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April 14, 2010

Problem Positions

The Never-ending Churn

by Christina Kahrl

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You know them, you rue them: the positions your team doesn't properly know how to stock. Some of these have been historic: Yankees shortstops until Derek Jeter arrived, for example. The most infamous of these was the Cubs' situation at third base, as they tried to replace Ron Santo, decade after decade, from Opening Day 1974 until 30 years later, when they finally found an even more luckless team to take advantage of, the Pirates, trading for Aramis Ramirez on July 23, 2003.

So, some of these curses get lifted, but some are very much with us still:

1. Red Sox Shortstop

Ugly Fact: $79 million spent on free-agent shortstops from 2005-09, for 19.8 WARP

Replacing Nomar with a two-month rental of Orlando Cabrera to win their first title of the decade in 2004 was a success, but the five seasons since have been a revolving door involving big deals and big mistakes. First, they signed Edgar Renteria for four years and $40 million in December 2004, but he was hounded out of town and traded to Atlanta just one year into the deal. The 2006 solution was a one-year patch with journeyman Alex Gonzalez. Next, a four-year, $36-million deal for Julio Lugo, who almost made people miss Renteria. Jed Lowrie looked like a farm-developed fix before injuries derailed his career. This year, it's the turn of well-traveled Marco Scutaro, cashing in his career year with the Blue Jays for $12 million over two years. After buying high and getting burned with Renteria and Lugo, they've made a smaller but still-big commitment to Scutaro after his two seasons worth roughly six wins apiece for the Blue Jays. Maybe Scooter is the man who breaks the cycle of big money and big disappointment.

2. Cubs Center Field

Ugly Numbers: 38.6 WARP, 1996-2009 (fourth-worst tally for center fielders)

Since trading Rick Monday before the '77 season, the Cubs have had it all: a cycle of busted prospects, from 1989 Rookie of the Year Jerome Walton's flash in the pan, to the pumped, rushed, and dumped duo of Corey Patterson and Felix Pie. They've had their share of placeholders and temps, respectable yet transient—Brian McRae, or Rondell White. And they've made big-money mistakes playing make-believe that some guys could play center, first with Alfonso Soriano, then with Kosuke Fukudome, and perhaps now as well with Marlon Byrd. It's a fun ride that now has prospect Tyler Colvin lined up to get onto next; he's another player scouts say would be better off fielding in one of the corners.

3. Royals Shortstop

Ugly Numbers: 16.7 WARP, 1996-2009 (MLB-worst for shortstops)

This crisis borders on existential, because it's hard to say that the Royals have ever had a good shortstop. Freddie Patek's still the all-time leader in games played—his last season in KC was 1979. Since then, they've had a nice season or two from Greg Gagne, a Jay Bell year to remember... and a whole lot of reasons why Buddy Biancalana might still be the most famous Royals shortstop of all time for his spin on Late Night with David Letterman. By combined Runs Above Replacement—in this case, below—the Royals are proud owners of four of the 12 worst seasons by a team's shortstops from 1996-2009. No other team has more than one.

4. Rangers Center Field

Ugly Number: 306 starts

Here, the problem's a matter of finding a guy and sticking with him. Only one player has started more than 300 games in center for the Rangers—Tom Goodwin, with 306, less than two full seasons' worth of playing time. Julio Borbon could beat that sometime in 2011. You could add the Rangers' left-field situation to the list, since nobody's managed to fill Rusty Greer's shoes since he started breaking down in 2000—in the nine years since, eight different men have led the team in left-field starts.

5. Padres Catcher

Ugly Number: 42, 31.7 WARP, 1996-2009 (fifth-worst among MLB catchers)

Since Benito Santiago caught his last game as a Padre in 1992, the club had run through 41 different catchers in 17 seasons. Yorvit Torrealba just became the 42nd in 18. That's more than three different catchers for every season. It'll be up to Nick Hundley to prove he's more than a placeholder, but even holding his place might be a nice respite from the butter churn behind the plate for the Pads.

6. Expos/Nationals Center Field

Ugly Number: 34.6 WARP, 1996-2009 (MLB-worst for center fielders)

The Expos had Marquis Grissom and then White, two good players, but then they traded White at the deadline to the Cubs in 2000, and things have been almost unrelentingly bad since. From prospects who didn't pan out (Peter Bergeron) to budding stars who withered (Brad Wilkerson) to the players pressed into action to fill the breach (remember Nook Logan or Manny Martinez?), the former wards of the industry have had a bad decade in the middle pasture. The hope is that Nyjer Morgan breaks the cycle of failure, in this as well as other ways.

A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider Insider.

Christina Kahrl is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Christina's other articles. You can contact Christina by clicking here

Related Content:  Worst Seasons

32 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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The Red Sox seem to have a perpetual problem with their middle infielders. Before Pedroia, they had a revolving-door at second base: Mark Loretta, Mark Bellhorn, Pokey Reese, Todd Walker, Lou Merloni, and who could forget...Jose Awfulman.

Apr 14, 2010 09:30 AM
rating: 0

Altho several of those Sox 2Bman had very good seasons during their spins with the team, and at least three of them have rings to show for it. Bellhorn's homer off the foul-pole is the stuff of TTO legend.

I still love how Dennis Miller spelled Offerman's name: O-F-F-E-5.

Apr 14, 2010 19:48 PM
rating: 0
Brock Dahlke

Twins third base? Along with second and short previous to this year?

Apr 14, 2010 09:40 AM
rating: 3
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Good point, Brock, but it's just five years since Corey Koskie's run ended, and I had to keep this shorter for ESPN's purposes. It was on the long, long list, along with Cubs catching (Geovany Soto needs to have a second good season to be more than Rick Wilkins), and the Indians' left fielders since Albert Belle scuttled away. A's second basemen were the bane of my youth, but that seems resolved now that Mark Ellis is creeping towards Dick Green's franchise record for games played at the keystone; now it's the revolving door in left since Rickey's last spin in green and gold in 1998.

Apr 14, 2010 10:43 AM
The Iron_Throne

I'm not sure how you can say the Red Sox have had problems at shortstop if they are averaging 3.96 WARP per season there. 4 WARP is a solidly above average player. A team with nine 4 WARP hitters, five 4 warp starters, and a bit of WARP in the bullpen and bench will win 90-95 games. Is there a typo or has Boston gotten better production than is commonly perceived?

Apr 14, 2010 10:49 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

No typo; mostly, it's a matter of the turnover and the expense. It's an unsettled and expensive situation, as opposed to, say, the reliably bad Royals'.

Apr 14, 2010 11:14 AM
The Iron_Throne

Could you break it down? I tried looking up the players that you mention and their WARP for the Sox that year and I only got 4 WARP for the whole five years. Who am I missing?

Apr 14, 2010 11:27 AM
rating: 0
Kyle A

I'm surprised you did not mention that the Red Sox had the perfect solution to the SS postion in Hanley Ramirez but decided to trade him for Beckett and Lowell.

Apr 14, 2010 20:22 PM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

Rondell White never played center field for the Cubs... Bob Dernier had a nice little run though and I still think fondly of Doug Dascenzo, even when he was pitching.

Apr 14, 2010 10:55 AM
rating: 1

I notice every position on this list are up-the-middle (catcher, shortstop, and center fielder); I would guess that every team has some difficulty filling these positions with stars, as the trend in the minor leagues seems to be that people move from these positions to corner spots.

There was once a time when Cubs 3B would be featured prominently on such a list--every year, the newspapers would with no small hint of cynicism wonder if this year's third baseman (usually a scrub) would be the one to stick. Mercifully, they traded for a young Aramis Ramirez to end that streak.

Apr 14, 2010 11:02 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Hence the introduction. ;-)

Apr 14, 2010 11:16 AM

I always wondered why this was always about replacing Ron Santo at 3b when the guy that immediately followed him for three years won two batting titles.

Bill Madlock, now there was a guy they couldn't replace. :)

Apr 14, 2010 11:19 AM
rating: 2
Richard Bergstrom

Keith Moreland erased a lot of memories.

Apr 14, 2010 11:46 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

The tragedy of trading Madlock made me think of the Indians' predicament in trading Giles after Belle left; they had a solution right there, but...

Apr 14, 2010 12:26 PM
Richard Bergstrom

They had Richie Sexson (who was a rookie outfielder) and David Justice in 1999, the season after Giles left. Russell Branyan and Mark Whiten were also kicking around. Juan Gonzalez was also around in 2001. Those were some talented, deep Indians teams.

Apr 14, 2010 15:33 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

As long as we're going through the has-beens and might-have beens, you forgot Wil Cordero, Marty Cordova, Ricky Ledee, and Karim Garcia, among others. The problem with much of this is that these weren't really outfielders or people who could hit. Sexson and Branyan were first basemen in the making; Justice was a DH, Gonzo a one-year transient, and Whiten, like many of the aforementioned bodies, was thoroughly used up by the time he wound up in Cleveland. Having people under control and having a real long-term fix was not something the Indians had going for them, as they veered from one patch to the next like a smoker trying to quit. Meanwhile, Giles starred, the Indians' solutions moved to Matt Lawton to Coco Crisp to Jason Michaels to Ben Francisco, and you're with a litany of palliatives that come well short of a full drag.

Apr 14, 2010 18:17 PM
Richard Bergstrom

That might make an interesting article idea sometime. What is considered a long-term fix these days? Not many players spend their whole career with a team, so is a long term fix a player who remains with a team for five years? Three years? What is the average length of time that a player spends with the team that first promoted them to the majors?

Apr 15, 2010 00:23 AM
rating: 0

Yeah, a shame Wrigley ran Madlock out of town, because he had to nerve to want serious hitter's money. Oh, and he had a loud mouth, and was black, to boot.

Apr 14, 2010 12:32 PM
rating: 0

Wasn't he run out of town due to physical conditioning? I remember Bill Jame's explanation: his addiction to "desserts of all kinds". I remember him looking like a walking donut at 3b.

Apr 15, 2010 04:39 AM
rating: -1

Mets GM for the off the field version.

Apr 14, 2010 11:50 AM
rating: 4

By my count, over the 11 year stretch from 1999 to 2009 the Braves had 13 different players get regular playing time at first base (not to mention the new first baseman for 2010). While some of these players were good - Teixeira was probably the best - the position has essentially been a revolving door.

Apr 14, 2010 11:54 AM
rating: 0

Yeah, but they didn't pay quite so much for them. They got Texiera under Texas' contract, Thorman and LaRoche (first time) were in-house, Franco was old, even Glaus is pretty cheep. I'd be willing to bet that they haven't paid more per production over that span than any team on this list.

Apr 14, 2010 12:10 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

True, they didn't pay all that much in treasure, but as we all know, in terms of talent, acquiring Teixeira cost them dearly.

Apr 14, 2010 12:30 PM

For every 100mph fastball that Feliz launches, a part of me dies on the inside, sigh...

Apr 15, 2010 09:55 AM
rating: 0

What about Giants first base? Since 1993, when Will Clark left, they've had J.T. Snow and his alternating good and mediocre seasons flanked by the even worse 1994-1996 and 2005-2009 seasons.

It seems to me that having difficulty filling an up-the-middle position is at least understandable, but having problems filling first base or an outfield corner borders on inexcusable.

Apr 14, 2010 12:49 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Christina Kahrl
BP staff

Say what you will about J.T. Snow, but once planted, he was hard to uproot.

Apr 14, 2010 13:31 PM

I always liked "good J. T.," but "bad J. T." was an OBP sink. Admittedly, even bad J. T. was better than the 1994-1996 and 2005-2009 first basemen the Giants fielded!

1994-1996 featured Todd Benzinger, Mark Carreon, Dave Martinez, and the immortal J. R. Phillips.

2005-2009 featured Shea Hillenbrand and a cast of characters I can't remember, or maybe I just don't want to.

Apr 14, 2010 15:26 PM
rating: 1

Let me take back some of what I said about J.T. Snow. I did some adding up and got the following WARP numbers:

J.T. Snow, 1997-2004: 15.6 WARP

Giants 1B, 1994-1996: -2.5 WARP

Giants 1B, 2005-2009: 0.2 WARP

Even bad J.T. didn't suck as much as the Giants first basemen who immediately preceded and succeeded him. Of course, that doesn't make the following hurt any less:

Will Clark, 1994-2000: 17.9 WARP

Giants 1B, 1994-2000: 6.3 WARP


Apr 15, 2010 14:55 PM
rating: 0
Lou Doench

It's probably early, but the Reds appear to be aiming ti get on this list at shortstop. Since the blessed departure of the Zombie Barry Larkin, 3 GMs have lurched about for a solution. For petes sake we had Jerry Hairston start at ss for a good strect of 2009!

Apr 14, 2010 13:08 PM
rating: 0

And the Oakland A's have been without a long-term solution in left-fielder for over a decade. I realize the point is overall WARP, not consistency. Nonetheless, it worth noting the A's have had a different opening day left fielder every year since Ben Grieve lumbered beneath Mt. Davis. (Matt Holiday was a pleasant addition for a couple months, but he was never in Billy Beane's long-term plans.) Here's wishing Michael Taylor will start a new era.

Apr 14, 2010 15:00 PM
rating: 1

42/18 > 3 ?????

Apr 18, 2010 14:41 PM
rating: 0

Very good article, but why no Astros 3rd Base?

Apr 19, 2010 12:56 PM
rating: 0
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