Maybe It’s Time For Dustin Ackley To Play Some Outfield

Dave · June 10, 2013 at 7:40 am · Filed Under Mariners 

The Mariners outfield is a complete disaster. Not that this was that hard to see coming, but with Michael Saunders looking more like the 2011 version of suck than last year’s useful role player, the Mariners simply don’t have a single outfielder on the team that projects as any more than a decent bench player going forward. Talk of sending Saunders down or giving him time off to work on things falls apart when you actually look at what that would leave. Endy Chavez is a replacement level scrub at this point in his career, but he’s the only other guy on the roster who can play center field, and if he’s in center, you’re locked in to Ibanez playing everyday, and that is nothing short of a total disaster out there.

Michael Morse can’t play the outfield either, not in any kind of competent way, and not without one of his oversized muscles giving out. While the people who built this abomination of a roster might not want to admit it, the realities of building a team full of designated hitters are currently punching the Mariners square in the face. If they want to stop running out embarrassing line-ups, they need an entirely new outfield.

Unfortunately, the team’s total lack of off-season planning has left the organization bereft of outfielders, even at the minor league level. Carlos Peguero is still terrible. Eric Thames is not much better. Abe Almonte is Endy Chavez with worse defense. There’s no one in Tacoma’s outfield who is any better than replacement level either.

So, while I’ve been resistant to the idea in the past, maybe it is finally time to ask Dustin Ackley to start taking some reps in the outfield. No, I don’t think Ackley should be converted into an OF full time — and I still prefer him to Nick Franklin long term at second base — but with Franklin playing well enough to deserve a real shot at second base, Ackley’s best path back to the Majors this year involves him having some defensive versatility. And he’s got both the history and the skills that suggest that he could probably pick up the OF fairly quickly.

OF isn’t a new position for him, as he played there when his arm was healthy enough to allow it in college. Most of the people who were skeptical about his ability to become a quality defensive second baseman have projected Ackley as a long term OF since he has the foot speed to cover some ground out there. You’d probably want to give him a little bit of time to get used to reading balls off the bat again, but it wouldn’t be long of a process to get him to a point where he’s an upgrade over what the Mariners are using in the outfield right now. After all, anyone who isn’t an amputee is an upgrade defensively from Ibanez and Morse.

Ben Zobrist is probably the model you point to here. Zobrist is an excellent defensive second baseman, but he spends a few hundred innings in the OF every year so that the Rays can take advantage of platoon advantages and mix-and-match their roster of role players to best fit on a daily basis. Ackley’s bat isn’t at Zobrist’s level and might not ever be good enough for him to hold down a regular OF job, but giving him the versatility to be able to play the OF when needed can’t hurt his long term value. And it’s the only real way for the Mariners to get both Ackley and Franklin into the line-up together in the second half.

The Mariners are probably going to have to pick between those two at some point, as both are most valuable at second base and neither one has the defensive chops to be a true super utility guy, but with 2013 a lost season and the team in desperate need of competent outfielders, giving both Ackley and Franklin extended looks won’t cost them meaningful wins. This isn’t a pitch to try and fix this roster or turn the season around — that’s an impossible task, and everyone should, at this point, just admit that this roster is bad and the season is over — but it might give the Mariners their best chance to put a decent group of Major League players on the field together, and give them a few months to evaluate, side by side, whether Ackley or Franklin should be their long term answer at second base.

Unlike with Montero, this isn’t the kind of position change that has been long overdue and is required by some kind of skill deficiency. Ackley can still play second base and could still be the organization’s future everyday second baseman. Right now, though, they need three new outfielders, and he is the only guy in Tacoma with any hope of providing value out there. Getting him some versatility and a path back to the big leagues make this a move worth considering, at the least, and maybe worth implementing immediately.

Whether they like it or not, the Mariners are once again building to the future. Endy Chavez, Raul Ibanez, Michael Morse, and Jason Bay are not the future. Dustin Ackley might be. The best way to get him back on this team in the second half is to have him replace one of those guys, and the best way to do that is to have him start playing the outfield again.


66 Responses to “Maybe It’s Time For Dustin Ackley To Play Some Outfield”

  1. casey on June 10th, 2013 4:29 pm

    Almonte bears watching – has kindof come from nowhere. Haven’t seen him play but am envisioning a young Endy Chavez type?

  2. sawsatch on June 10th, 2013 4:56 pm

    The test is the Major Leagues. J.Z. is great at building AA and AAA ballclubs.

  3. mca on June 10th, 2013 5:52 pm

    I like the idea of Ackley playing some OF just for the roster flexibility a future team might have, a huge upgrade over the current team of DHs at every position. If he is not able to overtake Franklin at 2B (and I have no idea who will be better in the long term) and if he can play at least 2 OF positions, 2B, and 1B, he could be an everyday player without a position. I’m not sure if I’m right to give the advantage to Montero figuring it out over Smoak, but if he does (and lots of other things go right) the lineup could look something like this for 2014(hopefully some upgrades can be made, of course, but at least its flexible):
    DH-Morales / Montero
    C-Zunino / Sucre
    1B-Morales / Ackley / Montero
    2B-Franklin / Ackley
    SS-Miller / Franklin (unless it’s really impossible to even be a backup SS)
    3B-Seager / ? (Triunfel? Liddi?)
    LF-Romero / Ackley / Saunders
    CF/DL-Gutierrez / Saunders / Ackley
    RF-??? Chavez?/Morse? /Ichiro?(I know this would not happen and most people would not be happy about this, but if I have to see a RF suck, I’d rather see one sucking his way to 3,000 hits rather than sucking his way to obscurity. The outfield situation really is dire.)
    If the new manager does not insist on a 12 man bullpen, even if Guti does stay healthy and keep a role on this team, this leaves room for one more player. The team would still not be good, but it would be bad with less Veteran Grittiness and way more Youthful Hopiness.

  4. msfanmike on June 10th, 2013 6:19 pm

    Ackley did a nice job fielding a position where he never looked to be a natural. Being able to play more than one position is only going to help him and the team. I doubt that his arm could be worse than Johnny Damon’s … And I sure as hell hope he can eventually hit like Damon could.

    In recent interviews, I have heard Z say “not yet” when asked about a potential position change for Ackley. I have not heard him say “no” … At least not recently.

  5. stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2013 7:55 pm

    Has it ever crossed some people’s minds that Swisher or Bourn just might not have wanted to play here, period, for whatever reason, and that no amount of money in the world would have brought either of them here?

    Shannon Drayer re-posted an interview with Swisher that either she had made, or another local writer (I honestly can’t remember), just before he signed with Cleveland. He made it clear he wasn’t down on Seattle at all.

    There’s no reason to believe $ wouldn’t influence them. You think they were holding out for Cleveland?

  6. gopilots70 on June 10th, 2013 7:59 pm

    I agree that Dustin you should be given some time in the outfield. I suggested it yesterday on PI and Jason strongly disagreed, but I have great respect for his opinion and for Dave’s. Along with most of the people on these blogs.

    I like the Zobrist comparison. The M’s are always saying they love versatility—check the statements after last week’s draft–but they rarely practice it. I never understood why Montero was not given at least practice at first base from Day One. And what does it hurt to put him out there a few times a month?

    And we should have seen Carlos at third, short and second a bit more frequently already.

    I think the manager is worried about being “embarrassed”. But the most embarrassing thing was the last ten days or so where they had literally no options on the bench because they didn’t want to put Smoak or Morse or Sucre on the DL. Ludicrous! And we call ourselves a major league teams?

  7. stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2013 8:00 pm

    For those high on Almonte, it’s worth noting he’s only played 21 games for Tacoma. What he’s done at the plate is nothing short of impressive, but it is short.

    And then there’s the defense to consider.

  8. sawsatch on June 10th, 2013 8:04 pm

    Swisher held out for $ and Bourn would have cost them a first round draft pick. This team is going nowhere anyway, though I admit a good lead off hitter would be fun to watch.
    Geoff Baker said it well: that the season was built on the young guys producing with additions and leadership provided by the veterans. The veterans can’t carry a team on old bodies and our field manager is behind a rock and a hard place. The young guys aren’t producing and if he just plays the veterans daily, they tire, their production decreases and they get hurt.

  9. stevemotivateir on June 10th, 2013 9:14 pm

    ^Swisher would have cost them a draft pick too. And you can bet Bourn was holding out for more money as well. Made sense to target both, especially once it was clear both would come at a reasonable price.

    Worth noting, Wedge played a role this roster construction. He put himself between the rock and a hard place. He wanted old players like Bay and Ibanez, he’ll have to live with their limitations -until he’s fired, anyway.

  10. sawsatch on June 10th, 2013 10:02 pm

    Can’t argue with your reasoning. All for naught though if the so-called young talent can’t produce.

  11. Woodcutta on June 11th, 2013 2:05 am

    Bourn/Swisher would have cost the M’s a first round pick in this year’s draft but I would have preferred to see an actual ML caliber player signed by the M’s instead of picking at 12. If there was an offensive player in this past draft that had the current skills to be called up within two years, he would have been drafted higher than 12. IMO, this last free agent period was the time to snag an above average to all-star level offensive player or two b/c of where the M’s picked. The M’s front office needs to have a complete and fully flushed out offseason plan. The team can’t afford to have another Plan A only offseason.

  12. cougarcountry on June 11th, 2013 5:30 am

    If his bat can’t stick at 2b, why would we want him in the outfield?

    1200 PA’s into this thing and talking about Ackley as a barely useful IF/OF positional guy feels like optimism.

  13. stevemotivateir on June 11th, 2013 7:17 am

    That’s more or less my take on it, Woodutta. I just wanna see them get proactive now.

  14. vertigoman on June 11th, 2013 11:11 am

    I’ll let you go back through the super opinionated tweets and occasional blog posts. I honestly can’t read that site anymore and I had to I unfollow his twitter account.

  15. sawsatch on June 11th, 2013 11:46 am

    To Snuffy’s post:
    Good points on Saunders. He takes a lot of called 3rd strikes as well.

  16. MMonkman on June 16th, 2013 9:30 pm

    I’m about a week late to the comment party, but the first paragraph of this post prompted me to undertake this analysis (started before Jeff’s subsequent post about Ibanez’s monkey paw trickery).

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