Position Roundtables: Starting Left Field
Dave: Starting Left Field: Randy Winn, Jeremy Reed, or Raul Ibanez
This is the first position where we don’t really have a clear cut
favorite for the position. Winn makes the most sense and goes along
with everything the M’s have said to date, but he’s also the most
likely to be traded. Continuing with the organizations historical
trend, left field is not a position of stability for the 2005
If Mike Hargrove and Bill Bavasi asked me (and don’t worry, there’s no
chance of that happening), I’d keep Randy Winn and give him the
everyday left field job. He’s become something of a whipping boy for
the Mariners fanbase, at least online, which is unfortunate, because
the view of how productive Winn has been the past two seasons has been
tainted in the eyes of most observers. Winn certainly isn’t the
prototype left fielder, and he doesn’t have long ball power that is
traditionally associated with the position. He also has a weak arm
that just begs to be ridiculed, and there are few things fans like
less than a major league player who can’t throw the ball as far as
they can. The decision to have him try to replace Mike Cameron in
center field didn’t work, as Winn’s struggles to adapt to the position
solidified his spot as the team’s scapegoat for the decline in
outfield defense. By the end of the year, when Winn had become a
serviceable glove, we didn’t care; the season was in the tank and all
we remembered was Winn taking circular routes to balls that should
have been easy outs.
In our haste to decry Winn’s glove in center, his streaky hitting, and
his lack of power for a corner outfielder, well, we overlooked the
fact that he was pretty darn good in spite of his flaws. Among AL
Center Fielders, only Johnny Damon, Aaron Rowand, Mark Kotsay, and
Carlos Beltran posted higher VORPs (Beltran’s was a little lower, in
actuality, but he would have blown Winn away had he not been traded).
After adjusting for park effects, Winn’s offensive performance was
equal or better than guys like Vernon Wells, Garret Anderson, Bernie
Williams, Corey Patterson, and Milton Bradley. Even if you move him
to left field, he was solidly average offensively, and thanks to his
range, he’s clearly one of the best defensive left fielders in the
Winn turns 31 in June, and players with his
marginal-power-but-still-strike-out-a-lot skill set haven’t aged
particularly well, which is one of the reasons PECOTA hates Winn. We
probably should expect Winn to be a little worse than he was last year
and realize that there’s a chance he’s only going to be a useful
regular for another year or two. But if he can hit .270/.340/.430 and
play a gold glove caliber left field, well, that’s still a pretty
valuable player, especially for $3.5 million in this market.
Right now, Randy Winn is the best left fielder the Mariners have. Barring
an offer that significantly improves the team, they should hang onto him
and let him play eveyrday. He’s probably the most underrated player in
the organization, and its high time we just sit back and realize that he’s a
pretty good player.
Jeff: Randy Winn should get the surgery they performed on that kid in Rookie
of the Year. Bye bye, noodle arm — hello, World Series, hello
countless stuffed animals at county fairs everywhere!
It’s tough to discuss the outfield in discrete parts, because who the
starting left fielder is impacts everything else. As the roster stands
now, my ideal outfield would be Winn-Reed-Ichiro. This is the best
defensive alignment currently available.
It means sticking Ibanez into the designated hitter role, and he
apparently isn’t happy about that, but we all must make sacrifices for
the greater good. Outfield defense is at a premium given the fly-ball
pitching staff the team has assembled.
As for a trade, the key phrase in Dave’s missive is “barring an offer
that significantly improves the team.” If Winn could bring in a
productive starting pitcher, then by all means move him.
If not, I think Dave is correct that plugging Winn into left field and
letting him do what he does best is the right path to take.
Jason: If we assume Jeremy Reed has the center field job locked up (not a
ridiculous assumption), you’re pretty much talking about three guys — Randy
Winn, Raul Ibanez and Bucky Jacobsen — for two spots, left field and
Defensively, there’s no question the M’s are better off with Winn in left. I
think they’re probably better off offensively as well, but then I’m simply
not a Raul Ibanez believer. No matter how many times I see it, I still can’t
believe Ibanez hit .304 last season. Of course, given that he didn’t walk
and only one-third of his hits went for extra bases, it was a pretty empty
My ideal world involves Winn in left, Bucky at DH and trading Ibanez. Winn
probably returns more in trade given his ability to play center, but I think
it’s probably better to keep him around — he doesn’t make much, and there’s
always the possibility Reed falls flat on his face. Without Winn, there
isn’t anyone to take Reed’s place in center.
Given the situation in which all three players are around, I’d start Winn in
left (with Reed and Ichiro rounding out the outfield) and platoon Ibanez and
Jacobsen at DH. Ibanez has shown a pretty big platoon split over the past
three years (170 points of OPS), and I believe Jacobsen can mash lefties if
given the opportunity. Let Raul pad his stats against righties, then deal
him in July when he’s going well and give his at-bats to Bucky.
As a final thought, I hope the M’s call the Giants before making their final
decision; San Francisco has been rumored to want a centerfielder for two
years now, and Winn could be a good fit. I’d happily deal Winn for LHP Noah
Lowry, who might be lost in the shuffly behind more hearalded young pitchers
like Jerome Williams, Merkin Valdez and Jesse Foppert.
Derek: Two things… Winn’s not the team’s problem. It doesn’t matter what he
does this season — they’re not competing. Next season, with that
complicated mutual option thing, that could be an option. In a way, this
becomes a problem if the team is unexpectedly competitive — it’s hard
for a team to make a left-field upgrade if Winn is reasonably priced for
a reasonable performance. They’re much more likely to pursue a patch
elsewhere… while left field may be a place where there’s talent
available in trade.
I think it’s unlikely the team’s going to compete for the division title
next year, though, so that’s not an issue.
The other thing I wonder is why it’s so clear to everyone that Winn
needs to move to left while Reed takes center field. Reed’s a good
player, but he’s not a good defensive centerfielder and I think that
perception’s due in part to the Bloomquist Halo he earned in his 65
at-bats to end last year. He doesn’t have great speed for an
outfielder, though his arm’s better. Understand the “play someone at the
best defensive position he can carry until they have to be moved”
philosophy, and I’m willing to see how he does out there, but the only
people who seem convinced he’ll stick there are in the Mariner
organization, and that seems… odd.
It may be that the best alignment to get the most out of the pair puts
Winn in left and Reed in center.
Dave: I don’t think we can say they’re not competing with any real
conviction. We all seem to agree that a reasonable expectation for
the team is 80-82 wins. What’s the difference between 82 and 92 wins?
A little luck, a nice bounce here and there, with good health and
you’re almost there. Say Felix takes the 5th starter role in June and
does what Madritsch did in the second half last year? That has to be
worth an extra 3-4 wins right there. I’m not arguing we should expect
the team to contend, but baseball is a crazy game, and I’m not ready
to make personnel decisions based upon an emphatic belief that the
2005 Mariners have no chance to make the playoffs.
And, you know, Jason’s point about a backup CF if we trade Winn is a
pretty darn good one. Let’s assume for a second that Sabean takes
some crazy pills and offers us Lowry for Winn. So, now, we’re running
Ibanez out there in left, Reed in center, Ichiro in right, and…
Willie Bloomquist is the fourth outfielder? Really? You want Wee
Willie playing everyday if Ibanez’s hamstring goes out again? Or if
Reed struggles or gets injured, you’re now faced with Bloomquist
playing center everyday or realigning the entire outfield and moving
Ichiro to CF against his will.
I know Jamal Strong has his fans, but guys with his skillset don’t
usually hit very well in the show. Choo and Snelling might be ready
to contribute in ’06 to where you could consider them viable depth in
the outfield, but right now, the M’s only have 4 major league quality
outfielders in the organization. Why on earth are we in such a hurry
to trade one and pray that our starters don’t get hurt?
Derek: I’m not arguing that Winn should be traded, or that the team couldn’t
contend, only that in a way, having someone who is good-not-great and
reasonably cheap makes it tougher on the team to justify upgrading that
position, in a way that having someone bad does not. It’d be a nice
problem to have.
On the depth problem, totally agree, and I have to think it’s something
they’ll fix. Bloomquist isn’t a good outfielder — at best he’s a
stopgap. He’s not the guy you want on 4th OF rotation, while Winn, for
his faults, can play LF/CF well and RF not embarassingly badly. The
multi-headed platoon, if Hargrove is willing to play it, of Ibanez DH
with some LF, Winn in LF with some center, and Reed in center mostly,
would work out pretty well and might help with some of Ibanez’s griping
about wanting to play the field while allowing the team to pick his
spots (more ground-ball pitchers, for instance)
Peter: On the surface, Randy Winn’s offensive performance in
’03 and ’04 are nearly identical. He walked a little
more, struck out a little less. That’s good, but not
exactly earth-shattering. Dig a little deeper and we
see some noticeable trends.
Now, do we know what happened to Randy Winn and
left-handed pitchers last year? In previous years,
Winn had handled lefties the way we would expect a
corner outfielder to hit, and he’s hit righties like a
98-pound second baseman.
But not last year. His righty/lefty splits
flip-flopped. Did he change his approach as a
Furthermore, Safeco effectively neutralized his
hitting. Whereas in ’03, he was essentially the same
hitter both home and away, Winn proved a much more
effective hitter on the road than at home last year. I
wonder what changed here.
As for LF option #2 Raul Ibanez, he walked 36 times
last year in 481 at bats. Not good. As Jason mentions,
he hit .306, but his isolated slugging (SLG minus AVG)
was .168. That ranked 49th in the American League,
comparable to such lineup heavyweights as Mike Young,
Orlando Hudson and Rocco Baldelli.
This from the lefty slugging bat brought in over the
winter to provide punch in the middle of the lineup.
I’m a huge fan of Reed, but for some reason I’d still
like to see him earn his way into the starting lineup
rather than seeing him handed the job at the start of
All that said, I ain’t complaining about having too
many bats for too few lineup spots. There’s still a
bench that needs adequate filling.