All good ... perhaps even great
From Hee Seop Choi to Aaron Guiel, there are a few nondescript players who are worthy of having jobs.
I spend a lot of time writing about mistakes, because mistakes are generally more interesting (not to mention the sad fact that they're more fun to write about). That's how today's column started, and then I had an amazing idea: write something happy! So what follows is my All-Good Decision team, composed of players with everyday jobs thanks to the wisdom of their employers.
C: Victor Martinez
The Indians' catcher is off to a rough start, but don't worry; he'll hit. The Indians have another decent catcher in Josh Bard, and management deserves credit for recognizing that while Bard is a legitimate major leaguer, Martinez is the future.
1B: Hee Seop Choi
I've been reading for at least two years that Choi "gets tied up by high heat" ... at least according to (always anonymous) scouts. I even read recently that Choi will wind up losing his job to Wil Cordero, which is laughable because Cordero can't hit right-handed pitching. And in case nobody's noticed, there are a lot of right-handed pitchers out there.
Yes, Choi has struggled in the majors, but that's in only 252 at-bats. Derrek Lee, Choi's predecessor in Miami, got off to an even worse start in his career. At exactly the same point, age-wise, Lee's OBP and slugging percentage were .305 and .384, and that was in 726 at-bats (entering this season, Choi was at .337 and .401). I'm not saying that Choi's going to be Lee, but he's got a chance to be even better.
2B: Marco Scutaro
There's a part of me that's reluctant to give the A's too much credit for giving Scutaro a chance to play, because if Mark Ellis hadn't suffered a season-ending injury before the season even started, Scutaro would still be on the bench (or playing every day for the Triple-A Sacramento River Cats). On the other hand, it's not like Scutaro was the default choice when Ellis went down. When Ellis went down, I saw one report that listed Frank Menechino and Esteban German as replacement candidates ... with no mention of Scutaro at all!
So the A's deserve credit for skipping past the guy with the experience (Menechino) and the guy who's been in the organization forever but doesn't have the skills to play every day (German), and settle on the guy who can actually play. I don't know if the A's are actually better off with Scutaro than Ellis -- it depends on whose analysis of defense you believe -- but he's one hell of a fill-in.
3B: Adrian Beltre
This one's sort of a default choice, as there just weren't many third-base jobs open this spring. In Cincinnati, Brandon Larson's various training-camp ailments left an opening for Ryan Freel, and the Reds were smart enough to give him the job rather than Juan "Sub-.300 OBP" Castro. But Freel's no everyday player, and the Reds are counting the days until first Larson's healthy, and next prospect Edwin Encarnacion is ready.
So instead we'll give some credit to the Dodgers, while acknowledging that 1) it's early, and he probably won't bat .478 all season, and 2) it's not like they had a lot of choice. Oh, they could have traded Beltre to the highest bidder and handed the job to Robin Ventura on a short-term basis. But the Dodgers don't have a third baseman in the minors who's within two years of the majors, and Beltre's numbers would look a lot better if you took him out of Dodger Stadium. How much better? Here are his career home and road stats:
AB OBP Slug Home 1381 .305 .390 Road 1506 .336 .471
At home, Beltre is ... I don't know, Casey Blake or Ty Wigginson. But on the road he's Aramis Ramirez or Joe Randa. Dodger Stadium is tough on hitters, but it's not that tough. Or at least not on most of them. It's possible that Beltre is particularly unsuited to the ballpark, but it's also possible (and perhaps likely) that he's just hit in tough luck there. Anyway, at $3.7 million this season, Beltre is a pretty good value, and if the Dodgers are going to compete for the division title, they'll need Beltre at third base.
SS: Khalil Greene
Yes, Neifi Perez and Royce Clayton both have gaudy batting averages. No, I'm not ready to admit that everything I've ever written about them was wrong. And anyway, Greene's batting average (.389) is even gaudier. No, Greene's not nearly that good in real life, but he is going to be a solid major league shortstop, and there wasn't any reason to send him back to the minors this spring.
All the less so when you consider that his "competition" in the Padres' camp was Rey Ordonez. I don't think the Padres were real serious about Ordonez -- he was probably in camp just to give Greene some competition -- but somebody has to take this slot on my All-Star team, and it was a choice between Greene and Bobby Crosby (who didn't have any competition at all).
LF: Aaron Guiel
I was going to use Ray Lankford here, because 1) I admire the Cardinals for bringing him back, despite all the ugly things that were said in 2002, and 2) Lankford got off to a good start. But Lankford's hurt, and any good feelings I had for Tony La Russa were forgotten Monday night when I 1) saw Marlon Anderson trying to play left field, and 2) realized that Tony Womack's apparently going to be wasting at-bats nearly every day.
So instead I'm going with Guiel, who the Royals plucked from the minors a couple of years ago. He's not a great player and probably should be platooned, but he has a good batting eye and an excellent arm, and he's costing the Royals approximately nothing (and exactly $320,000).
Nobody "won" a regular job in center field this spring.
Or rather, nobody good won a job. Peter Bergeron batted .364 in spring training so now he's the Expos' center fielder. I'm all for giving players with talent second and third chances (see below), but Bergeron's well past that point. Entering this season, he'd totaled 1,061 at-bats and boasted a .305 career on-base percentage and a .312 slugging percentage. Bergeron's not really that bad ... but he's close. If Bergeron plays every day, he'll do slightly better than those numbers, but unless he's Willie Mays with the glove he won't do better enough to justify a regular job. If Bergeron has a role in the major leagues, it's as a pinch-runner and late-innings defensive replacement.
RF: Ben Grieve
It's easy to forget that Grieve once was considered perhaps the No. 1 prospect in the game. This was in 1997, when Grieve absolutely destroyed Double- and Triple-A pitchers before getting promoted to Oakland in September; in 151 professional games that season, Grieve drove in 160 runs.
In retrospect, we might have been a bit too enthusiastic about Grieve's future. His 1997 numbers were awesome and he'd enjoyed a wonderful half-season the year before, but otherwise his minor-league career was somewhat spotty. What's more, Grieve was a pretty awful defensive outfielder. But he hit decently enough in 1998 -- .402 OBP, .473 slugging in a pitcher's park -- to earn Rookie of the Year honors. It's been all downhill from there, though. Grieve was decent enough in 1999 and 2000 with the A's, then got traded to the Devil Rays and suddenly lost much of his power (through everything, he's kept his OBP in the .370 range). Last season he bottomed out, and the Devil Rays were thrilled when Grieve's contract expired.
Now the Brewers have him, and if Grieve can maintain his OBP and rediscover the power he lost on the shores of Tampa Bay, the Brewers will have themselves one of the better-hitting right fielders in the league. It's true that Grieve's "defense" remains a problem, but even with that he could still be league-average, all things considered. And for 700 grand, that's not a bad risk at all for a franchise like this one.
Senior writer Rob Neyer writes three columns per week during baseball's offseason. This spring, Fireside will publish Rob's next book, "The Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers" (co-written with Bill James); for more information, visit Rob's Web site. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.
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