With just over a week to go before the season starts, Seattle manager Eric Wedge has settled on the makeup of the middle of his infield, assigning Brendan Ryan to start at shortstop with Jack Wilson moving to second base.
A year ago, both were starting shortstops, Wilson in Seattle and Ryan in St. Louis. General manager Jack Zduriencik acquired Ryan in a trade in December, and Wedge has experimented with both men at short and both at second.
The decision almost certainly means that 2009 first-round draft pick Dustin Ackley, in his second year as a second baseman, will start the season at Triple-A Tacoma. But by making Wilson the second baseman now, the Mariners are in position to trade Wilson to a club needing a shortstop or second baseman mid-season when they might be ready to promote Ackley to the big leagues.
In any event, the time for experimentation in the Seattle spring camp is over. Now Ryan and Wilson have to get used to playing alongside each other. Ryan was pleased, but at the same time was deferential to Wilson, a player hed followed for years before getting to the big leagues on his own in 2007. Wilson, although he still “feels like a shortstop, said its time for him to settle in at second base for now.
“At some point being a shortstop, age-wise you are going to have to move over, the 33-year-old Wilson told the Seattle media Tuesday morning after the decision was announced. “I dont think at this point it has anything to do with my body. I feel better than I have in a long time.
“Its whatever the team needs, and I play for the Mariners. This is what theyve come up with. They have a great shortstop in Brendan, (and now) you have two shortstops who are pretty high as far as defensive-wise, so its a win-win situation. Ill go over there and do my best the next eight days before the season to get after it and try to help the team.
That being said, Wilson still doesnt think of himself anything but a shortstop.
“By no means am I not a shortstop in my own heart and eyes, he said. “I will probably try to go back there at some point.
Wedge suggests that kind of move back wouldnt be out of the question later in the year. The first-year Seattle manager wants to have a set defense to start the season and spread out the experience across the infield, with one each of the teams over-30-year-old infielders on each side of second base.
Hell use Wilson and third baseman Chone Figgins, also 33, to balance with one younger player, first baseman Justin Smoak (24) and Ryan (29 next week). Smoak has less than one years experience and Ryan less than four. Wilson is in his 10th year, Figgins is in his eighth.
“Im not really looking at the long run right now, Wedge said. “Im looking at where we are right now as we break camp and early in the season. Theres a lot that goes into it besides the specifics of play.
“I like having a veteran on both sides. Well have Smoak and Jack on one side and Figgy and Ryan on the other. Both (Ryan and Wilson) can play shortstop, but when you look at matching up, I felt this was a more comfortable fit and a better fit.
Ryan basically had resigned himself to playing second base after the trade from the Cardinals. Hed played second base during parts of first three seasons in St. Louis before playing only shortstop last year. Wilson, meanwhile, has played 1,251 big league games since 2001, and hes never played anywhere but shortstop.
He was an All-Star in 2004 with the Pirates and was rated by the Fielding Bible as the best defensive shortstop in the game as recently as 2009.
“Jacks a guy I look up to; I like the way he plays shortstop, Ryan said. “The way I look at it, we have two shortstops up the middle on either side of second.
“When Seattle made the trade for me, Jack called and reached out to me. Im excited to be in the lineup.
Wilson will play second base in most of the final weeks Cactus League games, and he will put in extra work to make sure hes got the switch down solid. He said the last time hed played second was in 1997.
“Its an adjustment, and Ill probably play in some minor league games or intrasquad games just to get one the field more. “Im a shortstop. My insides believe that, but I havent done my part here.
NOTES: In other news out of the Mariner camp, Miguel Olivo, out since early March with a strained groin, will catch three innings of a minor league game Wednesday. He seems to be on track to be the starting catcher come opening day, April 1 in Oakland. One of the next decisions Wedge is going to have to deal with is his utility players and infield backups. “Part of this equation, too, which we cant speak of yet, Wedge said, “is the utility spots that well ultimately get to, sooner or later. Josh Wilson, who has been with the club parts of the last couple of years, and Adam Kennedy, a veteran who is in camp as a non-roster player, are the prime candidates. Its true that Matt Tuiasosopo could play there, too, but hes been asked to concentrate on first base and left field and doesnt seem to be part of the middle infield backup equation.