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.