Monday, August 15, 2005

Middle Infielders, Musical Chairs

Tonights lineup includes:

3B - Bloomquist
LF - Ibanez
DH - Beltre
SS - Morse2B - Betancourt

If you patrol any of the comments over at USSMariner, you'll see that a lot of folks wonder what the point of sacrificing your infield defense when Hernandez--an extreme groundball pitcher--is on the mound. Beltre and Betancourt are clearly the superior defenders for the left side of the infield. Furthermore, they muse, why isn't Jose Lopez, he of the .911 OPS at AAA, up to play second anyway? It would be as simple as releasing Speizio, who's not doing anything for anybody right now.

It's fashionable to pile on the M's these days, and it's easy to take pot-shots at the management and roster construction with the team playing so poorly. But there are legitimate explanations for tonight's lineup:

Hernandez, of all M's pitchers, relies on his defense the least. If you're going to give Beltre a break, get Morse some at-bats, let Ibanez remember what a glove feels like, this is the night to do it. As David Cameron pointed out on tonight's game thread at USSMariner, Morse has never played anything except shortstop, and Betancourt will still be very effective at second.

And there are legitmate reasons for the current roster:

Lopez played very poorly in his audition in the majors this year. He didn't get a long look, but what opportunites he got, he squandered, managing a microscopic .545 OPS in 24 games (80 plate appearances). Lopez clearly is the future at second, so the M's should be thinking about his developmental first and foremost. That likely means getting him regular plate appearances and not messing with his psyche nor ruining his confidence. Tacoma is the best place for this.

Even if regular major league at-bats were desirable for Lopez, he'd have to displace Betancourt or Bloomquist, neither of which are going to appeal to the Mariners. Bloomquist, for all the moaning at USSM, is having a fine second half (coincidentally hitting a triple in tonight's game), and is a fan favorite. He'll be on the roster next year, and he provides some measure of offense, so he does help keep a few more fans trickling in. Replacing Betancourt compromises your defense by requiring either Bloomquist or Morse to man short, and either pushes Betancourt to the bench or back to Tacoma. Exchanging one future regular infielder for the other isn't much use. Finally, replacing Speizio means somebody has to go to the bench.

Tonight's lineup is unusual, for sure, but it's hardly evidence that the M's don't know what they're doing. I look forward to see Lopez next year, but nobody needs him to displace one of the current regulars only to struggle at the plate.

No comments: