The Seattle Mariners shook up their roster after being swept by the Houston Astros, recalling a shortstop and two veteran relievers from AAA. To make room on the active roster, they sent down two struggling bullpen arms and moved starting center fielder Austin Jackson to the 15-day DL.
It’s that last bit we’re going to focus on today. Jackson had been off to a… I want to say slow start, but relative to the rest of the team he’d been chugging right along, really. At .242/.294/.326 with strong defense, Jackson has been (somehow) one of the three best outfielders on the Mariners.
At the top of the list we find Nelson Cruz, who’s been significantly more valuable (1.4 WAR) than the rest of the position players combined (-0.6 WAR). We’ve talked about his defense, or lackthereof, but right now he gets to do whatever he wants. So you think you’re an outfielder, Mr. Cruz? Okay, sure, you can be an outfielder. That’s what fourteen home runs in 26 games gets ya.
So Cruz is the M’s best outfielder, at least until the team can comfortably move him to DH. But who else should be playing? With Jackson on the DL, the question is more relevant now than ever. But the answers aren’t exactly making themselves obvious.
Seth Smith is a good baseball player. He’s batting a robust .274/.329/.516, and his defensive efforts haven’t been nearly as terrible as one could’ve reasonably expected them to be. At 0.4 WAR, he’s been the second-best position player on the team. Unless the matchup’s particularly bad, he should be in the lineup most every night.
Who else is there? Dustin Ackley and Justin Ruggiano, that’s who! Ack has been the least valuable Mariner, with a pitiful .190/.227/.365 line and -0.4 WAR. Ruggiano’s been cold as of late, dropping his line down to .194/.306/.258. Lloyd McClendon seems poised to give him a shot as the everyday center fielder while Jackson is gone, which seems a little ambitious, to say the least. Oh yeah, and then there’s Rickie Weeks and his .200/.308/.356 line. But then you’re calling an infielder an outfielder, which brings us to our next big idea.
With Chris Taylor entering the building, perhaps the time is finally right to get Brad Miller some outfield reps. We’re all aware of his excellent range at short, and one can’t help but notice that this team doesn’t have a center fielder right now. From one up-the-middle position to another – could he do it? More importantly, is there any downside whatsoever to giving it a shot?
Ackley, Ruggiano, and Weeks all profile best as bench bats, and of them only Ruggiano can even fake it in center. Weeks can hardly fake it in left, and then there’s the issue of Smith and Cruz being less-than-zeroes out there as well. The outfield’s full of statues. Seems like a good time to infuse some athleticism into the mix.
Brad Miller hasn’t played the outfield before, but odds are he’s already the team’s third-best option out there. Justin Ruggiano isn’t the answer in center, and hell, Austin Jackson might not be either, even when healthy. Go for it, Mariners. Put Miller in center tonight. At the least, it’ll be fun to watch.
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