The Middle Infield
If there’s been a story to come out of Spring Training so far, it’s probably been Eric Wedge‘s comments about opening up the shortstop job for competition, with Brendan Ryan expected to see time there and Jack Wilson to get some work at second base. Could we be seeing another Figgins-Lopez scenario where the team switches two players between the positions they were expected to play?
I don’t think so, and in the end, I don’t think any of this means anything. The reality is that the Mariners don’t really have two starting middle infielders, and they probably won’t all year. They intentionally built a three man rotation that gives them some depth and flexibility, and while those three names might not stay the same all year, I’d expect the allocation of playing time will follow a similar pattern.
Jack Wilson and Brendan Ryan will share time at shortstop. Wilson isn’t an everyday player – we all know that. No team in their right mind would go into the season planning on Wilson playing more than 120 or 130 games, and that’s a best case scenario. With his nagging injuries, Wilson’s going to need frequent days off, and Ryan will play shortstop on the days that Wilson sits. Given this inevitability, it’s natural for Ryan to get reps at shortstop this spring. It would be weird if they didn’t play him there.
At second base, Ryan will likely split time with Adam Kennedy to start the year. Kennedy gives the team a left-handed bat that they can slide into the line-up and a capable defender at second base. When Ryan shifts over to shortstop, or when they want another LH bat in the line-up, they’ll put Kennedy in at second base. Those three will share two jobs, giving Eric Wedge some ability to play with match-ups and keep Wilson off the field regularly.
It also sets them up for the expected summer transition. Sometime in June, Dustin Ackley will pass the expected threshold for Super-Two status, and the team will be able to call him up (if he’s performing well in Tacoma) without worrying about escalating his paychecks too quickly. At that point, they’ll have a couple of options. If Jack Wilson is playing well and has re-established some trade value, they’ll be able to move him to a contender, save some cash, maybe get a prospect, and create playing time for Ackley. Ryan would slide into the everyday shortstop role at that point, with Ackley taking over most of the second base duties. Kennedy would become more of a reserve than a part of a job share.
Alternately, if Wilson is doing his continued impression of an old man, and the M’s find that there isn’t much of a market for his services, they could jettison Kennedy in order to promote Ackley, make Ryan the full-time shortstop, and move Wilson into a reserve SS/2B role. Ryan and Ackley are the two guys with a future in the organization, so if the team gets to a buiilding-for-2012 point in June or July, Wilson will likely either be traded or see his role reduced in order to accommodate more playing time for the other two. In that role, it would help if Wilson could play second base if need be, which is likely why he’s getting work there this spring.
The alignments we’re seeing don’t appear to me to be the signs of any real change in thought on how the situation will be handled. Instead, it simply seems like the logical way to prepare several players to share two jobs. As long as the organization is working on building up Jack Wilson’s trade value, moving him permanently to second base would be a poor idea, as it would signal to other teams that they felt his range had been reduced. Teams are far more frequently in the market for shortstops (a position where talent is in short supply) than second baseman, so swapping Ryan and Wilson would mostly serve to downgrade the team’s ability to get something for Wilson this summer. I just don’t think we’ll see the club go with Ryan at shortstop and Wilson at second very often, and overall, I don’t think this is really all that newsworthy.
But, hey, it’s February and they’re just stretching, so this is what we get for now.