Over the last week or so, the trade rumors have focused on Yuniesky Betancourt, but if the Mariners are going to fix their overly RH line-up problem, making a move at second base is probably a more realistic scenario. It’s a lot harder to find a shortstop who can hit from the left side than it is to find a second baseman who can do the same, after all. In fact, there’s a left-handed second baseman who could potentially be had at the moment who I would strongly suggest the Mariners pursue.
His name is Mike Fontenot. You might look at his .208/.299/.368 performance this season and say “great, just what this team needs, another guy who isn’t hitting”, but I’d suggest you look beyond his overall line. Here are his performances in the core skill categories from last year and this year.
BB%: 12.3%, 11.3%
K%: 21.0%, 21.6%
ISO: .210, .160
His walk and strikeout rates are essentially unchaged, and while his power has taken a step back, it’s still well above average. His poor performance is driven entirely by a swing from a .355 batting average on balls in play last year to a .226 mark this year. BABIP isn’t as luck driven for hitters as it is for pitchers, but it is extremely inconsistent, especially in small samples. Fontenot wasn’t going to sustain last year’s mark, but he also isn’t going to keep hitting balls right at fielders like he is currently. If you believe his true talent BABIP is around .300 (like I do), then he would project to hit something like .260/.340/.420 over the rest of the season.
Not only would that performance make him one of the team’s better hitters, but he’s also an absolutely perfect fit for this team and Safeco Field. The M’s badly need a hitter or three who can hit right-handed pitching, and Fontenot excels against RHPs (career .283/.368/.460 mark against them). Most of his power lies in pulling the ball to right field, as well – check out his HR location patterns for last year, via Hit Tracker Online.
Talk about a guy who could take advantage of Safeco’s short porch down the right field line, and wouldn’t be nearly as affected by the cavernous left-center field area. You could actually expect Safeco to help Fontenot, not hurt him, unlike what it currently does to most of the roster.
He wouldn’t just improve the club’s offense, either. Unlike our current second baseman, Fontenot can actually play defense. In 1100 major league innings at second base, he’s posted a UZR of +9.9, which rates out as +14 runs per 150 games. It’s a small sample of data, so we’d have to regress our expectations back more towards something like a +5 defender going forward, but +5 defense at second base would be a significant upgrade over what we’re getting from Lopez right now. Toss in an easy opportunity to get Cedeno some at-bats against LHPs, and the team would be able to take a solid step forward on both sides of the field by acquiring Fontenot.
Ideally, you’d be able to convince the Cubs to swap Fontenot for Lopez, who would give them a “proven” second baseman who can play everyday, something they’re not convinced of when it comes to Fontenot. However, even if they aren’t big Lopez fans, the M’s would be wise to try to work out a deal for Fontenot before his luck starts to turn and the Cubbies decide to hang onto their 28-year-old left-handed infielder with power and defensive skills. Get creative if you have to – involve a third team that might want Lopez (the Minnesota Twins, for instance) and move some players around to make it work for everyone.
Fontenot is exactly the kind of player the M’s should be trying to acquire right now. He helps the team both now and in the future, fitting the player type the roster is badly lacking and giving them an answer at second base for 2010 and beyond.
Mike Fontenot please. Make it happen, Jack.