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Hot Stone League

Larry Stone gives his take on a wide array of baseball issues and weighs in about the Mariners, too.

March 22, 2011 at 10:37 AM

Jack Wilson, Brendan Ryan decision is a win-win

ryan2nd.jpg

(Brendan Ryan photo by Getty Images)

Eric Wedge came out today and announced that Jack Wilson will start the season at second base, Brendan Ryan at shortstop, for the Mariners.

This was a notion I first began to consider when I was making my spring-training tour of Florida in mid-Feburary and chatted with a prominent baseball executive. He told me he thought the Mariners should move Wilson to second base and play Ryan at shortstop in order to minimize the wear and tear on the injury-prone Wilson. The thought hadn’t occurred to me, but it made sense. And sure enough, it wasn’t too long before Eric Wedge himself said he was considering just that.

What may have seemed like a whim at first became a serious consideration as camp progressed. When Wedge was still flip-flopping the two this late in camp, I began to believe that the change was a realistic possibility. Sure enough, now it’s a reality.

To me, it makes a lot of sense on several levels, not just that playing second base is a bit less demanding than shortstop and thus should, theoretically, increase the odds that Wilson stays healthy. There’s also the fact that Ryan has been a superb defensive shortstop as judged by advanced fielding metrics. In fact, he led all major-league shortstop last year in both UZR (11.5) and plus/minus (+31) and in the estimation of some analysts should have been the National League Gold Glove winner over Troy Tulowitzki.

A healthy Wilson is an outstanding shortstop in his own right, but he’s 33 years old and in the last year of his contract. With Dustin Ackley likely to be installed as the second baseman in late May or early June (for the next 10 years, if he’s as good as the Mariners hope), Wilson will likely become a mid-season trade chip. That Ackley transition can be accomplished with less disruption now without having to switch Ryan to shortstop, as many anticipated would happen at mid-season. Perhaps playing a new position will enhance Wilson’s trade value as well. He’s shown in spring training that he can be an adept second baseman, even though he had never before played the position. If Adam Kennedy makes the team, as I expect he will, the Mariners can protect Wilson health even more by giving the left-handed hitting Kennedy occasional starts. You can find Geoff’s analysis here. And here’s Dave Cameron with a dissenting opinion on the switcheroo.

Last week, while interviewing Ryan for this story , I asked him about the uncertainty over whether he’d be playing shortstop or second base. I didn’t have room in the story for his answer:

“I embrace the aspect, to be as cliche as possible, that I’m going to be wherever I can help the team. That decision is obviously up to Mr. Wedge. I’m not concerning myself too much defensively. I’m trying to get back on track with the bat, trying to find a consistent place physically and mechanically.

“I don’t really care (where he winds up playing). If you ask Jack or myself where we’d like to be, we’d both like to be at short. That’s the most fun position. You can turn a fun double play from second base. I always thought that was fun. Whatever. I’ve probably got more experience at second (than Wilson). It’s what they want to do and how they feel the team will fit best.”

And now we know the answer. Incidentally, I asked Ryan if he was aware of the defensive metrics that rate him so highly.

“I hear about it,” he replied. “I don’t really look into it. I’m pretty confident defensively. I’m not reading blogs and all that stuff, because it seems like most of it is negative anyway. You try to keep that pollution out of your head. You’ll hear stuff. You don’t want to get too big a head, but I’ve heard some nice things said.

“There’s always flaws, it seems, to every stat. Defensively, I don’t really care about errors, it’s about how you make the errors. I’m going to take chances. So is Jack. We pretty much play the position the same. He’s a guy I looked up to because I saw his athleticism and his ability to throw from any angle and his aggressiveness and his willingness to take chances and take risks. As long as they’re smart risks. You want to be aggressive smart, and that’s what I’ve tried to do. That’s something I’ve learned through the minors I’d like to think I take aggressive, smart chances.”

Now he’ll be doing it from the shortstop position.

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