A Name To Tuck Away
Due to the varying abilities of the players already on the roster, the M’s find themselves in a rather interesting position this winter. They have four talented young position players who are all close to major league ready. They aren’t finished products necessarily, but they can play, and they have enough ability to fight for a spot on the team in spring training. Quality young talent is the lifeblood of an organization, and the upside of having first or second year players contributing for the league minimum is tough to match.
However, none of the four project to be good enough in 2010 that they should have job security heading into next season. They should have the opportunity to make the team, but the M’s can’t go into the season depending on these guys stepping up. It has to be a pleasant surprise, not an expected outcome. So, at each of their respective positions, the M’s need to provide a realistic alternative, but they need to do so without slamming the door shut on the kids.
At those positions, they need options, not necessarily solutions. That’s easier said than done, honestly. You generally don’t expend significant resources to acquire a player and then put his job up for grabs in spring training. You’re not going to sign Nick Johnson, then make him beat out Mike Carp for the first base job. That’s just not going to happen.
There is a path that can make this work, however – targeting players with positional flexibility. This is one of the ideas behind the acquisitions of guys like Jack Hannahan and Bill Hall. If Tui flops, those two could platoon at third base. If they trade Lopez, maybe those two share second base. Or maybe they keep Lopez and Tui wins the third base job, so Hall ends up as Saunders platoon partner and Hannahan fills the role of infield super-sub. Those guys give the M’s options.
What they don’t give the M’s is enough offense. They’re nice enough role players, but they’re backup plans if the first option doesn’t work out. The M’s need a guy with some positional flexibility who they actually want in the line-up and is good enough to hold down a fairly regular job. They need a guy who could slide in at two or three of the LF/3B/1B/C/DH jobs, depending on where the team needs him. It would also be great if he was a switch-hitter, giving the line-up some balance regardless of which position he ends up playing. Oh, and if he was already under contract for the next two years at reasonable salaries, that would help. If he happened to grow up in Moses Lake as a big Mariner fan, that would just be icing on the cake.
Believe it or not, that guy exists. His name is Ryan Doumit. He’s spent the last couple of years alternating between catcher and the disabled list for the Pirates, though they’ve also used him at first base and in the outfield, because his strengths behind the plate begin and end with “he can hit”. The rest of the resume is all pulled straight from Doumit’s file. He’s a switch hitter without much of a platoon split. He has some pop in his bat, and for his career, has been an above average major league hitter. He’ll be 29 next year, and is signed for $3.5 million in 2010 and $5.1 million in 2011, with a team option for 2012 and 2013 following that year. And yes, he’s a local kid. He’s even Willie Bloomquist’s cousin, so you know there’s grit and hustle in the genes somewhere.
He comes with downside, of course, or he wouldn’t be available. He posted a .299 OBP in 2009 when he was on the field, which wasn’t often. A good chunk of that was a low BABIP (.271 versus a .307 career mark), but he’s not a particularly patient hitter, so his on base percentage will always be driven by his batting average. He’s got enough power to make the approach work, but if you’re tired of guys hacking at pitches out of the strike zone, you may not love Doumit. He’s also been hurt a lot in his career, never compiling more than 465 at-bats in a season, and had wrist surgery last year, which is known for sapping power. And, as mentioned, he’s not much of a receiver behind the plate, nor would likely be particularly great at either first or in left.
He’s a hitter first and foremost, with the bonus ability to not totally embarrass himself at three positions. And that gives the M’s options.
If Rob Johnson’s recovery from multiple surgeries don’t go well or Moore flops in spring training, Doumit can fill in at catcher. If whatever 1B/DH they bring in has say, a herniated disc in his back that requires a rest, he can play there. If Saunders can’t hack it in left just yet, you can stick him in the outfield until Ackley’s ready. And, if the M’s hit the lotto and all the young guys play well, then you have the best 10th man in baseball.
Doumit would give the M’s flexibility and productivity. That he’s not particularly expensive and is coming off a poor season makes him exactly the kind of player Zduriencik has shown to be interested in. While the names of higher profile players float around, keep Doumit’s name in the back of your mind, and don’t be too shocked if the M’s end up making a play for him.