Yesterday, the Giants were awarded Cody Ross on a waiver claim, likely made to keep the Marlins from being able to ship him to San Diego. They didn’t need another outfielder, but they got stuck with him when Florida just let him go, and so they had to clear a roster spot. The guy who lost his spot, Matt Downs, is exactly the kind of guy the Mariners should be picking up and giving at-bats to.
Downs is a 26-year-old right-handed infielder whose career path probably leads to him being a utility player. He’s played mostly second base in the big leagues, but has played everywhere but center field and catcher in the minors. In many ways, he’s similar to Matt Tuiasosopo – only he’s better. He was a 36th round pick in 2006, so he wasn’t promoted through the farm very aggressively, only reaching Triple-A for the first time at age 24. He’s spent the last two years bouncing between Fresno and San Francisco.
Down in Triple-A, he’s hit .280/.339/.460, showing pretty decent power and contact skills, and occasionally the ability to take a walk. In the big leagues, he’s received 148 at-bats, and while his line is just .214/.291/.328, those same underlying skills are still there – the overall line is just dragged down by a .260 batting average on balls in play.
Based on his skills, ZiPS projects Downs for a .321 wOBA going forward. That’s not bad for a guy who can hold down second base and fill in at multiple positions, including shortstop in a pinch. For comparison, ZiPS has Tui posting a .284 wOBA going forward, and Downs is the better defender to boot. If you like Tui, you should like Downs. Same thing, just better.
At this point, the Mariners are just throwing at-bats away with Jose Lopez in the line-up and Chris Woodward on the bench. There’s no chance either of those guys will do anything for the Mariners next year. Downs actually could. Dustin Ackley struggles against lefties, so the team is going to need a right-handed second base option for 2011 in order to give him some days off against tough southpaws, and they may even want to keep him down in Tacoma to start the year to work on his defense and keep his free agent clock from ticking.
Downs could be a cheap, useful fill-in while they wait for Ackley to take the job, and then could easily slide into a utility role after Ackley is promoted. He’s the kind of guy this team should be giving playing time to – someone with some potential to be useful going forward, and who will cost essentially nothing to acquire.
Give the Giants a mediocre relief arm for Downs, and then he and Tui can fight it out for the right-handed utility infielder job. Woodward can go away, and Lopez can stop playing everyday. This is what lost seasons are good for – giving guys like Downs a chance to see what he can do. The Mariners shouldn’t waste opportunities like this so that they can keep running out useless players who will be in another organization next year.