Jose Lopez, Third Baseman?
Well, it didn’t take long, but we now have an actual story from spring training. When the team took the field for their first full workout today, Jose Lopez headed to third base, while Chone Figgins went to second. Obviously, it’s just one day of practice, but the team knew that this was going to get a lot of media coverage, given that it’s the first workout of the spring. If this was just a “wonder how Lopez handles the hot corner” curiosity, they could have done this a week from now at a minor league field with no one around. That they started off this way suggests that there’s more to this than just a casual experiment.
Geoff Baker gets some quotes from the involved parties.
“I’ll try to catch ground balls at third base and see what happens at spring training, play in a couple of games,” Lopez said. “If i like it, I like it. I’ll try.”
And if he doesn’t like it?
“Then I’ll go to the manager’s office and tell him I don’t like it.”
Lopez added: “If we like it, we talk. If we don’t like it, I’m going to play second base.”
“We’re going to look at it and see,” he said, as Lopez scooped grounders a few feet away. “There’s nothing etched in stone right now. We’re just looking to see what our different options are.”
The idea behind this is that Figgins has more range than Lopez, while Jose has a better arm and a body type more typical of a third baseman. When you look at the two of them, you’d certainly expect Figgins to be the 2B and Lopez to be the 3B.
However, I don’t know that appearance should override experience. In his career, Figgins has less than half a season of major league playing time at second base, and Lopez has a half dozen games at third base. Figgins has over 4,000 innings at third base, while Lopez has over 5,000 at second base. There is no way around the fact that the team would be surrendering quite a bit of experience, and the benefits that come from repetition. Lopez isn’t the rangiest guy in the world, but he knows how turn a double play. Figgins doesn’t have a cannon arm, but he’s learned how to charge a bunt. These things aren’t developed overnight.
Even if they commit to this alignment right out of the gate, there’s going to be adjustments to be made by both players. It’s pretty common for guys to move between second and third base, so this is one of the easier adjustments around, but there’s still an adjustment period. Even if both guys take well to the switch, I’m not sure how much of a positive impact it would actually have on the defense, once you factor in the learning curve.
And, then, there’s another factor. Dustin Ackley. The M’s have been thrilled with how quickly he’s taken to second base, and he’s the future at the position in Seattle. So, no matter how this switch goes, it’s a short term thing for Figgins. He’ll be back at third base in a year or so. Moving him to second for 2010, then moving him back to third for 2011… this all seems like a lot of movement for a very marginal gain, if any.
I can see why the M’s would want to take a look at this alignment. There are natural tendencies to think that this is a better use of of their particular skillsets, and had they been developed differently, it probably would be. But Figgins knows how to play third, Lopez knows how to play second, and throwing out that knowledge seems unnecessary to me.
We’ll see how this develops. Right now, this isn’t my favorite idea ever, but it’s still February, and there is a lot of time left to see how this plays out.