Willie stay or Willie go?

Christian Petersen

Back in November 2011, Kevin Towers signed Willie Bloomquist to a two-year deal worth $3.8 million, to grumblings from the SnakePit. The deal is now up: is it time to let Bloomquist walk?

It's hard to call the contract a disaster, albeit in part because few deals worth less than two million per year will ever fall into that category. While bWAR has Bloomquist at little better than replacement over the lifetime of his contract, fWAR credits him with a total of 0.9 wins above replacement, which would make his cost acceptable value. He did provide a useful service in 2012, giving us a backup as Stephen Drew's recovery from injury took longer than expected, but Willie had health issues of his own this season. He missed the first 54 games with a strained ribcage muscle, then a further 53 from late June, after being hit on the hand.

Previous performance

In terms of sheer batting average, there isn't much to complain about, Bloomquist hitting over .300 both seasons, for an average of .307. However, his lack of power and poor plate discipline made Willie an extraordinarily limited .300 hitter. Of the 37 hitters with 400+ PAs to have hit .295 or better over the last two seasons, Bloomquist is exactly in the middle for BA, but ranks 35th for on-base percentage, and 36th for slugging and OPS (Ben Revere is last in each). He has drawn only 20 walks in 488 PAs and his last home-run came in August 2011, a current homerless streak of 158 appearances and over six hundred PAs, which is the longest active one in the majors.

He did show a good amount of position flexibility: Bloomquist started 16 games at second, 11 at third, 69 at short, and even six in left-field. However, you'd be hard-pushed to call his defense outstanding at any of the positions, and he had an overall UZR of -5.3, across those four positions and two seasons (small sample size warnings apply as usual). Bloomquist is pretty much the definition of a utility player: he can play multiple positions, but just because he can play multiple positions, doesn't mean he should play multiple positions. He's like a human Swiss Army knife: sure you can open a can with one, but you're better off if you have an actual can-opener handy.

I should also mention his liabilities on the base-paths. For this contract, he had only seven successful stolen-bases in 19 attempts, leading the team in being caught stealing for 2012.

Roster space for 2014

One of the differences between the Diamondbacks now and then, is that when Bloomquist was signed, we didn't really have any credible young alternatives for the middle infield. The arrival of Didi Gregorius and the rise of Chris Owings through the minor-league system, means that's no longer the case, plus there's also Cliff Pennington, who offers clearly superior defense at shortstop. There's certainly a good argument that we can go into the 2014 campaign with Gregorius and Hill as our starters, backed up as necessary by Pennington and Owings, rendering Bloomquist unnecessary..

I do have some qualms about that, mostly because Gregorius and Pennington are perhaps too similar in terms of skill-set. While Didi hit above expectations in his first season with the Diamondbacks, they're both defense-first players, and both men struggle against left-handed pitching. Pennington is technically a switch-hitter, but when your career numbers against southpaws are a .239 average and a .601 OPS, there's a certain point at which you might want to reconsider your designation. It's one of the few times I can credibly use "Bloomquist:" and "more potent option" in the same sentence, with his career OPS vs. LHP of .716.

What price for Bloomquist?

Bloomquist turns 36 this month, so you've got to think he's now in the twilight of his career. He said early in 2012 that he wants to retire a Diamondback, and one wonders if he will keep to what he vowed the year before that: "Once I get satisfied with being a bench guy, I'll retire, plain and simple." It's certainly hard to imagine him being an everyday starter for the Diamondbacks, except in the event of injury - or, possibly more likely, injuries. He did get a lot of starts at second-base in June, with Hill injured, but when Bloomquist returned after his second DL stint in August, he started only 13 of 31 games, split almost equally between SS and LF.

Bloomquist received $3.8 million from Arizona, though the San Francisco Giants apparently offered more money than that, waving $4.6 million over two years at Willie. That level of competition seems unlikely, but all it takes is for two teams to be dazzled by the shiny batting average over the last couple of seasons, and he could still have another decent pay-day to come. However, my instinct is that it won't be in Arizona, so if Bloomquist does want to retire a Diamondback, he'd better start looking into tee-times.

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