Analysis: Where does Weeks fit with Mariners?
While there was nothing official on Rickie Weeks’ signing from the Mariners on Thursday, the veteran second baseman is expected to take his physical exam in Seattle on Friday and if all goes well, put his name on a new one-year deal perhaps as early as Friday afternoon.
The obvious question is where Weeks fits in for a club that already has Robinson Cano at second base for the next nine years.
That’ll be something the Mariners and Weeks will obviously address once he joins the club, but here’s my take. General manager Jack Zduriencik wasn’t looking for a second baseman, but he has been in search of veteran right-handed hitters to help Lloyd McClendon balance a very left-leaning lineup. And while Nelson Cruz and Justin Ruggiano help in that regard, having Weeks still available and willing to sign relatively cheap – a $2 million base deal with another $2 million in potential incentives – was an opportunity the Mariners couldn’t pass up.
Let’s face it. The Mariners are still pretty southpaw heavy. If Brad Miller wins the starting shortstop job, they’d have an all-lefty infield with Logan Morrison, Cano, Miller and Kyle Seager, plus left fielder Dustin Ackley. Cruz, catcher Mike Zunino and center fielder Austin Jackson are right-handed, while lefty Seth Smith and righty Justin Ruggiano are likely platoon candidates in right field. So Weeks presents an intriguing right-handed bat and some interesting questions as to how to get that bat in the lineup.
At 32 and coming off a couple injuries, including some hamstring issues, Weeks isn’t the same player he was when he was a National League All-Star in 2011. But he was a productive right-handed hitter last year in a part-time role for the Brewers, hitting .274 with a .357 on-base percentage and .809 OPS in 252 at-bats.
Those numbers are even better when Weeks lines up against left-handed pitchers. He owns a .261/385/.448 slash with an .834 OPS against southpaws and a reputation as a professional hitter who knows how to work counts and get on base.
For a Seattle club that finished last in the AL in on-base percentage at .300 and OPS at .676, those are tempting numbers. Tempting enough that McClendon will now try to find ways to squeeze Weeks in on club that already has a second baseman.
How might that work? Weeks has never played any other position in his professional career and declined last year when asked by the Brewers if he’d be willing to try the outfield after losing playing time at second to Scooter Gennett.
But Weeks clearly is in a different position now. His options in free agency were limited and he wound up choosing to play for Seattle, fully knowing the situation with Cano. So we’ll see how it plays out, but my presumption is Weeks will be worked some in left field, where he could offer a right-handed complement to Ackley.
He could be used occasionally at second or third, allowing Cano and Seager to rest their legs and/or play DH. Weeks himself can DH now and then to rest Nelson Cruz. Or more likely, Weeks and Cruz could both be in the lineup against southpaws as it’s quite possible Cruz could play a corner outfield spot while Weeks takes the DH swings.
Remember, Cruz has been an outfielder all his career. He’s played 833 games in the outfield compared to 120 at DH. Even last year, he played 70 games in the outfield for the Orioles. He might not be a preferred option out there, but he’s got a good arm and won’t embarrass himself. So if Weeks doesn’t adapt well in the outfield, Cruz could shift there some to allow Weeks at-bats at DH.
Another option could be time at first base as Logan Morrison’s backup. Morrison has played more than 100 games just once in five years in his career. Seattle’s current backup plan is to see how Jesus Montero looks this spring, or use Ackley or utility man Willie Bloomquist for spot duty.
Bloomquist is a major wildcard in this situation, coming off microfracture knee surgery. The Mariners have said they expect him to be ready by the start of the regular season, but that’s definitely not a sure thing. Weeks, despite his lack of prior versatility, ironically might fall into that kind of super utility role if needed.
Or maybe McClendon and Zduriencik have something completely different in mind. This one admittedly came out of left field. If you’d listed teams who figured to be a good match for Weeks heading into the offseason, the Mariners figured to be somewhere toward 30 on that list, thanks to Cano. But it just might make sense if Weeks is willing and able to play different positions, which appears to be the case since he’s voluntarily signing with Seattle.
Will it all work out in the end, who knows? But the Mariners just added another interesting element to their Spring Training. And more importantly, another capable right-handed bat to their bench.