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SnakePit Round-Table: Second-base for the Diamondbacks

One of the 93 runs scored by Kelly Johnson in 2010.
One of the 93 runs scored by Kelly Johnson in 2010.

Going into 2010, it was hoped that Kelly Johnson would have a bounceback year, after a disappointing 2009. I think it's safe to say that these hopes exceeded even our most optimistic expectations. Kelly led the team in BA, OBP, SLG - and, you'll not be surprised to hear, thus OPS. His year was among the most productive of any second-baseman in the National League, batting at will almost anywhere in the top third of the order, and we look forward to more of the same in 2011.

Second-base, Kelly Johnson and other options thereof are the subject of this week's SnakePit round-table. Though we start with some gentle massaging of Kelly's ego...


Kelly Johnson: great non-tender signing or the greatest non-tender signing?

IHSB: Is this supposed to be a question?  Greatest.  Durr.

Sprankton: Swoon. Greatest. Swoon. Eff David Ortiz.

Kishi: Greatestest. Without a doubt. It rivals the Rebel Alliance picking up Luke Skywalker as a undrafted free agent.

Jim: I can somewhat see why the Braves let him go - after all, Martin Prado, for minimum wage, wasn’t far behind Johnson in terms of value. And it seemed clear no-one was prepared to offer much for Johnson. But still...

soco: Almost as crazy delicious as Red Vines and Dr Pepper.

emily: Great.

Wailord: Seems everyone used up the descriptive phrases. Magically delicious?


That having been said, we probably could have worked an awesome trade after that 12-HR April, or whatever it was.

(Not really)

There were questions about Johnson’s defense coming in to the season. How do you think that stood up?

IHSB: Solid, if unspectacular.  Not a Soriano-level issue.

Sprankton: 7.7 UZR/150. ‘Nuff said.

Kishi: Pretty well. I don’t recall thinking that he was ever a weak spot in our defense this season. He might not be winning any gold gloves, but he’s not making anyone wince when he takes the field. (You’re only allowed to do both if you’re a Yankee.)

Jim: As noted in the MVP ‘Pitties, all three defensive metrics put Johnson as better than average at the position - that was a sharp and welcome change from 2008-09 when the majority verdict was somewhat below average (UZR -3.7/year, Rdrs -3/year).

Overall, I didn’t generally notice Johnson’s defense. The sole exception was probably "that" game in LA where he made two errors on one eighth-inning play, booting a grounder, then throwing it past first. Two runs scored, tying the game, and setting the stage for Esmerling Vasquez’s balk-off. Took me a while to recover, and trust KJ again, but by the end of the season, I’d almost forgotten.

soco: What questions?

emily: Solid. No issue.

IHSB:  I did remember that L.A. game.  He ruined a spectacular Rodrigo start if memory serves me correctly.  I was busy making cookies and basking in the glory of Lopez’s dominance as an equally super-awesome dumpster pickup.  We all saw how that ended up working out, I s’pose.

Wailord: The LA game was traumatizing, simply because it was one of the very, very, very few Diamondbacks games I had the privilege to watch, and KJ essentially broke my heart. It’s not like he was the world’s flashiest defender (unlike 2010 Gold Glove™ winner Derek Jeter!), so the particularly poor plays stick out in my mind more. However, it’s against the moral code to bad talk KJ, so he’s basically awesome.

DbacksSkins: As Jim said, I didn’t really notice his defense too much. Without checking, I suspect that his range wasn’t particularly good, but he seemed solid, if unremarkable, defensively, at second.

Also, that sentence might be over-commafied.

Kelly set career highs in hits, extra-base hits, home-runs, RBI, runs - and, of course, K’s. What do you expect from him in 2011?

IHSB: Regression, but still perhaps 4+ WAR.

Sprankton: Similar numbers with perhaps a slight dip in the power categories. Chase Field and Johnson fit together like a cute costume on a poodle. i.e. perfect in every way. I think Johnson can nab another 5+ WAR season in 2011.

soco: It’ll be the Year of Kelly Johnson.

emily: Hopefully more of the same. I’m never optimistic, (with this team) so my expectations are pretty low.

Kishi: For him to be traded midseason.

Wailord: Yeah, if a team has their second baseman go down and need someone for the stretch, I see Kelly being one of the more attractive names on the market. He’s solid, doesn’t have a bloated contract, and he should be putting up some good numbers. Not ZOMG2010 numbers, but still pretty solid.

DbacksSkins: I’ll bet we’re gonna see some regression, but not too terribly much. He’ll still be one of the best MIs in the NL -- say, 3.5-4.5 WAR.

His contract expires at the end of next season. Should we look at trying to keep Kelly here beyond 2011?

IHSB: Yes, but I’m not sure if it’s going to happen now.  KJ could cash in big-time if he has another season like 2010 in 2011, so he has no reason to lock himself in to a deal that might limit his earning potential.  And Arizona shouldn’t pay him like a 6 WAR player yet.

Sprankon: If KJ keeps producing, I definitely don’t think we should rule it out. If we can sign him for a three-year-deal (aged 30-32) worth $16-20M there’s no way I would argue with it. Three additional years of KJ along with some promising projected lineups from 2012 and on make me pretty excited for the future.

Jim: I’d say we should make . As we’ll see, at the moment, we have no-one coming up through the farm system who looks like a credible fit at the position. Johnson likes it here, and while he does deserve more money, it’d probably be a better investment than anyone else at whom Arizona might make a run.

soco: I’d love to see him stay, but it’ll be an issue of how much I think.  

emily: I hope so, but I’m not sure how much they’d be willing to put up for him in a "rebuilding" period.

DbacksSkins: Silly Emily. Don’t you know we’re going to WIN NOW LULZ?

Kishi: Depending on what he costs, I wouldn’t mind extending him. But I kind of expect him to be a piece bandied about at the trade deadline instead.

Wailord: Unfortunately, every time a team gets a great deal on someone it eventually expires and the player will probably ask for more than they’re worth. I don’t think he will stay, but I would certainly like to see it. This, also, is assuming he doesn’t get traded away...

DbacksSkins: Unlike our other young guys, I don’t see us being able to sign him to an undermarket contract, much as I’d love it.

If we can sign him to a reasonable extension, YES! DO IT! He’s a good match for this team and this stadium. But I’ll bet we can’t get it done without overpaying for his career year, so I’m expecting Towers to trade him at the deadline.

Tony Abreu was the main back-up for Johnson, but had a disappointing season. Does he deserve another chance or will Geoff Blum get those starts at 2B?

IHSB: I hope it’s Abreu.  I hate to see upside simply thrown away.

Sprankton: Eh, I hate to think that Geoff Blum would replace anyone. With a new hitting coach coming on board, perhaps Abreu’s plate discipline will improve which would hopefully translate into more success across the board. More walks, more steals, more confidence, etc.

soco: Gotta let Abreu play.

emily: Abreu.

Kishi: Abreu, definitely.

Wailord: Ok, I don’t like Abreu, but I guess that it makes the most sense to let him play. Plus, Blum is about four thousand years old.

DbacksSkins: Abreu. If there’s any chance whatsoever of him being a part of this team’s future, you’ve gotta give him a shot.

If we’re stuck with Geoff Blum’s veteraniness for 2 years, AT LEAST keep that veteran posterior on the bench. The money is sunk cost.

Here are the 2010 free-agents at 2B. While Arizona action seems unlikely, who would you target among them?

Player           PA Age  Tm  AB  R   H HR RBI BB SO SB CS   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Orlando Hudson  559  32 MIN 497 80 133  6  37 50 87 10  3 .268 .338 .372 .710 David Eckstein  492  35 SDP 442 49 118  1  29 27 35  8  1 .267 .321 .326 .647 Cristian Guzman 396  32 TOT 365 48  97  2  26 20 63  4  2 .266 .311 .337 .648 Adam Kennedy    389  34 WSN 342 43  85  3  31 37 44 14  2 .249 .327 .327 .655 Julio Lugo      264  34 BAL 241 26  60  0  20 15 50  5  7 .249 .298 .282 .581 Aaron Miles     151  33 STL 139 14  39  0   9  6 14  0  1 .281 .311 .317 .627 Kazuo Matsui     78  34 HOU  71  4  10  0   1  4 10  1  1 .141 .197 .155 .352

IHSB: Kaz and Eckstein, of course.  On a serious note, this is like the third straight year where O-Dog is the only above-average second base free agent.  And he still probably won’t get the multi-year deal he wants...

Sprankton: I would probably swing for a guy not listed, Willie Bloomquist. I mean, heck, we might as well get an ultra-utility-man out of it. Hudson would be next in line if he wasn’t hellbent on getting a pricey multi-year deal.

Jim: Yuck. The average OPS by a second-baseman in the NL last year was .720, so none of the above even reached average. Hudson and Eckstein add a bit of value with their gloves, but O-Dawg turns 33 by the end of the year, and Ecks is 36 in January. Forced to choose from that lot, at the prices they want, I’d probably put a traffic-cone out there, and hope the players’ union doesn’t notice.

soco: I wouldn’t.  Do I have to choose?

Kishi: As the kids say, #imwithsoco.

emily: Also with soco

Wailord: Wow, Eckstein’s gonna be 36? I wasn’t even aware scrappy scrappers aged, but whatevs. Those are some pretty lame options, so I guess I'll take the easy way out and say derpimwithsoco.

Kishi: I believe, traditionally, as scrappers age, they make a move from being scrappy to grizzled.

DbacksSkins: Matsui and Lugo would both be hella cheap. I’d say Matsui, since, presumably, he doesn’t beat his wife.

I wasn’t aware that scrappers aged, either. I thought they were born 35 or something.

Down on the farm: how does our system look at this position?

IHSB: Not much at second, though there’s potential for a spectacular second base group if someone like Chris Owings has to move off of shortstop.  But that’s not a good thing, so we’ll not assume this is the case.  Otherwise, it’s the likes of David Nick and Michael Freeman - lower levels, and not very promising.

Sprankton: Is Mark Hallberg that bad?

Jim: A .698 OPS in 121 games at Reno? Yeah, I’d say so. Here are the overall numbers for everyone in the farm system who played more than 20 games at 2B last year.

                Age Lev      G  PA HR SB CS BB  SO   BA  OBP  SLG  OPS
Adonys Canelo#   21 Rk      42 144  3  2  1 13  30 .248 .317 .372 .689
Jimmy Comerota   23 A-      53 110  0  9  1 14  21 .202 .306 .234 .540
Jacob Elmore     23 AA     124 462  2 25 13 58  56 .278 .374 .345 .719
Mike Freeman*    22 A-      53 216  1 20  3 24  29 .333 .403 .407 .810
Brent Greer      22 A+     107 451  3  6  5 36 110 .215 .298 .285 .583
Eric Groff       22 Rk/AAA  68 277  8  3  0 13  69 .273 .304 .446 .751
Mark Hallberg    24 AAA    121 454  1  5  4 51  47 .263 .349 .349 .698
Taylor Harbin    24 AA     118 474  6 10  8 24  78 .259 .306 .376 .682
Dan Kaczrowski   23 A+/AA  117 469  3 15  4 35  54 .266 .322 .342 .664
Gerson Montilla  20 A+/AA   76 253  1  3  0 18  60 .232 .303 .305 .608
David Nick       20 A      128 553  7 12  7 41  97 .251 .318 .366 .684
Fidel Pena       18 Rk      33 115  1  1  2  9  15 .272 .336 .359 .696
Ryan Roberts     29 AAA     94 412 11 16  6 56  73 .265 .365 .444 .809
Yunesky Sanchez  26 AAA    105 368  7  5  4 26  45 .284 .332 .411 .744

That seems to back up what IHSB said. Freeman and Groff are the only ones who posted a non-Reno assisted OPS above the NL average mentioned earlier (.720), and neither will be any help for the next couple of seasons at least [Groff’s stint at Triple-A was a token 1-for-13]. To give you an idea, Sanchez’s minor-league OPS before playing for the Aces this year was .677.

IHSB: For a little perspective, Groff went to Triple-A straight from Missoula... in other words, he’s already being treated as organizational filler in the year he was drafted.  Not an encouraging sign.  Jacob Elmore might be the most useful of the two guys I didn’t mention earlier, if his on-base skills manage to translate (though, with his lack of power, the odds are that they won’t).  Greer was supposed to be a nice sign from the ‘09 crop, but he hasn’t done much so far.

The only way you can view Hallberg in a positive light is if you believe that his second-half bat outburst was him finally truly adjusting to upper-level pitching, as he hasn’t put up good numbers with the stick since his time at Hi-A.  He needs another year at Triple-A to prove that his bat is for-real, but if it is, he could still be valuable.

DbacksSkins: Methinks Hallberg might be gone after the Rule 5 draft, and Owings won’t stay at shortstop. As IHSB points out, Owings, Nick and Freeman show promise, but they’re all a few years away. Owings needs to improve his plate discipline to make it.

But hey, there’s always Ryan Roberts?