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August 3, 2011
Prospectus Hit and Run
Vortices of Suck, Part I
My semiannual Replacement-Level Killers series puts the spotlight on the worst holes in contenders' lineups, as well as the possible remedies they might take to avoid letting such subpar production destroy their chances to reach October. I make no claims for this companion series being so noble in purpose. Because bad baseball so often makes for good copy, it's more fun to hunt the fish at the bottom of the major-league barrel to find the positions where players' contributions could be considered the worst in the majors, regardless of a team's status as a contender. What follows is an "all-star" team of players who have produced tornado-level disasters amid their lineups, often at salaries that represented far more than just a soft breeze running through their team's bank account. These are the Vortices of Suck.
Catcher: Humberto Quintero (.237 TAv, 0.4 WARP), J.R. Towles (.228 TAv, 0.4 WARP), and Carlos Corporan (.169 TAv, −0.5) WARP, Astros
Remedy (?): Short of actually trading for a competent catcher or signing one as a free agent, folding the nowhere-going franchise is probably the quickest route to solving this problem. Towles' successor as the Backstop of Tomorrow, Jason Castro, is a 2008 first-round pick who hit .205/.286/.287 in 63 games last year but blew out his knee in spring training, costing him the entire season. Peeking at the team's minor-league affiliates, we see that migrant ex-prospect Max Ramirez hit just .226/.253/.333 in 24 games at Triple-A Oklahoma City between bus rides from the Cubs' Iowa affiliate and the Giants' Fresno one, no doubt chased off by former Met Robinson Cancel, a 35-year-old vet hitting .297/.369/.402 at OkC. Twenty-two-year-old Ben Heath, last year's fifth-round pick and the only backstop whom Baseball America deemed worthy of this desiccated organization's top 30, has hit .246/.303/.409 and thrown out just 17 percent of would-be base thieves at two A-ball stops. The org's most interesting catcher has to be 2010 16th-rounder Chris Wallace, a University of Houston product who has hit .282/.350/.529 with 20 homers split between A and Double-A. He's a below-average receiver with a 20 percent caught-stealing rate this year, but at least there's no danger he'll grow up to a shameful career propagating fake news like his namesake.
First Base: James Loney (.236 TAv, −0.5 WARP), Dodgers
Remedy (?): Until Sunday's deadline debacle, it appeared as though Sands was the first baseman of the future, with Travyon Robinson joining Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier in the outfield, either in left or center. After Robinson was traded to the Mariners on Sunday for no good reason whatsoever, Colletti indicated his feeling that Sands is the stronger candidate to take over left, despite Sands’ .200/.294/.328 line in 144 plate appearances with the big club this season. Russ Mitchell is the only other plausible organizational option on hand, but he's 26 and hitting an altitude-fueled .260/.359/.468 at Triple-A Albuquerque. Assuming the team does finally part ways with Loney this winter, bet on Colletti to survey the free-agent markets at left field and first base, and do something worthy of a triple facepalm.
Second Base: Aaron Hill (.226 TAv, −0.8 WARP), Blue Jays
Remedy (?): Top hitting prospect Brett Lawrie played second base in the Brewers' chain, but he was shifted to third base upon being traded to Toronto this winter, and that's where his future lies; his arrival in the majors is likely to happen this weekend. Neither utilitymen Mike McCoy nor John McDonald represent anything more than stopgap solutions, and the team's starters at Triple-A and Double-A, the well-named Manny Mayorson and the phenomenally-named Callix Crabbe, are 28-year-old organizational types. The Jays might envision a future where current shortstop Yunel Escobar (under contract through 2013) shifts over to second to accommodate slick-fielding Adeiny Hechavarria, but the latter's .228/.265/.333 at Double-A suggests his bat is nowhere near ready. Bet on Alex Anthopoulos to be in the market for a stopgap solution come winter.
Shortstop: Brandon Crawford (.206 TAv, −0.2 WARP), Miguel Tejada (.226 TAv, 0.5 WARP), Mike Fontenot (.233 TAv, 0.0 WARP), Giants
Remedy (?): Sabean actually struck at the deadline, acquiring Orlando Cabrera from the Indians. Unfortunately, he failed to hold out for a time machine to be named later, because the 36-year-old was hitting just .244/.277/.321 as part of Cleveland's dishonorably-mentioned Killers at second base. His defense at shortstop has been drifting into the red for years, but perhaps the veteran herbs and spices that he used to helped five other teams reach the playoffs will help here.
Third Base: Chone Figgins (.202 TAv, −0.8 WARP), Mariners
Remedy (?): As fate would have it, the 33-year-old Figgins hurt his right hip flexor on Monday and went on the disabled list, with Seager recalled from Triple-A Tacoma, where he was hitting a searing .406/.464/.614 in 112 plate appearances after a solid showing at Double-A Jackson. A 2009 third-round pick out of the University of North Carolina, Seager is a natural second baseman whose future with the Mariners would appear to lie at the hot corner or a utility role, given the major-league arrival of former UNC teammate Dustin Ackley. Seager is much more likely to hit for average if not power; right now, the Mariners would certainly settle for that.
I'll be back with the outfielders and designated hitter in Friday's installment.