Diamondbacks Corner Market on Backup Infielders

The Arizona Diamondbacks re-signed free-agent Willie Bloomquist on Tuesday, agreeing to a two-year, $3.88 million contract with the 33-year-old utility player after Bloomquist had rejected his side of his mutual option for 2012. Yes, you read that correctly, the Diamondbacks voluntarily committed almost $4 million to a player who has compiled a total of 1.3 WAR in his 10-year major-league career — more than half of which was accrued when Bloomquist hit a torrid .455/.526/.576 over 38 plate appearances in September 2002.

Given that Bloomquist appears to be a walking definition of replacement player, why did the Diamondbacks think it was a good idea to pay him approximately $3 million more the league minimum over the next two years? Having a guy like Bloomquist on the roster is not necessarily a bad idea. He is a versatile defender and potential roster expander who has played all four infield positions and all three outfield positions at various times in his career. He doesn’t offer much in the way of power, but he is not totally inept with the bat (.297 career wOBA) and he did steal 20 bases last year in 97 games.

However, there is evidence that age and injuries are catching up with him. Bloomquist may be a versatile defender, but he has never been particularly good at any position except second base. More concerning is that he has not had positive defensive value since 2006 and has combined for -11.2 UZR the past two seasons, which has corresponded with a seeming reduction in his ability to run.

Through the 2009 season, Bloomquist was a very good base stealer, swiping 96 bases in 118 attempts for an 81% success rate. However, offseason knee surgery in 2009 season seems to have robbed him of a step or two. Over the past two seasons his has been caught in 15 of his 43 attempts for a meager 65% success rate. He has also seen his infield hit percentage decline from 13.2% in 2008 to less than 6% the past two seasons. For a guy whose offensive value is completely tied up in his ability to get singles and steal bases, these are ominous trends, and if the regression continues, he could end up as a role player who doesn’t offer any real strengths.

In terms of roster construction the Diamondbacks have rendered Bloomquist’s best skill — versatility — somewhat moot by also signing utility infielder John McDonald to a two-year deal at $1.5 million per season. McDonald is close to an automatic out with the bat, but he does provide defensive value, albeit at many of the same positions that Bloomquist plays. The Diamondbacks have now committed almost $7 million dollars and two roster spots to two backup infielders — one who can’t hit and one whose offense appears to be on the decline.

The uncertainty surrounding Stephen Drew’s injury comeback and the open position at second base renders the utility infielder role more important for Arizona this year than for most teams. Unfortunately, for Diamondback fans, the team has responded by signing two guys that you do not want to see playing for extended periods of time, and while depth is nice to have, perhaps they would have been better off pursuing one more useful player rather than reinforcing their bench with two players of questionable value.

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I am political science professor at the University of North Carolina. I grew up watching the Braves on TBS and acquired Red Sox fandom during the 1986 World Series. My other hobbies include cooking, good red wine, curing meats, and obsessing over Alabama football---Roll Tide! Follow me on Twitter @ProfJRoberts.

9 Responses to “Diamondbacks Corner Market on Backup Infielders”

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  1. Derek in The Rock says:

    The title of this article is cynical and sarcastic, and I love it.

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  2. Mike Flamer says:

    As a D’backs fan, I appreciate the contribution made by Bloomquist this past season. However, I would have looked for another infielder starter. We already have Ryan Roberts, a great utility player who did well at third. With Drew returning and Roberts, we could have looked for either a starting 2nd baseman or a starting 3rd baseman (Wright comes to mind), with Roberts playing backup or the other position.

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  3. david says:

    Don’t forget backup 1.0, Geoff Blum, who got the same contract as McDonald just one year ago. Maybe Kevin Towers got early word that the new CBA is going to include a 27-man roster? Otherwise, either one of those guys is an everyday starter, or he’s not planning to carry a fourth outfielder next year.

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  4. jake says:

    To be fair, Bloomquist has 1.6 career WAR according to baseball-reference WAR. So…great signing!

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  5. Greg H says:

    Well done, Jason. Another angle to this story: Scott Boras, who represents Bloomquist, used the D-Backs beat writer to engage in a spar with Kevin Towers. After Bloomquist declined his option with the D-Backs, Towers expressed his frustration with Boras to the local press. Towers whined to the press that Boras wouldn’t call him, but admitted that he refused to dial Boras’s number. According to Towers, baseball contract negotiations are like chess: you can’t skip a turn, and darn it, it was Boras’s turn to call.

    And then Towers decided to burn Boras by giving John McDonald, or Mario Mendoza 2.0, $3 million. Boras had this to say about the signing of John McDonald: “When you want someone, you go get them. We’re not the employer. They offer the contracts and pay the money. We don’t. It sounds to me like what happened is, they got upset when Willie opted out. They got emotional and they went out and signed a guy who hit .169.”

    Towers and Boras exchanged these slings and arrows last week. I suppose time heals all wounds. Because, mystery of all mysteries, Kevin Towers concluded that he couldn’t compete next year without two overpaid replacement level backup shortstops, and so he gave Scott Boras what he wanted.

    Stephen Drew is also represented by Boras. The D-Backs owe Drew $7.75 million next year. So Boros represents the starting shortstop and his backup, and was evidently the catalyst for Towers to blow another $3 million on the backup’s backup.

    I’d have to call this one Boras 3, Towers 0.

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    • www.thehotteststove.com says:

      All that while crushing the image of Towers and the D’Backs in the media…. It’s at least Boras 4, Towers 0 at this point. Maybe Boras should ease up at this point. What’s the saying? “You can sheer a sheep many times, but if you bend it over in front of the media, you’re probably going to jail…”

      I doubt we’ll see too many Boras players signing in Arizona over the next five years.

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  6. Dan says:

    In fairness to Bloomquist, he proved he could at least somewhat capably handle shortstop last year, both by UZR and by simply how he looked in the field. Bloomquist’s rates (UZR/150, wRC+, Bsr) looked awfully similar to Alex Gonzalez’s when Bloomquist was at SS last year.

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  7. SC2GG says:

    Perhaps Kevin Towers is aware of a secret rule change committee “update to the game of Baseball”, where instead of having 9 players on the field at once, you can put as many players as you want out there as long as they all bat, and their grand total WAR doesn’t collectively add up to anything above 50.

    If this is indeed true and he keeps this up, he can field approximately 200 players at a time, thus ensuring the opposing team will never, ever score outside of home runs, and the law of averages says that even Team Bloomquist has to plate someone eventually.

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  8. Anon says:

    THis seems to me like one of those feel-good, “we had a great run that invigorated the fan base so let’s bring everyone back” type of moves. Re-upped Bloomquist, McDonald and Blanco even though none are a decent bet to add much of anything.

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