We’ve spent years talking about the Seattle Mariners outfield because for years the Seattle Mariners outfield has been bad. This year, too! No offense to Nelson Cruz and Seth Smith, who have been varying degrees of terrific. It’s been the rest of the group – Dustin Ackley, Justin Ruggiano, Rickie Weeks… even Austin Jackson has underperformed.
One of the many Mariners who is not an outfielder is Brad Miller. He’s also not a first baseman, a second baseman, or a third baseman – throughout his professional career, Miller’s almost exclusively played shortstop. He’s been good there, too, though this year his range has been absolutely negated by an inexplicable throwing problem. And now the M’s have called up hot shot prospect Chris Taylor – the same Chris Taylor who bumped Miller from his starting gig last summer.
You know where this is going – Miller should be an outfielder, right? This has been talked about a million times in a million different places, including here, yesterday. Lloyd McClendon may have named Ruggiano his interim starting center fielder when Jackson landed on the DL, but his platoon splits are still ridiculous, and Miller was spotted doing some fielding work in center that same day. And now we have the official announcement of something we’d all hoped to hear – Miller’s going to be taking on a different role with the M’s.
Ben Zobrist is incredible because he can hit the ball hard while playing whatever defensive position he’s asked to play on any given night. That’s what the Mariners are going to try to turn Miller into – a super utility player. Not Willie Bloomquist, but an every day guy, just, you know, an every day guy without a set defensive position. This isn’t a demotion – if anything, the Mariners have increased the importance of Brad Miller by making this move.
Let’s start with why this is happening – Taylor is a superior defender to Miller, and outhit him in the big leagues a year ago. The team has two guys who could be their starting shortstop, and they had to pick one, and they picked Taylor. Maybe if Miller’s defense had been up to par it’d still be him. He’d been hitting fine, so it probably would’ve still been him.
Since he’s been fine at the plate, the team isn’t keen on sending him to AAA. They need bats in their lineup, since an uncomfortably large faction of their lineup isn’t hitting. The easiest way to keep bats around is to keep Miller around while also importing Taylor. And the place where bats are most needed is the outfield.
One of these days Miller is going to show up in the outfield. Maybe today! The idea is that he’ll be fine out there because he was fine at short, and short is the most demanding non-catcher defensive position. But there’s a pretty decent counter-point to that: Miller’s never not been a shortstop. He still has to learn a new position or six.
This is all complicated. Miller’s now going to be expected to show up at number two on the depth chart basically everywhere. If the Mariners have their way then he’s the backup at first, second, short, third, left, center, and right. Zobrist can do this, and he can hit while doing this. Because of his ability to field seven positions (and field them well) while hitting, he’s been one of the absolute most valuable MLB players for much of the last decade.
Miller isn’t there, of course, and likely never will be. Zobrist is the ideal, and it’s silly to think that anyone can just expand their defensive versatility and automatically become one of the best players in the world. This move isn’t meant to turn Miller into a superstar, it’s just meant to make the M’s deeper everywhere while keeping a strong bat in the lineup more often than not. A backup shortstop doesn’t get as many chances to hit as a backup everything.
Brad Miller has long been one of the most important Mariners, and now he still is, even while accomodating Chris Taylor. He certainly has the talent to be above-average defensively all over the field, and now it’s just a matter of learning and adapting. If it takes some AAA time to get him ready for this role, so be it. The M’s wanted a super utility guy, so they picked the best internal candidate and are going to let him give the role a shot. If this works, the Mariners have something amazing. If it doesn’t, they still have Brad Miller, shortstop. Not bad for a consolation prize.
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