Jose Lopez and 2005
I made a pretty long post about Jose Lopez about a month ago, so I’m going to try and stay away from rehashing the arguments about Lopez’s future potential and value. I am wondering, however, why nearly everyone views him as a viable option as the Mariners starting shortstop or even third baseman next year.
Regardless of whether you think Lopez is going to be a superstar, you have to admit that the current version is not a productive player. His .234/.265/.383 line gives him a VORP of -0.1. He’s basically the definition of a replacement level shortstop, giving the Mariners the same production as they could find by signing a minor league free agent this offseason.
How likely is it that he’ll make the jump from replacement level to useful contributor next year? Slim to none. PECOTA (which basically nailed Lopez’s 2004 performance on the button) had Lopez’s value in 2005 at about 0.7 wins and a .246 EqA, meaning he’s just a hair above replacement level. To be simply “average”, he’d have to hit his 75th percentile projection. To expect much more out of Lopez next year than a .250/.290/.400 line is unrealistic. Even the most optimistic comparisons for Lopez struggled in their age 21 seasons in the majors. At that age, Tejada hit .202/.240/.333 in 98 at-bats, then followed it up with a .233/.298/.384 season a year later. He didn’t even become useful until age 23 or productive until 24.
So, if we expect that Lopez is going to perform at or near replacement level next year, why on earth would you go into spring training with him as your number one option? Even if you want him to take the job, it is incumbant upon the Mariners to bring in another replacement level shortstop to provide depth and an alternative in case of injury or struggles. Making Lopez the unquestioned starter while simultaneously expecting a performance equal to what you could get for a non-roster invitee is foolish.
In my mind, it isn’t even a question that the Mariners need to sign a cheap alternative shortstop to seriously challenge for the position. If spring training rolls around and Lopez has made monstrous improvements, you simply cut the NRI or make him the backup. However, if Lopez hasn’t made strides and appears to be on his way to posting another season at least as mediocre as what you can get from the veteran-of-the-day, send him to Tacoma and save the service time.
Players develop in Triple-A all the time. The argument that Lopez cannot develop without the challenge of major league pitching lacks any kind of supporting evidence. Simply burning through his pre-arbitration years because he’s cheap is short-sighted thinking. The Mariners will be able to pick from a large group of players who can be obtained for the major league minimum, several of them non-guaranteed, who will be able to post numbers in a similar range to what you expect from Lopez next year. With that being the case, he just shouldn’t be considered a real option for the opening day job. If he opens your eyes in spring training, deal with it then. Assuming that he’s going to is setting yourself up for disaster, both next year and in 2011, when he’s hitting the free market a year earlier than he should be.