MLB: Gotta Love 'Em: The 10 Best Bench Players Any Manager Would Love to Have

Kenny DeJohn@@kennydejohnAnalyst IIIJanuary 29, 2011

MLB: Gotta Love 'Em: The 10 Best Bench Players Any Manager Would Love to Have

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    NEW YORK - OCTOBER 07:  Nick Punto #8 of the Minnesota Twins throws to first base to make an out against the New York Yankees in Game One of the ALDS during the 2009 MLB Playoffs at Yankee Stadium on October 7, 2009 in the Bronx borough of New York City.
    Nick Laham/Getty Images

    Managers always preach that the intangibles are what win games.  Simple things like running out a ground ball, hustling on a weak pop up, fielding a ground ball and stealing a base in a big spot are all things that a manager wishes everyone on his club could do.  Unfortunately, everybody can't.  That's why these players are so valuable.

    I would first like to start with three players who, I feel, deserve some sort of recognition.  They failed to crack my Top 10, yet they are deserving of something. 

    David Murphy (Rangers), Trevor Crowe (Indians) and Jamey Carroll (Dodgers) are players who their respective managers can count on to do whatever they ask.

    Although a regular starter on the American League Champion Rangers last season, David Murphy figures to be relegated to a bench role this season.  The signing of Adrian Beltre has since shifted Michael Young to the full time DH position which leaves Murphy as the odd man out.  No big deal, though.  Manager Ron Washington will find ways to get Murphy into the game, whether it be for late game defense, a pinch hit, or even a pinch run.  Murphy is still a vital piece to the Texas Rangers.

    Yeah, I know what you're all thinking. Somebody on the Indians is useful?  Trevor Crowe is a player that almost any team would love to have.  Crowe can play any position in the outfield, and he can cover a lot of ground.  Not only is he fast, he is a go-getter.  Crowe runs out every ball he hits, and he never takes a break on defense. 

    He was somewhat of a regular last season due to the injury to Grady Sizemore, and he performed pretty well in the full time role.  He hit a respectable .251 with 2 homers, 36 RBIs, and 20 stolen bases.  That kind of speed coming off of the bench this season will be a huge asset for the Indians in what looks to be another disappointing season.

    Finally, Jamey Carroll.  Carroll played all over the field last season, appearing in 133 games for the Dodgers.  He played second base mostly, with appearances at shortstop, third base and even left field.  He put up a very respectable .291 average, with 23 RBIs and 12 stolen bases in just 351 at bats.  He may not have blinding speed, but he hustles and is as steady as a defender as they come.

    And now, to the Top 10.  

10: Jose Molina (Blue Jays)

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    NEW YORK - JULY 04:  Jose Molina #8 of the Toronto Blue Jays in action against the New York Yankees on July 4, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Quick, name that Molina.  Bengie?  Nope.  Yadier?  Sorry, try again.  Jose Molina often gets lost in the shuffle as Yadier has found great successes in St. Louis and Bengie has found success seemingly everywhere he has played over his big league career.  Why not show Jose some love?

    Molina isn't valuable because he's versatile, because he's a great hitter, or because he has blinding speed.  His value comes in his defense as he is arguably one of the best defensive catchers in baseball.

    Molina committed just two errors last season and threw out 44 percent of would be base stealers.  He has a rocket for an arm and would be a valuable asset to any team behind the plate.  Even if he starts every fifth day to give the regular catcher a break, he could still be important to a club.

9: Emilio Bonifacio (Marlins)

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    PHOENIX - JULY 10:  Emilio Bonifacio #1 of the Florida Marlins bats against the Arizona Diamondbacks during the major league baseball game at Chase Field on July 10, 2009 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Diamondbacks defeated the Marlins 8-0.  (Photo by Christian
    Christian Petersen/Getty Images

    Talk about blinding speed off the bench.  Emilio Bonifacio is probably one of the fastest players in the game today.

    Although hampered by injuries last season, Bonifacio was very valuable in 2009.  He hit .252 with 27 RBIs, six triples and 21 stolen bases in 127 games.  He'll most likely play in that many games this season.  He'll be backing up the middle infield and center field this season, receiving a spot start to spell a guy and keep his legs fresh.

    Bonifacio will be used this season primarily to pinch run or pinch hit.  He could realistically steal 20-30 bases coming off of the bench this season.

    Even in a slump, Bonifacio can get on base with his ability to bunt.  Production from a slumping player only helps the club to succeed.

    Many managers would love to have a player like Bonifacio coming off the bench.

8: Jeff Keppinger (Astros)

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    CINCINNATI - MAY 30:  Jeff Keppinger #8 of the Houston Astros is at bat during the game agianst the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 30, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Versatility is important when playing in a bench role, and Jeff Keppinger is most definitely versatile.  He can play all over the infield and can play each position well.  He is a very capable defender and hitter as well.

    Keppinger was a full-time player last season with the Astros, playing in 137 games and saw most of his time at second base.  He hit .288 with six home runs and 59 RBIs. 

    It seems like he'll be coming off the bench this season, as the Astros are content with letting Bill Hall begin the season at second base and Chris Johnson begin the season at third.  You can be sure though, Keppinger will be the first to get the call if one of them should falter.

    Otherwise, he'll just end up being one of the better bench players in the league.

7: Fred Lewis (Reds)

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    OAKLAND, CA - AUGUST 18:   Fred Lewis #15 of the Toronto Blue Jays hits a single to score  Lyle Overbay #35 and Dewayne Wise #1 to tie the game 4-4 against the Oakland Athletics in the ninth inning at the Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum on August 18, 2010
    Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

    Not only has Fred Lewis been described as a world class athlete, he has been described as a world class teammate.  That's something that's hard to come by these days. 

    Lewis excelled in the leadoff spot last season in a full-time role with the Blue Jays.  Acquired from the Giants in early April, he went on to hit .262 with eight homers, 36 RBIs and 17 stolen bases.  He also had 31 doubles and six triples.  His gap-to-gap power should translate well to the Great American Ballpark.

    Lewis most likely won't see everyday playing time this season.  He will most likely be the left-handed portion of a platoon in left field with the powerful Jonny Gomes. 

    The Reds will definitely be happy they signed Lewis this offseason.  He can play all three outfield positions, he hustles, and he is an outstanding athlete.  Players and fans around the league salivate over his athletic ability. 

    Managers would love to show off a player with his athletic ability, and Dusty Baker must be thrilled that he gets to do so in this upcoming season.

6: Brennan Boesch (Tigers)

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    DETROIT - JULY 02:  Brennan Boesch #26 of the Detroit Tigers watches the action during the third inning of the game against the Seattle Marines on July 2, 2010 at Comerica Park in Detroit, Michigan. The Tigers defeated the Mariners 7-1.   (Photo by Leon H
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Boesch was fantastic last season for the Tigers.  He was the American League Rookie of the Month in May and July, and for good reason.  He can mash the baseball.

    He hit a respectable .256 last season with 14 home runs and 67 RBIs in his first season in the Major Leagues.  He also showed patience past his years, walking 40 times.  He did strike out a ton, 99 times in 464 at bats, but that's what happens with power hitters.

    Boesch will most likely be relegated to the bench this season, as the Tigers will give Ryan Raburn a try as the everyday leftfielder.  Because Austin Jackson and Magglio Ordonez occupy center and right respectively, Boesch will have to fill the fourth outfielder vacancy. 

    The only chance Boesch gets to start is if Victor Martinez catches and doesn't DH.  This opens up the DH spot for Ordonez and then Boesch could slide into right field. 

    If he ends up coming off of the bench, Jim Leyland will not be afraid to use him late in the game as a pinch hitter.  Come to think of it, I don't think any manager would mind using him as a pinch hitter.  He has power and insane amounts of it.

5: Miguel Cairo (Reds)

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    HOUSTON - SEPTEMBER 19:  Third baseman Miguel Cairo #43 of the Cincinnatti Reds fields a ground ball against the Houston Astros at Minute Maid Park on September 19, 2010 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)
    Bob Levey/Getty Images

    Miguel Cairo won't win you many games with his bat, but he will save you some runs with his defense.  His specialty, however, is probably his versatility.

    And, boy, is he versatile.

    Cairo can play first, second, short, third, left, right and even catch in a dire emergency.  Not many players have that kind of value.

    He appeared in 91 games last season for the NL Central Champion Cincinnati Reds.  He had one of his better offensive seasons, hitting .290 with four home runs and 28 RBIs.  He even stole four bases and had an above average OBP of .353.

    He played 14 games at first base last season, six at second, 37 at third, one at short, one in the outfield and two at DH.  He can handle playing anywhere on the field, and his versatility makes him a valuable piece to any team.

4: Craig Counsell (Brewers)

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    CINCINNATI - MAY 18:  Craig Counsell #30 of the Milwaukee Brewers is at bat during the game against the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ball Park on May 18, 2010 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
    Andy Lyons/Getty Images

    Counsell is versatile and a stand up guy.  What more can you ask for?  When you have a guy who understands his role on a team and takes advantage of his opportunities, you hold on to that guy for a long, long time.

    Counsell played for Brewers in 2004 and then in 2007 through this upcoming season.  Like I said, he's not a great hitter, but he is a versatile player who is a capable defender at each position.  He can play second, short, third and the corner outfield spots in an emergency.

    Although best suited for a bench role, he has seen regular time during his tenure with the Brewers.  Last season, though, he played in 102 games, primarily providing the team with pinch hits or late inning defense.  He batted .250 with two home runs and 21 RBIs.

    Counsell is getting up there in age, but he is still a bench player that any manager would love to have.  He knows his role, gives 100 percent and makes the most of his opportunities.

3: John McDonald (Blue Jays)

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    NEW YORK - AUGUST 04:  John McDonald #6 of the Toronto Blue Jays throws against the New York Yankees on August 4, 2010 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Typically, bench players are journeymen.  They almost always sign one-year deals and then move on after the season to another club.  Not John McDonald, though.  He has been with the Blue Jays since the 2006 season, and general manager Alex Anthopolous made it a point to retain him as his first act in 2009.

    McDonald won't win you games with the bat, that's not his specialty.  He's fast, but not super fast.  He is an incredible fielder and is a master of the intangibles I spoke of earlier.

    McDonald can play second, short, third and even a little bit of outfield.  New manager John Farrell can feel confident putting McDonald anywhere on the field and not be worried about his defense.  Although a much better defender on the infield, he's more than capable in the outfield.

    Last season, McDonald made just five errors while playing in 63 games for the Jays.  It's not the small number of errors he makes each season that make him a great defender.  It's the plays he makes that seemingly nobody else could make that makes him special.  It's why pitchers love having him behind them and why managers wish every player could be like him.

2: Matt Diaz (Pirates)

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    ATLANTA - AUGUST 31:  Matt Diaz #23 of the Atlanta Braves against the New York Mets at Turner Field on August 31, 2010 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
    Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

    Matt Diaz is as reliable a bench bat as they come.  He is a corner outfielder with massive amounts of power and pretty average defense as well.

    Recently he has been part of a platoon in left field for the Braves, and now he may be in a similar role with the Pirates.  Although, if Jose Tabata falters in left, Diaz may have the job all to himself.

    His three best seasons in Atlanta came in 2006, 2007 and 2009 when he hit .327, .338, and .313, respectively.  In 2009, he hit 13 home runs and knocked in 58 runs.  He even stole 12 bases while being caught just five times.

    New manager Clint Hurdle will be able to rely on Diaz for some late inning pop off the bench as well as an occasional start in the outfield.  If he becomes the everyday left fielder, watch out.  We could have a potential 25-homer breakout on our hands.

    For the sake of this countdown, we'll assume that he stays in a bench/platoon role.  But, hey, you never know.  He could be a driving force in the middle of the Pirates order this season.

1: Nick Punto (Cardinals)

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    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 28:  Shortstop Nick Punto #8 of the Minnesota Twins bunts against the New York Yankees during a Grapefruit League Spring Training Game at George M. Steinbrenner Field on February 28, 2009 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by J. Meric/Getty I
    J. Meric/Getty Images

    Honestly, one of the most baffling moves of the offseason, in my opinion, was the Cardinals signing Nick Punto.  It's a great signing for the Cards, one they most definitely won't regret.  But why did the Twins let him go?  As crazy as it sounds, right behind Mauer and Morneau, he was one of the most valuable players the Twins have had in the past few seasons.

    Similar to McDonald, Punto has played for one team for a majority of his career, the Twins since 2004.  He has played all over the infield for them, whether it be as a starter or as a role player.

    He was most recently a bench player for Ron Gardenhire and the Twins.  In 88 games last season, he hit .238 with one home run and 20 RBIs.  He won't kill you with the bat, but he's most certainly not someone I'd rely on late in the game for a big hit.

    You can rely on him to save you runs with his defense.  Although not a speedy player, he covers a lot of ground.  Punto leaps, jumps. dives, slides and rolls all over the field if that's what he needs to do to get the outs.  That kind of scrappy mentality is what make Punto No. 1 on my countdown.

    Punto is the perfect personality for Tony LaRussa.  He is a ballplayer.  He will do whatever he can do to help is team win a game.  Call him the scrappiest player in the game, call him the best bench glove in the league, call him the most undervalued player in all of baseball, but I'm going to call him the No. 1 Bench Player That Any Manager Would Love to Have.