We read the tea leaves as best we can throughout Spring Training. Playing time, roles, platoons, etc., have a significant effect on the value of players on our fantasy teams. Despite the most reliable of crystal balls, once the season starts, you finally get to the truth about how players will be used. While the numbers are obviously far too small for us to do much dissecting at this point, the actual roles of players can be telling.
As much as I doubted that Mark Trumbo would see much action at third base, the two games he’s started have both been at the hot corner and it very much seem(ed) like the team was committed to playing him there routinely. In many leagues, he will qualify at third in just three more starts there and with that eligibility, Trumbo will be far more valuable. The burning question is whether his brutal defense will allow him to ever qualify. He’s already made three errors, he was left out of Monday’s starting lineup in favor of Alberto Callaspo, and it’s not likely that he’s going to displace Vernon Wells in the outfield anytime soon. While his defense was an ongoing topic of concern throughout the Spring, it’s certainly going to be under the proverbial microscope going forward. If Mike Scioscia loses any confidence he once had in Trumbo, it might not be long before Trumbo is a part-time player and irrelevant in fantasy circles. If he can somehow stick at third, however – he’s certainly worth owning, assuming you don’t play in an OBP league.
In Seattle, the early injury to Mike Carp opened up the opportunity for Chone Figgins to play some outfield in order to give some playing time to Kyle Seager – and in five games, Figgins is already worth 1.5 wins more than he was in all of 2011. Of course, he was well below replacement level last year, but the point is that Chone Figgins is playing regularly, he’s been leading off, and he’s actually hitting.
My early sense was that Kyle Seager would get the bulk of playing time at third after an anticipated dreadful April from Figgins. But if Figgins continues to produce, it’s pretty likely that he will be a more permanent fixture at third base once the outfield gets a little more crowded when Carp and Franklin Gutierrez return. I’m not saying run out and buy on Chone Figgins, but this definitely puts a crimp in plans you may have had for Kyle Seager. It is possible if Seager keeps up his hot hitting that the club will try to find more room for him by spot-starting him around the infield to spell the regulars (he could probably capably hold down the fort at all infield spots). But unless the Mariners find a taker for Figgins, as long as he’s hitting, he’ll likely be playing.
Apparently platooning is the new black at third base. Pedro Alvarez sat against Cliff Lee and it looks like the club plans to use Casey McGehee at third base when lefties are on the hill. If McGehee starts to hit well enough, Alvarez might start to see his playing time diminish even further.
Another player losing at bats to lefties is Ian Stewart. The notion of platooning Stewart was something that was suggested more than once during the Spring, but mostly dismissed by manager Dale Sveum. Sveum indicated any decisions to sit Stewart would have more to do with the matchup – and perhaps not surprisingly, Stewart sat against Gio Gonzalez, the only lefty to start against the Cubs thus far into the season. This no doubt merits watching if you’re a Stewart owner as a straight platoon would strip him of any limited value he already has. If he’s sitting against the next few left handed starters, then Sveum’s pants are probably on fire — and you can probably drop Stewart.
Also splitting time at third base is the Oakland Athletics third base experiment of converted catcher Josh Donaldson and Eric Sogard, a situation that Carson Cistulli astutely described as a tailor-made platoon given their respective skill sets. It would seem that until one of them plays themselves out of that arrangement, it’s a situation likely to stick, which means neither of them are worth owning.
In a similar situation, anyone that was praying for Juan Francisco to get a shot at regular playing time while Chipper Jones nurses his joints, you’ll have to wait for more dire circumstances in Atlanta. Francisco appears to be platooning with Martin Prado, finding pine when left handed pitchers are on the hill. When Jones returns, it’s not likely we’ll see much of Francisco until Jones’ inevitable return to the trainers room.
Lastly, just for fun, since we’re still well within the window of the dreaded small sample size, if you feel like you haven’t gotten much from your third baseman, you’re probably not alone. As a whole, all third basemen are hitting .235 over 511 at bats in 161 games. Basically, third basemen in sum have hit a lot like Edwin Encarnacion – 25 doubles, 18 home runs, six steals, and 112 strikeouts.