Dustin Ackley's 2014 beard is dangerously teetering between hipster and homeless.
Lloyd McClendon is already winning a lot of us over with his words and actions, and today was no different. When asked about where Dustin Ackley would play this year, his response and justification was priceless.
McClendon says Dustin Ackley unlikely to get much time in CF. Asked why he's only likely to play left: "Because that's where I want him."— Bob Dutton (@TNT_Mariners) February 21, 2014
Dustin Ackley isn't really a left fielder. He definitely wasn't a center fielder, though he did improve his routes as the season went on. Perhaps McClendon got a close-up look at Ackley's wet noodle arm and decided to avoid the an embarrassing explanation. Dustin Ackley, for the sake of everything, is a second baseman. So is Nick Franklin, and you could probably argue that Brad Miller would be on some teams as well. Willie Bloomquist, too. Stefen Romero used to be one. As recently as six months ago, we still heard chatter about people moving Kyle Seager back to second base.
Second base is one of the hardest positions to fill, and the Mariners have a shitload of them, and they can't trade any of them. It's weird, but so was a middling, recently penny-pinching mid-market franchise dumping a quarter billion dollars into one of the game's best players, who happened to play the position they were most well stocked at, but didn't have anyone assuredly good to play there. Nothing about this year has been normal.
Now the organization has to sort out this mess left by the fallout, and while some assumed Dustin Ackley would keep getting his cracks at center, it's probably a good idea he isn't continuing to play there. While his routes showed significant improvement, his arm is clearly a liability from that kind of a distance. It'll be objectionable in left, but not nearly as harmful. But the alternative isn't great either.
The assumption remains that Michael Saunders will once again man center field, despite clearly being a corner outfielder at this stage of his career. Saunders is pretty clearly a minus defender in center. 2013 was his worst season there by both DRS and UZR, and he's had negative ratings for 2 years running there, with last year looking particularly bad. He's been plus in the corners, and all this does is highlight the need for a real center fielder, which Abraham Almonte probably isn't.
With Ackley in left and Saunders in center, right field remains wide open - even though the chatter has been that Corey Hart will play out there, I remain entirely unconvinced that he'll be able to play there with any regularity, and that him and Logan Morrison will be rotating in and out of right all year, with each getting regular time at first base as Justin Smoak gets platooned/disappoints again. Chances are that one of Morrison/Smoak/Hart isn't going to work out as ideally planned, so that rotation will probably sort itself out.
As the aforementioned spend limited time in right, that leaves a window open for Abraham Almonte, and while the team will claim Stefen Romero, Endy Chavez, and Xavier Avery will have a chance to win a spot, it's probably not going to happen. Almonte and his 2.4 win Oliver projection (likes his defense in the corners) remains the most intriguing option, but it's a gamble. This team still needs to add a real outfielder and starting pitcher, the former of which is preferably not named Nelson Cruz. Andres Torres remains a free agent, and while unsexy he'd at the very least be an upgrade over Endy Chavez for a 4th outfielder who can actually play center. Otherwise, it's continuing the explore a trade market that has been dry.
And so we move on with this woefully incomplete roster. There's still time left, but not much. The M's have sat back and watched good options (most recently Capuano) disappear in front of them all winter, and it's getting to the point where the Mariners have to make three or four idealistic moves to bring this team into a contention conversation instead of the one or two that are likely to happen. You try not to react to the time left, and wait for moves to be made...this offseason has been slow, but the countdown to opening day is starting to loom.