I get the feeling that people aren't going to like this post. I've written more Fanposts than most, I think, and for the most part they've gone over reasonably well. I tend to write about the Minors, where I like to dig around, and occasionally I'll expound on the virtues of believing in Justin Smoak. Today's post is about the Major League team, and about the future, and about why I believe the Ms should make a move that most will say is crazy, or stupid, or just unnecessary.
OK. I know. These guys have been playing those positions for a while now. They're used to them. Franklin and Miller are the new Double Play Twins. Seager's a boss, and you don't mess with him. Etc, etc. I know. I get it.
So let me give you the sales pitch. I don't think I'm going to convince very many people, but I have to try, right?
Let's start with Seager. The guy can play third, no doubt about it. He's solid over there. But he's not amazing. He's not great. He's SOLID. By the numbers, he's played 2455 innings over there and has a UZR of 2.7 (UZR/150: 1.5). By Fielding Bible's Defensive Runs Saved, he's -9. He's not hurting you at third. But he's not helping you a ton, either. Now, recall that Kyle Seager played about 250 of his 260 college games at 2nd base. He played 183 Minor League games at 2nd bas, and he's played 21 games in the majors at second. At second base, he's good. Really good. The data-based sample size is small, since MiLB and College fielding data is essentially nonexistent, but in 165 MLB innings he's graded out at 3.8 UZR (UZR/150: 33.8) and +3 DRS. There is certainly some question as to if he can come close to those numbers in full-time duty, but those numbers, plus his general defensive aptitude, plus his long-term history at the position suggest that he should at LEAST be able to replicate his 3B level of defensive production. It's very possible he can do much better.
Ok, let's move to Franklin. Most should be able to recall that Nick Franklin is (or was) a SS by trade. In the minors, he played 261 games at Short and 122 at Second. He hasn't played 3B, so I can't give you a litany of numbers about his ability over there. However, the skills generally needed at 3rd are a) a strong arm and b) quickness/reactions time. Franklin's time at short didn't draw raves for his arm, but at 2nd in Seattle he seems to have plenty of zip. As a high-schooler, he could pitch in the high 80s, touching 90. This is the shakiest part of my plan: I just don't have the data. My feeling, though, is that Franklin's arm and speed would hold up fine at 3rd. The set of data that I DO have, is of Nick at 2nd in Seattle. There, he's been...not great. Not good, really. In 435 innings, he's at -4.7 UZR (UZR/150: -15.1) and 0 DRS. On the eye test, he's looked OK, but not spectacular. I certainly wasn't surprised to see that number. Specifically, errors and range have been his issues. Errors may continue to be a problem at 3rd, but he wouldn't need to show as much range. It seems that his worst-case scenario at 3rd is about what he's been doing at 2nd, with a solid possibility of improvement (which, admittedly, he could also show at 2nd).
So here's the summary: Seager is OK at 3rd, but there's a good chance he'd be good-great at 2nd. Franklin's not good at 2nd, but I don't think he'd be worse long-term at 3rd and he could be better. If those were the only pieces of info to go on, there would be a decent case for some spring training experimentation - better defensive results mean better team results, after all.
However, that's not the only piece of info. In Major League Baseball, up-the-middle players are generally more valuable (all things equal) than corner players. A good defensive second baseman who hits like Seager is a franchise player without a doubt. At 3rd, he's a very good piece, but one with some power questions for the position. Recently, we've discussed the possibility of extending Seager to buy out his arbitration and some Free Agency. So the idea is: extend Seager now, or early in the offseason, while his value is tied to his 3rd-base history. Then move him to second. IF the transition goes smoothly, you now have a franchise player at 2B making solid-third-baseman money. Think Chase Utley for the price of Chase Headley. Side benefit: Franklin, at 3rd, would be cheaper as well.
So that's the plan. Again - this is something to test. A couple weeks in Spring Training would give the team a really good idea if a) Franklin looks competent to good at 3rd, and b) Seager still looks like a natural at 2nd. If it doesn't go well? No harm, no foul, back to your normal spots. It seems to me though, that with one simple move the Mariners could do three good things: improve the team defense, move two players to their natural sides of the infield, and save money on two contracts in the long run. For very little risk, this seems like a fair amount of reward.