Left-hander Jay Gibbons and right-hander Marcus Thames will platoon in… (Jake Roth / US Presswire )
Reporting from Phoenix — The Boston Red Sox spent $142 million on a left fielder this winter. The Angels added $70 million in salary when acquiring theirs.
The Dodgers took a far more economical approach, committing $1.4 million toward two players they plan to use in a right-left platoon: Marcus Thames and Jay Gibbons.
Money doesn't necessarily translate into on-field success, evidenced by the largely frustrating two-year tenure of the departed Manny Ramirez, whom the Dodgers signed to a $45-million contract. The Angels' getting Vernon Wells with $86 million left on his contract has also been questioned.
But this is the other extreme.
Gibbons' contract is worth $650,000 but is guaranteed for only the major league minimum of $400,000. The projected left-handed-hitting part of the platoon can earn another $150,000 in incentives if he makes 500 plate appearances.
"The numbers will speak for themselves," Gibbons said. "If I go out there and hit .100, they can very easily get rid of me and people will say, 'I told you so.' If I go out there and produce, I think that will go away."
Thames is due to make $1 million. He can make an additional $800,000 in bonuses based on plate appearances and innings played on the field.
If anything, the potential platoon mates overcame significant obstacles to be where they are today.
The middle of five children growing up in Mississippi, Thames was 5 years old when his single mother was paralyzed in a car accident. His oldest sibling was 10; the youngest was still a baby.
The siblings split apart for a few years — Thames went to live with his uncle and aunt — but went back to living with their mother when she decided to return to her own home. Thames and his brothers and sisters had to grow up quickly.
"It was not easy," Thames said. "It took a whole family effort."
The kids cooked. They worked.
"My sister was like my mom," he said.
Thames, who broke into the majors with the New York Yankees in 2002, said the experience has helped him.
"You can't go on dwelling on things," he said.
In Gibbons' case, some of his problems were self-inflicted, as he was named in the Mitchell Report. Gibbons, who has admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs, spent almost three years in exile. He played in an independent league. He paid his own way to Venezuela to try out for a winter league team. He returned to the major leagues in August, when the Dodgers promoted him from triple-A Albuquerque.
Gibbons said he knows he has to be more than fodder for a heartwarming, heart-rending story this year.
"A good story is a good story, but if you're not playing well, there will be other good stories," he said.
Manager Don Mattingly said he thinks Gibbons and Thames could provide the Dodgers with something Ramirez couldn't last season: power.
"If those guys swing the bat the way they're capable of, we have a chance to get 20-25 home runs from those guys," Mattingly said.
Gibbons batted .280 and hit five home runs in 75 at-bats with the Dodgers last season. Thames, who hit 12 home runs in 212 at-bats with the Yankees last season, has averaged one long ball every 14.93 at-bats over the last five years — fourth-most among American League players with at least 1,500 plate appearances in that span.
Neither player has hit for average over his career. Gibbons is a career .260 hitter, Thames .248.
And both players are considered defensive liabilities. So much so that when the subject of playing the outfield was mentioned, Thames said, "I'm sure you've heard the defense isn't all there."
Thames has spent his entire career until now in the American League, a significant part of it as a designated hitter.
"I haven't had a chance to get out there," said Thames, adding that with regular playing time, he thinks he can be an adequate defender.
Gibbons, who called himself a "streaky" defender, said his problem is that he has spent most of his career playing right field.
If they falter, there are alternatives.
Longtime prospect Xavier Paul is out of options — if he is assigned to the minor leagues, he can be claimed by another team — and has significantly cut down his body fat after training this winter with Olympic sprinters Lolo Jones and Richard Thompson.
Reclamation projects Tony Gwynn Jr. and Gabe Kapler could also figure into the mix.
The Dodgers will get a clearer idea of what they paid for Saturday, when they open the Cactus League season with a couple of split-squad games. Gibbons will be part of the group that faces the Angels in Tempe while Thames, Paul, Gwynn and Kapler face the San Francisco Giants in Scottsdale.