There's been a lot of talk so far this spring about who's going to pair up with Russ Branyan at first base. Chris Shelton was considered the favorite for much of the winter, but the signing of Mike Sweeney added a bit of uncertainty to the mix, and while Shelton has tried his hardest to pull away by batting .474 in ST, Sweeney's hit well enough to keep it a competition. At this point, which player's in the lead depends entirely on who you ask. With time winding down in Arizona, the team is still attempting to figure out which first baseman would best fill the available spot.
The answer: it really doesn't matter that much.
If you look at the projections, Shelton stands out as the better hitter. He's not exactly in line to build on his solid 2005, but at 28 years old, he has more left in the tank than the 35 year old Sweeney, whose peak abilities have long since deteriorated. CHONE projects a .335 wOBA for Shelton and a .320 wOBA for Sweeney, and while these are overall projections rather than platoon projections, we shouldn't expect a righty/lefty adjustment to change the gap, since platoon splits regress heavily to the mean. In other words, in a platoon role, we should expect Shelton to maintain the same ~15 point advantage over Sweeney that he has overall.
15 points seems like quite a lot. And it kind of is. 15 points was the difference between Chase Utley and Brian Giles last year. But when you're talking about 15 points over a sample of something like 250-300 plate appearances, then all of a sudden you're only dealing with a difference of three or four runs. Which becomes three or four runs overall, since there doesn't seem to be a significant difference between Shelton and Sweeney's respective abilities to play the field.
Three or four runs. Let's call it 0 < x < 5 runs. Based on available projections, the difference between Chris Shelton and Mike Sweeney in a platoon role with Russ Branyan is somewhere between nothing and half a win. It's something, since a team in our position needs a whole lot of little things to go its way in order to make the year interesting, but it's hardly worth freaking out about if the team doesn't pick the guy you like better.
Personally, I'd prefer Shelton. I imagine the same goes for many of you. He's younger, he has the better bat, and there's a chance that a good season could make him a part of the future. After all, it wasn't that long ago that the Tigers were talking about him as a building block. But if the Mariners do elect to go with Sweeney instead, then it's just not that big of a deal. For one thing, Sweeney's not horrible. For another, he reminds me of Gary from South Park in that he's almost obnoxiously agreeable, and he could be of some benefit to the clubhouse. And finally, if Sweeney doesn't perform, Shelton will still be there in Tacoma just a phone call away. So even if Sweeney gets hurt or is totally finished, we'll have a solution in-house. We won't have to worry about an over-the-hill part-time first baseman tanking our season.
I don't know which way the Mariners are leaning right now. I doubt the players do, either. What I do know is that it's unlikely to make much of a difference either way.
T-minus two weeks and counting until Felix Day '09.