they rarely duplicate their best seasons with any consistency. Hong-Chih Kuo has the goods for the role, but he seems destined to be a starter. The Dodgers probably figure if they can find a Minor League free agent like Beimel once, they can do it again.

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What happened to Kelly Wunsch?
-- Carlos D., Lompoc, Cal.

Wunsch was the surprising situational left-handed reliever of 2005, until he suffered a string of injuries, beginning with a torn ankle ligament while warming up in the bullpen in Colorado that required season-ending surgery. At the time, he was on pace for a single-season franchise record for appearances by a left-hander. While recovering, Wunsch also had hip surgery and, while fighting to reclaim his job in Spring Training, he developed shoulder problems that limited him to 8 2/3 innings at Triple-A Las Vegas before undergoing shoulder surgery last month. He is a Minor League free agent and said he expects to be healthy for Spring Training, but he does not have a job lined up yet.

How did the Dodgers' first-round picks in the First-Year Player Draft do this year?
-- Dennis L., Topeka, Kan.

Clayton Kershaw, a left-handed high school pitcher, was 2-0 with a 1.95 ERA in 10 appearances (eight starts) in the Gulf Coast League. The key numbers for him are 54 strikeouts and five walks in 37 innings. Compensation pick Bryan Morris, a right-handed junior college pitcher, was 4-5 with a 5.13 ERA in 14 starts for Rookie-level Ogden with 79 strikeouts but 40 walks in 59 2/3 innings, blowing out his elbow in the process and requiring Tommy John reconstructive surgery that will sideline him the entire 2007 season. Supplemental first-round pick Preston Mattingly hit .290 with one home run and 29 RBIs in 156 at-bats in the Gulf Coast League.

Ken Gurnick is a reporter for This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.