In a move not often associated with contending ballclubs, the Seattle Mariners traded their incumbent starter at shortstop on Friday, sending Yuniesky Betancourt to Kansas City in exchange for two minor league pitching prospects.
Though it seems a peculiar deal for a team closing in on first place in their division, Betancourt had long ago punched his ticket out of town with inconsistent play, a lack of focus, and an injury that kept him out of the lineup for the past month.
The trade was by no means a bad one for Seattle (most pundits are claiming that the M's won this deal by a landslide), but it creates an entirely new problem for the team to solve.
Who should be the starting shortstop?
For the past few weeks, it has been Ronny Cedeno.
Ronny Cedeno is a great fielder who can hit. Notice I said CAN, not CAN’T.
Don’t fool yourself. Cedeno can hit. He just hasn’t been doing much of it all year.
And that’s the real problem here. Forget his track record (or, depending on your point of view, lack thereof). Forget his potential (or, once again, lack thereof). Throw it all out the window and simply focus on what Cedeno has done at the plate in 2009. To keep it very simple, the numbers speak for themselves:
.152 BA, .209 OBP, .283 SLG, .492 OPS, 4 HR, 13 RBI, 12 R, 41/9 K/BB ratio, 2 SB
It’s an ugly line that isn’t even close to being considered average. Which leads one to question just how valuable Cedeno’s glove can be when his offense is so gawdawful.
The fact is, Cedeno has done next to nothing at the plate and doesn’t appear to be improving, either. He gets the occasional knock, of course, but often seems to have trouble picking up the average big league fastball (every big leaguer is supposed to be able hit fastballs, right?) and looks frighteningly overmatched in the batter’s box.
There has been talk that the M’s are preparing to acquire a short-term solution at the position in the near future (Pittsburgh’s Jack Wilson and Freddy Sanchez are two names that have popped up), but that doesn’t solve the problem in the short short-term.
After sending Betancourt packing, Jack Zduriencik described Cedeno as a guy the team really liked at shortstop who was capable of starting at the position. Jack, I like you a lot, but you might be biting off more than you can chew in this instance.
Currently, the M’s have a trio of shortstops on their roster in Cedeno, Josh Wilson, and Chris Woodward. Woodward is starting at third base for now, but might be better utilized at his original position. Like Cedeno, he’s another guy more known for his glove than his bat, but he also happens to be hitting .286 at the moment, which looks otherworldly next to Ronny’s line.
At the same time, the team now has a guy on their roster much more familiar with the hot corner than Woodward in Chris Shelton. Shelton, though a relative newbie to third base as well, has had time to hone his defense in the minors while Woodward just made the switch two weeks ago.
By putting Woodward at shortstop and Shelton at third (for a little while, at least), the Mariners would likely improve their defense slightly, while upgrading their offense dramatically.
None of this means Ronny Cedeno is a bad guy or needs to go. He’s an asset on defense, but needs to find his stroke at the dish before he can be relied upon as a full-time starter. If that means a demotion to Triple-A, so be it. If that means time on the bench and extra work in the cage, then by all means.
What it shouldn’t mean is an everyday starting gig right now. Because right now, Ronny Cedeno as our starting shortstop just isn’t cutting it. And that needs to change.