Here we continue our series looking at cheap free agents the Mariners could consider this off-season. I am just looking at utility infielders here, so I am only looking at guys that can play shortstop. I will have a future post on 1st/2nd/and 3rd basemen in free agency. The Mariners will be looking for someone to play the role of Munenori Kawasaki, only someone better (which shouldn’t be hard). I have suggested Carlos Triunfel to fill this role, but the Mariners may want him to go back to Tacoma and play nearly everyday (which would mean Brad Miller would most likely start in AA Jackson, where he finished the season). If that is the Mariners plan, here are 3 free agents that the Mariners can go after to fill that role.
Jason Bartlett was recently a good shotrstop with the Tampa Bay Rays, but was traded to the San Diego Padres where he struggled, and then was released in the middle of 2012. He really struggled at the plate statistically with the Padres, especially in the limited opportunities he got in 2012. So was this a product of the big park, randomness, or did he really regress?
Career: 7.8 BB %, 14.9 K %, 20 LD %, .83 GB/FB, 252.335 average distance per batted ball
As a Padre: 8.4 BB %, 17.5 K %, 20 LD %, 1.05 GB/FB, 250.843 average distance per batted ball
So a few more strikeouts and ground-balls, but other than that, Bartlett’s numbers look pretty similar.
You don’t need the Bartlett of the Rays that had a 102 OPS +. A 88 OPS +, what he had for his career with the Twins, would be perfectly fine if he plays above average defense. It is kind of hard to imagine that he has regressed to a non MLB player at age 32. However, the Mariners have seen just that happen with a guy like Chone Figgins, who turned into a non MLB player at age 33.
He runs a 4.21 from the right side (at least when I timed him), so not bad at all. He is usually considered a pretty solid defender at shortstop. I think it would be interesting to at least take a serious look at Bartlett.
I am assuming that, playing in just 24 games before injuring his knee, Alex Gonzalez didn’t live up to his vesting option with the Brewers. He has always been a backup masquerading as a starter thanks to 2 pretty good years (2007 and 2010). He is simply not a very good hitter, and never really has been in his career.
He is a good, but non elite fielder at shortstop. I looked at the UZR/150 for guys with at least 3,000 innings of shortstop since 2008 and unsurprisingly, Brendan Ryan is a clear 1st and Gonzalez is 10th out of 30 (interestingly, Bartlett is towards the bottom despite being considered a good shortstop from everything I have seen. Former Mariner Yuniesky Betancourt is the worst).
He is really slow (4.53 to first), which isn’t that surprising considering his age (35). Offensively, he doesn’t really have platoon splits, which has both its negatives and positives. The positive is that you don’t have to take him out to play lefty/righty, but it also doesn’t allow you to play or use him exclusively against lefties to give you an advantage. It is much better to have a guy that is good against one platoon and terrible against another than to have a guy who isn’t very good against either.
If you don’t like Brendan Ryan’s offense, you will absolutely hate Cesar Izturis’. However, like Ryan, he is considered to be a really good defender. Looking at a players’ highlight reel can be deceiving, but he is capable of plays like this. When you look at the UZR qualifiers from the criteria above, Izturis has been the 3rd best since 08, behind just Ryan and J.J. Hardy.
After playing just 18 games in the Majors in 2011, Izturis started 2012 with the Brewers and played in 57 games with an atrocious 54 OPS +, -1.1 WAA and -.6 bWAR despite getting a good defensive grade. The Nationals then plucked him off of waivers, only to let him play in 5 games before releasing him. In 1247 career games, he has been worth about 8 wins less than an average player, so about a win a season less than an average player. His offense has been worth just over 2 wins less than you would expect from a replacement player, but he has been worth 12 wins more than an average player defensively.
He is about an average runner, as I got anywhere between 4.18-4.22 on times to first, which is similar to what Speed Score and the Fans Scouting Report (they have him a little bit higher) tells us.
Basically, you never want Izturis to bat. You would want to use him basically as a defensive replacement (and he will obviously have to bat occasionally in spot starts etc.). However, since the Mariners two starting middle infielders are excellent defenders in Ryan and Dustin Ackley, it doesn’t seem that Izturis has a lot of value with this team. Kyle Seager’s defense at 3rd seems to be at least okay, and Izturis has only played 52 career games at 3rd. According to the Fans Scouting Report, his arm strength is the weakest of his defensive talents, though still solid and better than Seager’s. So Izturis could be a late inning replacement with the lead for Seager, and also allow you to pinch hit (with another player obviously) for Ryan in earlier innings if the situation calls for it and still not lose much defensively. I am not sure whether that is worth a lot of value and as a switch hitter Izturis is not really better from one side or the other. He is definitely worth a shot at a spring training invite/non guaranteed contract, but I am not sure he gives you much more value than Kawasaki did on a 25 man roster.
If you are looking for a starting shortstop, the market is really thin. Jhonny Peralta is not a real good defensive shortstop (though UZR likes him), and will reportedly have his contract option exercised by the Tigers. Marco Scutaro is also a free agent, and despite still having good range, Scutaro is 37 and probably not really a shortstop anymore. That is it. Those are the only sort of real starting options at shortstop in free agency this year. In my mind, this makes Brendan Ryan even more valuable.
The possible minor league free agents that can play shortstop produces some pretty laughable names. Andres Blanco has been roughly a replacement player in the utility role with Texas in the past, showing virtually no power, but decent defense and flexibility. He had a horrible offensive year with the Phillies AAA in 2012. Irving Falu is still on the Royals’ 40 man roster, but could be removed soon. He showed a little bit of athleticism when he was brought up for his debut earlier this year. However, he is 29 years old already and has just a .724 OPS in the 443 (!) PCL games. Gil Velazquez was the primary shortstop for the Marlins AAA team this year and has been a minor league veteran (with even more games in AAA than Falu), but hasn’t had much time in the Majors. The sub-.700 OPS in AAA for his career is probably why. Ed Lucas was the main shortstop for the Angels’ PCL team this year and hit okay and has played every position other than catcher on the diamond with some regularity. He has never made the majors and is 30 years old.
The problem is that the Mariners don’t need a AAA shortstop as mentioned above. If the free agent(s) the Mariners bring in to fight for the utility spot do not crack the 25 man roster, then they will probably just be released. Even if the ceilings on the shortstops in AA and AAA aren’t high, they are still depth. There is no reason to add a Andres Blanco or Cesar Izturis to Tacoma. In a rational world, you can add at least one of these utility guys to the 25 man roster, and maybe a 2nd when Chone Figgins is removed from the roster. Of course, you could replace Figgins with basically any position you wanted, and carrying three defensive shortstops would be rather redundant. However, we don’t live in a world that is always dictated by rational decisions, and Figgins will most likely be on the roster to start the season and let go mid-season when he plays poorly yet again.