Team Turmoil

Books, Free Agents, Games, Management, Media, Paul Lebowitz's 2011 Baseball Guide, Players

By now you’re probably aware of the Jack WilsonEric Wedge disagreement over Wilson leaving last Wednesday’s game after making two errors at second base—Seattle PI Blog.

Most observers have taken stood squarely behind Mariners new manager, Wedge. I also agree with Wedge’s anger, but have to give some perspective as to Wilson’s position—literally and figuratively—in the matter.

While it’s not as egregious as it was last year, this Mariners early season distraction is a sign of still simmering issues in the clubhouse. The front office flung manager Don Wakamatsu overboard as the team’s promising season was a disaster on the field and a humiliation off. Wedge was hired because he’s more of a known quantity and fearless disciplinarian who isn’t going to tolerate similar nonsense as that which undermined Wakamatsu’s credibility and, in part, cost him his job.

But here’s a legitimate defense of Wilson: he’s a shortstop and not a second baseman; he’s a free agent at the end of the year; and it’s not very fair of the Mariners to do this to him at this point in his career.

Learning a new position on the fly in the final year of his contract is difficult on many levels—financial and practical; clearly he’s going to have trepidation about the shift and won’t be immediately comfortable. We’ve all had moments of “forget this, I’m leaving”; it just so happens that Wilson did it on a major league baseball diamond and had to answer a load of questions about it after contradicting his manager’s statement as to why.

It was a mistake and a lack of communication, but Wilson’s point-of-view isn’t out of order.

Wilson may statistically be seen as inferior defensively to Brendan Ryan at shortstop (and it’s highly debatable), but shouldn’t Wilson—as the returning veteran—have gotten priority to where he plays independent of stats?

Ryan can play second base as well. It’s not as if they imported Ozzie Smith to play shortstop; we’re talking about Brendan Ryan.

Wilson had never played second base professionally before this season and Ryan has. Is it fair to expect Wilson to be able to handle it without missing a beat? Without mistakes and frustration? Even a little fear?

Tsuyoshi Nishioka of the Twins just had his fibula broken by Nick Swisher on a clean play in which Swisher was breaking up a double play. It’s one of the hazards of playing second base and overcoming those mental hurdles without adequate preparation or experience takes time.

Regardless of the new, no-nonsense manager in the Mariners dugout, this provokes greater outside wonderment at the club hierarchy and why they’re so fond of making these questionable changes for negligible reasons. Last year it was the moving of an elite defensive third baseman, Chone Figgins to second base and Jose Lopez to third; this year it’s Wilson to second to make room for Ryan.

It seems that the Mariners are shifting players around based on numbers without accounting for the human being who’s asked to do something he’s unsure of and possibly lacking competency in doing.

As said earlier, Wilson’s a free agent at the end of the year and at age 34 with injury issues and poor offense, his options aren’t going to be great to begin with; it’s probably his last chance at a decent, long-term deal. The last things he needs are an injury or terrible year playing second base instead of shortstop.

As for Ryan, this is the second time this young season he’s been discussed in a bizarre context and neither have been his fault. First there was the NY Times column about which I wrote a posting on March 27th where the Cardinals winning record in games with Ryan in the lineup last season were somehow connected (banished logic included); now he’s caught in the crossfire of a teammate being usurped.

For a limited in talent, journeyman player, Ryan’s getting a lot of—too much—attention and now it’s affecting the whole Mariners team; a team that didn’t need controversy after a disastrous 2010 and hired the new manager specifically to get past all of that.

Instead of turning the page, the Mariners have picked up where they left off. And it’s not good.

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Paul Lebowitz’s 2011 Baseball Guide is available.

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