When the Los Angeles Dodgers signed outfielder Tony Gwynn, Jr. to a one-year Major League deal on Tuesday, it became almost apparent that Xavier Paul is not part of the club’s future plan. And with General Manager Ned Colletti still pursuing outfielders Jeff Francoeur, Bill Hall, and Scott Podsednik, one wonders if the X-Man is being considered as a possible bartering chip to fill in a few remaining gaps on the roster.

As of Tuesday evening, MLB analysts such as Jon Paul Morosi of FOX Sports have already reported that similar rumors about Paul may become reality.

Stop for a moment and think back to June 9, 2010—a time when everything was just glorious at Chavez Ravine.

The Dodgers defeated the St. Louis Cardinals that evening, improving their record to 36-24—the best in the entire National League.

Clayton Kershaw struck out 10 batters while outduelling Adam Wainwright and earned himself his sixth victory on the season. Manny Ramirez, who was completely healthy, belted his fifth home run into the stands in the bottom of the first inning which put the Dodgers ahead to stay. In the bottom of the third, Blake DeWitt ripped a two-run single into right that provided the necessary insurance runs. Jonathan Broxton sealed the game with his 16th save—and it was only the beginning of June.

Things were just dandy in Dodgertown.

At that point in time, Dodger fans knew that Ramirez wouldn’t be back in 2011, and there was no doubt that Xavier Paul, the Dodgers’ fourth-round draft pick in 2003, was the heir apparent to Manny’s starting outfield spot. Some folks argued that Paul should have been on the big league roster to prepare himself for everyday action in 2011, while others thought he needed the daily repetitions in the minors where he could continue to hone his skills.

Regardless, Paul would get the call a total of three times during the 2010 campaign. It could be fair to say that skipper Joe Torre misused Paul during that time, as Paul found himself in a three-way platoon with veterans Garret Anderson and Reed Johnson. And to add insult to injury, Torre, being a huge fan of the hitter’s match-up, started Jamey Carroll in left field five times in July.

Nevertheless, although he did consistently hit the ball hard, Paul didn’t capitalize on the opportunities he had in the 44 games he appeared over the course of 2010. His average before his third call-up was a productive .281, but just before being sent back to Triple-A Albuquerque in August, he drifted down to a 231 average and a .314 slugging percentage. Still, there weren’t many players on the squad who were hitting much better, as the entire team was amidst a tremendous drought for most of July and August.

It’s difficult to say if 44 games is enough time to give a 25-year-old outfielder the opportunity to prove his value, but there’s no doubt that the X-Man has the tools. He has a rifle of an arm, which can easily be ranked second-best in the organization next to the cannon of Matt Kemp. And his minor league statistics prior to being injured in 2009 are excellent.

In 2008 with the Las Vegas 51s, Paul appeared in 115 games while batting an impressive .316/.378/.463. He also added 28 doubles, nine home runs, 68 RBI and 17 stolen bases. His OPS calculated to .841, which is exceptional for someone hitting out of the one or two holes.

Heading into 2011, the Dodgers have a need for speed, and if Rafael Furcal happens to suffer an injury as he typically has in years past, there’s few on the roster who could fill that spot as well as Paul. And outside of Furcal and Kemp, there’s not a single player on the squad who is even a threat to steal a base. Newly acquired first base coach Davey Lopes is a professor of the art of stealing, but there may be little for him to work with in that area next season.

The Dodgers aren’t getting any younger, and there are very few players on the Dodger’s farm who have seen any action at the big league level. Considering a starting lineup of Rod Barajas, Casey Blake, Furcal, Juan Uribe, James Loney, Jay Gibbons, Kemp, and Andre Ethier, only three of those players are under the age of thirty. The “young core” of players, as they are so often referred to, aren’t very young anymore, and it may be a good time to experiment with a few of the farmhands such as Paul, Russ Mitchell, or Ivan DeJesus.

Additionally, while in the minor leagues, Paul has always played well under Tim Wallach, who will be responsible for the Dodgers’ third base coaching duties next season. Now is a good time as any to give the X-Man a proper opportunity to show what he can contribute to the club.

The first half of the season is seemingly the best time for such types of experimentation, as the team can make any necessary adjustments before the All-Star break or trade deadline. Instead, Los Angeles has worked backwards from that angle over the last few years, having rounded out the Opening Day roster with veterans, then calling upon a few minor leaguers in awkward or very high pressure type situations.

Regardless of what the future holds for Xavier Paul, he will have the opportunity to prove himself, whether it be for another team or for the Dodgers in Spring training next year. Many who have seen him play recognize his overwhelming potential, and hope that Los Angeles provides him with the chance to prove his value. And if Los Angeles does indeed decide to retain him, the decision must be concise, as he no longer has any options remaining, and cannot be jockeyed between the Dodgers’ minor and major league rosters.

After a brutal 2010 campaign and with ownership still in question, folks across Dodgertown are mentally fatigued as it is, and really don’t need additional nightmares of dealing away very young, untested future stars such as Paul Konerko, Cody Ross, Carlos Santana, Sid Fernandez, John Franco or Pedro Martinez.

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