When a writer asks a question in the headline of a story, it usually means that he or she intends to answer that question. This is not one of those times. I’m asking in the hopes that someone can explain this one to me.
The last week brought multiple reports that the Oakland A’s are looking at second basemen. On Tuesday, there was this:
Beane says 2B also a concern because of Lowrie's injury, Wendle small body of work. But CF more urgency to add from outside. #Athletics— Joe Stiglich (@JoeStiglichCSN) December 6, 2016
And then on Friday, we got this from John Shea of the S.F Chronicle:
The A’s also seek depth at second base and in the bullpen.
But ... why? The A’s have plenty of other needs, like a CF, and maybe a RF, and perhaps also a backup CF, and everyone can use more reliable pitching. What they don’t have is more space in the infield to keep adding bodies. A quick review:
1B: Yonder Alonso is the place holder. Ryon Healy will likely move here by the end of the year. And Matt Olson, Renato Nunez, and Mark Canha exist as possible options as well, among other lesser depth guys.
2B: Jed Lowrie, Joey Wendle, and Chad Pinder, in no particular order. Franklin Barreto also could debut this year.
SS: Marcus Semien is a rock, so you don’t need to plan much here. He’s a good player and as durable as they come. For now, shortstop is covered full-time, and the only reason Barreto is listed at 2B is because Semien is blocking him here. (Of course, you always need a utility guy who can back up SS, for emergencies, but that’s a minor issue to think more about in March.)
3B: Ryon Healy for now, but hopefully Matt Chapman by midseason. The point is, third base is covered. (Also Renato Nunez is technically still listed as a 3B, for what it’s worth.)
The point isn’t that every position has a 2017 All-Star by any means, but that each one has a logical plan so far. The left side is totally covered, and there’s no need to discuss it. The right side looks more open, sure, but there are so many bodies competing for playing time that being open isn’t the same as being empty.
Here is Melissa Lockard of Oakland Clubhouse summing up my feelings quite well:
Adding a 2B makes little sense to me. Pinder fits into that group, as well & Barreto could by mid-season, too. Experience comes by playing https://t.co/QREo0yfYCL— Melissa Lockard (@oakclubhouse) December 6, 2016
Lockard touches on the part I truly don’t get: If Wendle’s “small body of work” is a problem, then how in the world do you expect to address it except by playing him to increase that body of work? If the statement had been that they don’t think Wendle is good enough, then fine, but why is he still here at all, and why do they keep doing a Where’s Wendle game on Twitter?
No, the report pointed at his lack of experience, which of course exists in the first place because they blocked him for so long in 2016 (with Lowrie and even Max Muncy). Somehow blocking him again in 2017 wouldn’t just extend the problem?
Even if the A’s won’t come right out and say it, the writing is clearly on the wall that this is a rebuilding season. Billy Beane himself said that he’s “not sure there’s one silver-bullet player out there who jumps you from where you are to where you want to be” (via John Shea). If you’re not optimistic about building a competitive team, and you’re shifting your resources toward the future*, then the next step is to let loose all the MLB-ready prospects you’ve been collecting and grooming for years, right?
* “I think right now, our focus, the investment that we have, is not so much in the major-league payroll but in the rest of the operation that has a long-term benefit.” - Beane, via Shea
Even leaving aside Barreto, the A’s have three options for 2B. If they wanted to be safe and boring and waste another season on Representative Product, then stick Jed Lowrie there every day again. If they want to evaluate some youngsters in a rebuilding season like a smart team, then use Wendle and Pinder — they even fit together nicely in a platoon.
Granted, none of those options are without risk. Lowrie could get hurt, and one or both of the rookies could flame out. And ... so what? Things not working out isn’t the same as time being wasted or a mistake being made. At this point we simply need to know if Wendle and Pinder can play, and any concrete answer to that question is worth spending time to discover in a not-obviously-contending season.
Let’s imagine a bad result. Wendle gets the nod on the heavy side of the platoon, plays poorly for a month, and loses the job. Pinder steps up from part-time to everyday, spends another month, and also can’t cut it. (If the A’s are giving up on either of those guys in less than a month then they are simply doing it wrong.) Then Lowrie takes over, plays like Lowrie for a month, and gets hurt. Yes, you’ve now run through all your original options ... but we’re also halfway through the season! Maybe Barreto is ready by then.
So, if everything goes absolutely terribly, then the A’s are still probably halfway through the year before they even need to consider a new 2B. And I don’t think this nightmare scenario is by any means the most likely, as there’s a perfectly reasonable chance the current cast is able to cover the whole season (and maybe even well, if one of the rookies works out, which I don’t find at all unlikely though it’s also not guaranteed).
What’s the plan then? Sign a scrubby one-year stopgap to fill playing time, sort of like Alonso? But unlike at Alonso’s position, the prospects at 2B are ready to play now. A stopgap starter is 100% a waste of time; if you want that, then use Lowrie, who is already under contract for more than the A’s should be spending on him. Right now seems like an odd time to suddenly start worrying about the health of one of the most injury-prone players in the game. So sign an expensive longer-term option, then? And potentially block Barreto? No thanks. A replacement-level utility guy? Just use Pinder for that while he’s sitting on the short side of his platoon, and get him some MLB experience.
Perhaps I’m overreacting here. Perhaps the lines about seeking 2B depth really do just mean depth, like some journeyman to stash in Nashville. (Why haven’t we started calling it Stashville yet?) That would make sense, just as they always add an extra catcher (like Matt McBride, or now Ryan Lavarnway), and extra relievers (like Patrick Schuster last year, or now Tyler Sturdevant and Josh Smith). Those kinds of moves don’t affect the top of the depth chart, they simply provide contingencies in case players get hurt or gambles go awry.
But if the A’s are looking for anything more than a 2B version of depth guys like McBride or Andrew Lambo, then I simply don’t understand it. Let the kids play in 2017, for goodness sake.