The shortstop position is one that the Mariners have been trying to patch since Alex Rodriguez left Seattle following the 2000 season.
They used Carlos Guillen there in 2001, but his relationship with then-ace Freddy Garcia appeared to be damaging to the pitcher in the eyes of the front office, and he was sent packing to Detroit in 2003. They signed Rich Aurilia in 2004, he was supposed to be the answer after coming off of a handful of productive seasons in San Francisco, but flamed out quickly posting a .641 OPS in 292 plate appearances with Seattle and was traded to the Padres later that season.
Then in 2005, the Mariners began what would be a tumultuous Mariners career for Yuniesky Betancourt. Betancourt showed some impressive skills with his glove, making some very difficult plays on occasion, but seemed to struggle very frequently with routine plays and had major lapses in concentration. According to UZR/150, Betancourt’s defensive production began at about league average, and steadily declined until Betancourt was traded in 2009.
After his departure, Betancourt’s then-vacated position was filled by Ronny Cedeno. Later, Cedeno would be traded to the Pirates in a trade that would bring Jack Wilson to Seattle, and he and Josh Wilson would combine to finish the season at shortstop.
This year the Mariners boasted the latter duo as their answer at the shortstop position. They assumed they’d need the former Wilson, Josh, because Jack was injury prone. Knowing that, they’d signed Jack to a two-year, $10 million extension. They figured that Jack’s elite defense, while missing some games, combined with Josh’s near-average defense at short to fill in the gaps, was worth the money.
Jack’s season went about as poorly as it could have. He posted a wRC+ of 62, with a -2.8 UZR/150 at shortstop in 61 games. He battled a hamstring injury earlier in the season, an ailment he’s dealt with throughout his career, but ultimately ended his season after fracturing his fifth metacarpal after “slipping in the shower.”
Josh hasn’t been much better, just healthier. In 101 games he’s had a wRC+ of 72 and a UZR/150 of 5.0 at shortstop this season. He’s been worth a half win above replacement riding strongly on the positional adjustment for shortstops.
So going into 2011, the Mariners will have a shortstop making $5 million (Jack) who will have missed almost half of the games his teams have played in the last three seasons, and a shortstop (Josh) who has played his career, which has totaled 880 plate appearances to this point, at a level slightly below replacement level.
The Mariners likely can’t trade Jack, as his value hasn’t matched his salary since 2007, and he’s coming off of an injury shortened season. So while the Mariners could easily upgrade over Jack offensively, it may not be cost-effective to do so via free agency.
If Wilson would have qualified for the batting title this year, he’d have been the shortstop with the second-lowest wOBA in all of baseball (ahead of only Cesar Izturis). Josh would rank ahead of only Izturis and Alcides Escobar.
A few months ago it looked like J.J. Hardy was almost sure to be non-tendered by the Minnesota Twins. After coming over to the Twins in an offseason trade, and eventually signing a $5.1 million pact for 2010, avoiding arbitration, Hardy struggled to start the 2010 season. He wRC+’s of 78, 64, and -34 in the first three months of the season (only four games in June). However, in part due to a regression to mean of Hardy’s BABIP, and a shift in his batted ball profile, Hardy came back big in July, posting a wRC+ of 142. He stumbled a little in August, posting an 85 wRC+, but has responded with a 126 wRC+ in September so far. Combined with a league transition, it’s easy to rationalize that this recent version of Hardy is a fixed version, and that the improvement should carry over into 2011. Unfortunately for the Mariners, that greatly decreases the chances that he’ll be available in free agency this offseason.
Apart from Derek Jeter, who will likely remain with the Yankees, the rest of the free agent class of shortstops seem to possess their own set of fatal flaws: be they offensive production, poor defense, or age.
So unless the team takes a look at Felipe Lopez, who is likely best equipped defensively to play either second or third base, but would be a valuable bat to occasionally plug in at shortstop, they may be best off attempting to solve their shortstop woes either internally, or with unproven, undervalued prospects from somebody else’s farm system.
The team presently has Nick Franklin, who will rank very highly on prospect lists next year, who is a switch-hitting (probably eventually lefty only) shortstop who was drafted, at least in part, because of his defensive ability. Franklin absolutely torched the Midwest League this season to the tune of a .283/.354/.486 slash line. He’ll be only 20 years old next year though, and A ball to the bigs is a pretty big jump. Look for Franklin to start the year in AA or AAA next year.
Carlos Triunfel has long been among Mariners top prospects. However, a transition to second or third base is likely in the formerly highly-touted prospect, and his expected power has never materialized into production.
While a hot spring and a few hot games for Matt Tuiasosopo have made some believe that he should be receiving more playing time, the reality is that Tuiasosopo simply isn’t a shortstop. While two errors in 28 innings at shortstop in the pros certainly hurt Tuiasosopo’s UZR rating, a -23.3 is hardly different than what one could expect from the shortstop turned utility man.
The Tacoma Rainiers had a revolving door at shortstop this season, and without a valid option close to the majors, the Mariners may need to look outside the organization to fill the position, be it free agency or via trade.
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