No, it's not an actual carousel. That would just be too cool. Rather, I'm talking about the Mariners' decision to take their expected infield alignment and play around with it, again.
Last season, the Mariners signed away star third baseman Chone Figgins from the rival Angels, and most people expected Figgins to continue to play that position with his new team. His defensive marks at third base had been exceptional (+22 ADR in 2009, +10 ADR in 2008), and the club's incumbent second baseman, Jose Lopez, was coming off of a 42-double, 25-homer season from the keystone. Things seemed to be pretty simple, no?
But after playing around with his infield for a couple weeks during Spring Training, then-manager Don Wakamatsu announced before the season that Figgins and Lopez would be swapping positions. Figgins, who had played second base before but never regularly and not in many years, would call that spot his new home. Lopez would say hello to regular action at third base for the first time ever.
And as you guys probably know by now, the move proved to be an absolute disaster. Figgins had serious issues adjusting to his new position, and the frustration seemed to permeate into his offensive work; his 2010 numbers were the worst of his career. Lopez didn't struggle defensively, putting up a +13 ADR and getting mostly solid reviews, but his previously impressive power dissipated and his BABIP plummeted to .254, low even for a low-BABIP hitter like Lopez.
You'd think that the Mariners would be hesitant to play around with their infield alignment as much now after that whole debacle last season. But even with a new manager, former Indian skipper Eric Wedge, at the helm, the Mariners seem to be back to their old tricks. The club has opted to return Figgins to third base, which seems like an entirely reasonable decision given how uncomfortable he looked last year, leaving a hole at second base. They acquired Brendan Ryan from the Cardinals over the winter to fill that hole, and while Ryan's not much of a hitter, he's proven to be one of the best defensive middle infielders in all of baseball.
With Jack Wilson, also regarded as one of the best defensive shortstops in the game, locked in at shortstop, most assumed that Ryan would simply take over at second base. With Figgins returning to third base and the Wilson-Ryan combo up the middle, the Mariners could reasonably expect to have some fantastic infield defense next season. But seemingly taking a cue from last year, Wedge announced yesterday that Wilson would be moving to second base and Ryan would take over at shortstop. Both players have primarily played shortstop as pros, which isn't surprising given each player's respective defensive prowess, but it is worth noting that Wilson has NEVER played any position but shortstop before professionally. With the Pirates? Only shortstop. With Double-A Arkansas, Double-A Altoona, Single-A Potomac? Only shortstop. On practically the same day as last year's ill-fated position swap, the Mariners announced that they would be executing another one.
There are some obvious differences here, though, to be clear. Unlike Lopez and Figgins, Wilson and Ryan are basically expected to be zeroes offensively- these guys are employed for defensive purposes, and one of these guys had to end up playing second base no matter what. So assuming that Wilson can properly adjust to second base, and given his defensive skills that's a logical expectation, there isn't really any concern that either player will have a Figgins-like implosion with the bat. But at the same time, here the Mariners are, once again attempting to switch a veteran to a new position after years of work at a single spot.
This one's certainly not as risky as last year's, but you'd think that the Mariners would be the team to be hesitant about doing this kind of thing, you know? Oh well, at least Wilson isn't owed $26 million through 2014.