The Middle Infield Problem

Dave · March 16, 2010 at 10:53 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

When people talk about the weaknesses on the M’s, they’ll usually point to the obvious; the offense is below average and everyone knows it. Occasionally, someone will talk about the back of the rotation, which may or may not be a problem depending on how guys like Snell and Vargas pitch. But, I realized today that I haven’t had too many conversations with people about another potential problem area for the M’s – the middle infield.

This seems to be an area where there is some legitimate liability, depending on how things break. If Figgins can make the transition to second base and Wilson can stay healthy, they’ll be fine. But, if either or both of those things don’t happen, it could be bad news for the M’s.

Let’s start with second base, since its the lesser of the two issues. Figgins should be able to play there. I’m not overly worried that he’s going to struggle with the adjustment, given his skills and experience. There will be a few errors, but the added range should make up for that, at least in theory. But what happens if he makes 6 or 7 bad looking errors in April, booting easy grounders and botching double plays? Will the M’s reverse field and put Lopez back at second? What if he’s successfully made the transition to third and actually looks good there? What then?

You can flip-flop them and bet on them falling back on their experience, but then the team would find themselves in a situation that they’ve been desperately trying to avoid – Jose Lopez as their second baseman again. They clearly don’t see him as the present or the future there, and I’d imagine the hope is that he never plays the position for the M’s again. After a spring of practicing at third, and yet another year of reporting to camp in what can be generously reported as not the best shape of his life, how good would you expect him to be there? Not great, that’s for sure. But, that’s really the only option if they want to pull the plug on the Figgins at 2B experiment.

Shortstop holds even more potential for problems. As everyone knows by now, Jack Wilson is not a 150 game per year kind of guy. He’s in his decline years, has fought nagging health problems the last two seasons, and already had some hamstring issues this spring. His backup is going to play, and probably quite a bit. We’d assumed it would be Jack Hannahan, but he’s come up with a bad groin and has barely gotten any action this spring. Considering his lack of experience at SS, that’s a problem. He needed this March to show the staff that he could play short, and they haven’t had the chance to see that yet. There’s still time if he can get back on the field soon, but if this problem persists, they’re going to have to go another direction. Wilson’s backup can’t have a lingering health problem himself.

And therein lies the problem. There isn’t another option in the organization. Josh Wilson is a Triple-A player. Tui can’t play short in the majors with any kind of credibility. There isn’t a major league SS anywhere to be found beyond the 25 man roster, and the two guys on the roster who can play short have health issues (even if Wilson is 100% right now, he’s always a possible scratch). The worst case scenario here is pretty darn bad, and unfortunately, the rest of this roster isn’t good enough to carry a below replacement level player starting for any real length of time.

As we get closer to opening day, the M’s are probably going to have to address this. If Hannahan can put the groin thing behind him and show that he can play shortstop a couple of times per week if needed, then they can run with what they have and hope it works out. But if they don’t get Hannahan some reps at short soon, they may have to consider getting themselves another legitimate middle infielder.

One possibility – Cristian Guzman. The Nationals owe him $8 million in the final year of his contract, but he’s getting pushed out of a job by youngster Ian Desmond. If they’d eat most of the contract in exchange for a C+ prospect, he’s the kind of guy who could raise the floor of what the M’s could get from both middle infield spots. He may not raise the top end of the projection much, but the M’s have some vulnerability up the middle that drags down their win totals in the when-things-go-wrong scenarios, and a guy like Guzman would alleviate quite a bit of that. He’d give the team some legitimate depth up the middle on days when Wilson can’t play, and right now, they don’t have that.

It’s worth waiting for Hannahan to get healthy in the next week, because at 100%, he can give you most of what Guzman can without the need to acquire anyone else, but there’s no acceptable alternative in the organization right now. If Hannahan doesn’t get back on the field soon, the M’s will have to explore the trade avenues, because the middle infield is a problem, even if it doesn’t get talked about that much.


49 Responses to “The Middle Infield Problem”

  1. CCW on March 16th, 2010 11:03 pm

    Can you expand on your “Tui can’t hack it” belief? I really have no idea, but Tui does seem like the kind of guy – athlete first, baseball player second – that might have more than the usual amount of room for improvement.

  2. Dave on March 16th, 2010 11:15 pm

    He was drafted as a shortstop and played there in his first few years in the minors. It didn’t go well. He didn’t just struggle – he made 55 errors in 137 games while showing a total lack of range. It was bad. Really bad.

    Since being moved to third, Tui worked his tail off to become decent. He used to be awful there too, but the kid is a worker. But he’s more passable at third than good, because he just doesn’t have great reactions or good lateral movement.

    Think Mike Morse. Same kind of player, though Tui’s bat is better. But you don’t want either of them playing shortstop on your big league team.

  3. thehemogoblin on March 16th, 2010 11:24 pm

    I like the Cristian Guzman thought, especially because the Nationals aren’t about to contend, so they would be better served playing for the future right now. Nobody can deny that they’re not playing for the future right now either; if they were, Stephen Strasburg would be their Opening Day starter.

    Also, Hannahan’s injury is interesting, because not many people would correlate the injury of a below-average player who doesn’t even start as a major issue for a team, but in Seattle’s scenario, it’s turning out to be one.

  4. Liam on March 16th, 2010 11:41 pm

    What’s wrong with Jack Hannahan’s shoulder, I thought he strained his groin?

  5. Flowin on March 17th, 2010 12:08 am

    What about Truni as the backup SS? He is having a good Spring, and his bat is better than both Wilson’s and Hanahan’s?

  6. Dave on March 17th, 2010 12:10 am

    Truni is not a person. If you mean Tui, read above. If you mean Triunfel, he’s not even close to major league ready, nor is he likely to stick at short.

  7. wabbles on March 17th, 2010 12:16 am

    Interesting. So the one super-sub upon which we were pinning all our hopes might have shoulder “issues” (read “problems”). Eight million is a lot but we did save a lot this winter. Any chance we could get a Luis Soho fill-in until someone else comes along on the waiver wire or comes through the system?

  8. PositivePaul on March 17th, 2010 12:44 am

    Where in the world is Ramon Santiago?


  9. dusto on March 17th, 2010 12:50 am

    The Dodgers don’t have room for Chin Lung Hu any more (Thank you Jamey Carroll). I’m sure most of you don’t know who he is, but he is more than passable defensively, and can play second just as well as short. He’s not more than a gap hitter at best and lacks a lot offensively, but his glove is extraordinary. His Asian decent (Taiwan) should put a few seats in the stands…

    just an idea.

  10. dusto on March 17th, 2010 12:50 am

    “seats in the stands”…

    Haha I meant buts in the seats.

  11. DaveValleDrinkNight on March 17th, 2010 1:14 am

    Meh… it’s a groin pull.

  12. johnfree63 on March 17th, 2010 2:08 am

    I still like the idea of trading for Reid Brignac that was batted around at the trade deadline last year. Hes a good fielder, at least an average MLB bat,and pretty much blocked at SS in Tampa. I wonder if the same C+ prospect could land him in a trade.

  13. Jack Swan on March 17th, 2010 3:30 am

    Love the idea of Christian Guzman. But if he can’t be had for whatever reason how about Ramon Vasquez of the Pirates. I read somewhere they might be on the verge of just releasing him.

  14. Mekias on March 17th, 2010 6:28 am

    For shortstop, if Hannahan isn’t ready, there’s no question in my mind that Josh Wilson is the short term fix. I don’t think they’ll go out and try to get a Guzman type until they have to. If there seems to be a long term problem with either Hannahan or Jack, I’m sure they’ll look into other options.

    We still don’t know who’s playing second at this point (have we gotten to the half-way point where Wakamatsu is going to make his decision)? It certainly sounds like they are dead set on making this change. Are they just going to cross their fingers and hope it works out? I think this move will end up costing us a few games this year but, hey, at least Lopez “looks” like a third baseman and Chone “looks” like a second baseman!

  15. Paul B on March 17th, 2010 6:48 am

    Even if the Mariners trade for a backup shortstop (like Guzman), they still have a roster problem.

    They were sort of counting on having one infield backup, I think, and now they would have to have two (a SS and an everything but short infielder) unless Guzman would push Hannahan and Tui off the ML roster completely. If they have to have two backup infielders then someone gets pushed out of the outfield.

  16. Chris_From_Bothell on March 17th, 2010 7:57 am

    What about Chone at SS and Tui at 2nd? Not sustainable for more than a month, but as a once-every week or once-every-couple-weeks thing, perhaps that patches it up well enough.

    If the scenario you’re guarding against is Jack Wilson landing on the 15-day DL at any time, or being done for the season in August, then obviously no. But if this problem is about roster depth in principle and resting Wilson occasionally, and not about expecting that you won’t have a full season of Wilson, perhaps this patch is enough.

    (Though if they weren’t expecting to have a full season of Wilson, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher why they’d pay 8 mil per year for him…)

  17. Chris Miller on March 17th, 2010 8:03 am

    Eight million is a lot but we did save a lot this winter.

    I’d hope we wouldn’t spend 8 million on Guzman for any reason, even if we had the money.

  18. Mekias on March 17th, 2010 8:26 am

    (Though if they weren’t expecting to have a full season of Wilson, it’s a bit of a head-scratcher why they’d pay 8 mil per year for him…)

    We’re paying 5 mill a year for Jack Wilson. And they are expecting a full season out of Wilson. I’m sure they had their medical staff look over him to see if he had any chronic injuries. I’m penciling him in for around 140 games played but I’m just guessing like everyone else is.

    If we were an offense-first team, we might consider Chone at SS and Tui at 2B. As it is, I’m pretty confident that they would bring up Josh Wilson for SS before considering any move like that.

  19. Sports on a Schtick on March 17th, 2010 8:35 am

    Like dusto I was thinking of Hu as a passable backup for the middle infield. If the M’s were willing to send cash I’m sure it could happen.

  20. Chris_From_Bothell on March 17th, 2010 8:48 am

    We’re paying 5 mill a year for Jack Wilson.

    Oh, whoops – forgot about the restructured contract, right.

    Still, there’s seeing if he’s ready to go for the season and then there’s the roster depth / emergency backup thinking that Dave is talking about. I agree with the assessment that Josh Wilson is not a great option, and I’d go with Chone/Tui before I’d go with Josh/Chone. Chone learning SS is probably better than what Josh is able to do as SS now.

    And offense-first or defense-first, from a WAR point of view, Chone/Tui probably brings as much or more than Josh/Chone does.

  21. Mike Snow on March 17th, 2010 8:52 am

    No love for Chris Woodward?

  22. Mekias on March 17th, 2010 9:01 am

    No love for Chris Woodward?

    I’m sure his mamma loves him.

    I don’t think his defense at SS & 2B is particularly good. Add that to a weak bat and aging legs and I don’t want him anywhere near the M’s.

  23. marshinn on March 17th, 2010 9:23 am

    Sounds like good ship Mariner could use Dustin Ackley to power through AA West Tennessee sooner .vs later – and be in Tacoma by mid Spring. Having that lefty bat, after some more practice at 2nd, and with some proven skills at 1B and in the Outfield would be a good idea to have either in Tacoma or soon on the bench at the Safe as needed.

  24. Mike Snow on March 17th, 2010 9:30 am

    No argument from me, I was being maybe 5% serious at most. It’s more an observation on the value of Josh Wilson as an alternative. Woodward was playing short at Tacoma last year, and they only acquired Wilson to fill that slot because they had to call up Woodward.

  25. marc w on March 17th, 2010 9:39 am

    I think they’d want to have their scouts look carefully at Hu. Great defender by most accounts, but will the bat play in MLB? Yes, yes, he’s not been given a legitimate chance, but his o-swing numbers were ugly.

    But yes, if Hu’s cheap, yeah, definitely.

  26. KingCorran on March 17th, 2010 9:41 am

    Tui may have struggled in the early minors at SS, but he’s looked passable this spring at the position. I’m okay with a bat-first stopgap there.

  27. wabbles on March 17th, 2010 10:05 am

    “But if he can’t be had for whatever reason how about Ramon Vasquez of the Pirates. I read somewhere they might be on the verge of just releasing him.”

    The now 32-year-old that started out in our system and was supposed to be part of our middle infield of the future? I suspect there’s a reason the Pirates are releasing him.

  28. tmac9311 on March 17th, 2010 11:21 am

    I never thought I’d be a fan of a Guzman deal, but he seems like one of the better options, and the cheapest, although I’m intrigued by the Hu talk, we do lack MIs at all levels so stalking up young ones would be good. Guzman would probably come cheaper as he is old and they want to get rid of him. They would probably eat most of it as said, paying Guzman a million bucks isn’t ideal, but could give us a pretty strong option at SS, and someone proven at SS. I believe he’s played, or at least practiced around the diamond for the Nats as well, so he could possibly do all that Hannahan is/was going to do.

  29. IM on March 17th, 2010 11:28 am

    I don’t see the need to go get someone to back up SS.
    You write off Josh Wilson as a AAA player, which he is, but strictly at SS I don’t see much differance from putting Hannahan out there if Jack Wilson is injured.
    Hannahan is valuble because he can play multiple positions, but if he is in effect your everyday SS you will be getting about the same production as you would having Jo. Wilson out there.
    Jo. Wilson would probably hit around .250, with no power and average D.
    Hannahan would hit around .210-.225 with a small amount of pop and probably slightly above average D at SS.
    I just don’t see how it would be devastating to the team. I’m not expecting much offense from Jack Wilson anyways.

  30. LeftField on March 17th, 2010 11:42 am

    Between Hanahan, Josh Wilson, and Tui I think our infield is pretty well covered without looking for a stopgap outside the organization. Hanahan’s injury shouldn’t slow him down for much longer and I just can’t see Guzman and Jack wilson splitting time at SS.

  31. joser on March 17th, 2010 11:48 am

    hey, at least Lopez “looks” like a third baseman and Chone “looks” like a second baseman!

    There’s a bit more to it than that. John Walsh has shown that the SS helps out the 3B much more than the 2B in terms of covering the infield: there’s very little overlap between the 2B and SS on fielded balls, but there’s a lot overlap between SS and 3B. Thus to take maximum advantage of Jack Wilson (when he’s healthy and on the field, of course) and to minimize Lopez’ limitations, you’d want this alignment. Jack Wilson is what makes this switch possible, and he knows it

    Wilson enables the Mariners to contemplate a Lopez switch to third because of how well he ranges to his right. That means, the shortstop can get to balls Lopez might otherwise allow to slip past him in th hole. In other words, Lopez’s range doesn’t need to be as good with Wilson getting to those balls.

    “It’s almost like I don’t really want them to cover too much ground over there because it’s going to take one of my (strong) things away,” Wilson said

    The trouble is that Jack Wilson doesn’t stay healthy, and the calculus changes if you have to run out a much less rangy replacement. Hannahan is less rangy than Wilson, but we don’t really know how much; and if that groin becomes a nagging injury it’s moot anyway. The only way somebody like Tui makes sense in that hole is if he earns more with his bat than he gives away with his glove and, hot spring or not, that seems unlikely. (How hot will his bat be if he’s been sitting on the bench for weeks in between Wilson injuries?) So you have to at least think about alternatives (this is, remember, the FO that has backup plans for its backup plans), which gets back to the point of Dave’s post.

  32. 3cardmonty on March 17th, 2010 12:00 pm

    What’s Pokey Reese up to these days?

  33. Kazinski on March 17th, 2010 12:32 pm

    I’m worried about the idea of having only one backup infielder. It seems either Byrnes or Langerhans should get squeezed out by somebody that can play a corner outfield spot and the infield. Right now we only have one backup for three positions, that isn’t enough for 162 games.

    Tui could be a candidate for 5th outfielder/backup infielder, but there maybe somebody outside the organization that could fit the bill too.

  34. Mekias on March 17th, 2010 12:45 pm

    I think the M’s play on MLB network tonight. The last time I saw Lopez at third (the Brewers game), he looked bad. Hopefully Chone & Lopez will both play tonight and get some nasty grounders. I really hope they are improving because this “experiment” is making me really nervous.

  35. TherzAlwaysHope on March 17th, 2010 1:27 pm

    I’m glad this is finally out there. I went to two games: March 12th and 13th. My son and I went down really psyched up. We flew out of Phoenix concerned about the “middle infield” issue — not to mention the pitching. Right now, I don’t see them out-performing last year.

  36. joser on March 17th, 2010 2:00 pm

    Sounds like good ship Mariner could use Dustin Ackley to power through AA West Tennessee sooner .vs later

    Which doesn’t help unless you think Figgins can play short reasonably well. He has a total of 27 major league games at SS (haven’t looked at his minor numbers) and the most recent was 2 games in 2006. Even if you think he could transition to SS, do you really want to do it in the middle of the season? In some perfect world maybe newly-valuable third baseman Jose Lopez gets traded, Figgins slides back to 3rd, and Ackley takes over at 2B…. but that has no bearing on what to do about a gimpy set of choices at SS in 2010.

  37. tylerv on March 17th, 2010 2:05 pm

    Dude don’t spend 8 on Guzman. This team isn’t going to be that close to anyone in the standings for a 1 win upgrade or whatever. Sorry.

    I feel like JZ has an FA piggy bank going for one of these years. I’d prefer that to getting a marginal upgrade on a marginal team.

    You are right though in any case, we have some depth problems at short that I have a feeling we’ll get to see unfold this year.

  38. Liam on March 17th, 2010 2:31 pm

    Some of you need to read Dave’s post again.

    If they’d eat most of the contract in exchange for a C+ prospect, he’s the kind of guy who could raise the floor of what the M’s could get from both middle infield spots.

  39. Coach24 on March 17th, 2010 3:01 pm

    I have been watching Tui play since his high school days. He was never a good SS. Although he looked pretty good in a few games at 2B last year in the bigs, ultimately if he wants a chance to be a great player on a good team he should be roaming the outfield.

  40. Shanfan on March 17th, 2010 3:03 pm

    Is Khalil Greene feeling any better these days?

  41. SoulofaCitizen on March 17th, 2010 3:16 pm

    Is there any possibility that Tui is showing enough genuine improvement for his bat to outweigh his glove? Also when you say he’s Mike Morse, Dave, does that mean everywhere? (As I recall, Morse was abysmal even in the outfield). Or are there any positions where he could potentially stick if his hitting holds up?

  42. Coolalvin206 on March 17th, 2010 4:02 pm

    In other news. Lee suspended for 5 games in the regular season. What a joke.

  43. 300ZXNA on March 17th, 2010 4:25 pm

    I still can’t help but wish we had gotten in on the JJ Hardy sweepstakes. In retrospect seems like it would have been relatively cheap insurance considering the question marks.

  44. Kazinski on March 17th, 2010 4:46 pm

    I still can’t help but wish we had gotten in on the JJ Hardy sweepstakes. In retrospect seems like it would have been relatively cheap insurance considering the question marks.

    You have to make a chose, the Mariners chose Wilson. Unless you have an unlimited budget, and unlimited prospects you can’t go out and get a starting caliber shortstop to back up your starter. The Twins traded Carlos Gomez for Hardy, Gomez was the top prospect they got for Johan Santana. He may have lost his luster a little bit, but he is still young and had 33 stolen bases for the Twins in 2008. That is a lot to give up for a backup shortstop.

  45. 300ZXNA on March 17th, 2010 5:07 pm

    I think Hardy would be the starter over Wilson if the team had acquired both. However, I was thinking more along these lines: I kind of wish the Jack Wilson trade hadn’t happened, or perhaps more importantly that they had pursued Hardy and declined Wilson’s option without working out another deal.

  46. nwivoryhunter on March 17th, 2010 8:01 pm

    Dave, hope AZ and more importantly Sedona treated you kindly. Great post. This is the biggest and most important what if for the year. Quality depth is the key to surviving the marathon and we are definately lacking. Yes, the current roster has a high potential for being quality depth but the lack of an additional middle infielder is a huge weakness. Guzman is a great suggestion considering his ability to provide quality fielding at SS and 2nd base as well as his ability to bat from both sides of the plate. It will be interesting to see how and when JZ and Wak decide to address this.

  47. NBarnes on March 18th, 2010 11:50 pm

    Dude don’t spend 8 on Guzman. This team isn’t going to be that close to anyone in the standings for a 1 win upgrade or whatever. Sorry.

    I’m pretty sure that the Ms are right at the point where a marginal win gained is at its maximum value. They’re right where that win is maximally likely to be the difference between postseason play and no postseason play.

    It’s just hard to see it because the confidence band for any baseball team over 162 games is really wide.

  48. nemo on March 20th, 2010 12:33 am

    If Wilson and Hannahan both end up injured and we need someone to play short, I would think the best option would be to put Figgins at short, move Lopez back to second (unless he was already there, depending on this “experiment”), and put Tui at third. That way, Tui is at his most comfortable and not as much of a liability on defense. Figgins doesn’t have a whole lot of experience at shortstop, but it’s not that much different from second base, and I think a guy like Figgins can play pretty much anywhere. Plus he has pretty decent range, so he can back up Tui, maybe not as good as Jack Wilson, but hey.
    That said, I am still all in favor of acquiring Cristian Guzman if we can get him for around 1 mil. I think he could be a pretty good backup for Jack Wilson, a little better offensively and maybe a little speed off the bench. They could use Guzman every few days to make sure Jack doesn’t get too overworked and hurt himself.
    Where does that leave Hannahan though, if he won’t be getting any playing time at short? Giving Figgins or Lopez a day off every once in a while… god forbid either of them gets injured.

  49. CCW on March 20th, 2010 11:14 pm

    Dave, I don’t see how you can be so sure that Tui can’t be a major league (backup) shortstop when the M’s keep playing him there. Why would they bother if it was hopeless?

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