The Dime A Dozen Utility Infielder
The Tigers trade of 25-year old utility infielder Steve Lombardozzi for veteran shortstop Alex Gonzalez has become a running joke on Twitter. Nobody understands why a player with perceived value was dealt for waiver wire fodder. In a vacuum, it makes perfect sense. A look around baseball at this time of year tells an entirely different story.
When at the ballpark, conversations with scouts tend to stick. While watching Andy Oliver pitch for the Tigers organization, the discussion turned to Mets prospect Wilfredo Tovar, a shortstop/utility infielder who was playing second base for the Savannah Sand Gnats at the time. A quality defender, his taking a back seat to Robbie Shields at the time made little sense to us. The scout mentioned turning him the diminutive infielder in as an acquire to his organization with this caveat;
Everybody thinks a utility infielder has value, but every organization has a bunch of guys like Tovar who can fill the role. Plus, they are always available for pennies on the dollar during the last week of spring training.“
Sound familiar? Is it possible Lombardozzi was a fungible asset dealt for another fungible asset and nothing more? Need a utility infielder? This week, Kevin Frandsen, Wilson Betemit, Cesar Izturis, Tony Abreu, Ronny Cedeno and Jamey Carroll all find themselves out of work.
The Utility Infielder Conversation We Should Be Having
Rather than bash the Tigers and Dave Dombrowski for another questionable move (low hanging fruit), a better topic of discussion is whether the Tigers could have kept Lombardozzi and signed a player like Ronny Cedeno who was released a couple of days later.
Let’s face it, Lombardozzi is a former 18th round pick with a career OPS of .639 who joins his third organization in the past six months or so. Lombardozzi reaching MLB from his initial draft position is an extreme return on investment for his original organization, but that means little now. What matters is his level of production and Lombardozzi fell flat after a surprising rookie campaign. Beyond age, there’s little difference between him and the players released over the past few days.
If one looks at the debut ages of utility infielders as opposed to regulars, it’s easy to identify players including Tyler Pastornicky, Tovar and Lombardozzi who debuted at an early age because they were replaceable parts leveraged to protect more valuable assets in the minor leagues. Don’t dismiss the idea utility infielders fill the role because they have limited ceilings regardless of age. With these players, it’s easy to confuse age-versus-level and WAR value with actual MLB value. In every case, they’re more valuable on paper than in real life.
26 Mar 2014 / Mike Newman /
Categories: MLB Analysis
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