When I did my preseason roster optimization awhile back, I had Oscar Salazar making the Padres as a backup at the four corner positions and pinch hitter.
When I went into further detail about my choices, I (rather offhandedly), said this:
"Ghastly as the idea may sound defensively, I wouldn’t be opposed to Salazar getting some starts at second base."
It was just a passing “that’s never gonna happen!” sort of thing, and it almost certainly won’t happen, of course.
But since I seem to be giving David Eckstein and Jerry Hairston a little backhanded slap every time I bring them up as the competitors for the second base job, it’s a question worth asking: Would Salazar, 1B-quality glove and all, make a better second baseman than Eckstein?
Salazar is a career .286/.356/.490 hitter in 271 major league plate appearances, most of which have come in the last two years. That’s roughly half a season of data.
A full season of that level of hitting would put him at 18 Batting Runs Above Average, which is quite solid; who doesn’t want a guy with an .850 OPS?
Salazar’s defense, on the other hand, is very difficult to project. We know he’s rated poorly, but we have all of 52 1/3 innings of second-base defense to go on.
Everything I can dig up, between his UZR for that unbelievable small sample and some TotalZone numbers from some scattered minor league playing time, shows that Salazar is probably going to cost the team between 18 and 30 runs in a full season of playing time.
That means Salazar will have to meet his most optimistic defensive projection just to be an average player, giving away 18 runs on defense, but creating 18 on offense.
I’ll project he gives away 24.
Add in FanGraphs’ replacement level and positional adjustments, and you get a player in the 1.6-1.7 WAR range.
Eckstein was worth a whopping 0.7 WAR last year, and 0.1 in 2008.
Even if you project Salazar to be a horrific 30 runs below average with the glove, he still comes out at 1.0 WAR.
As for Hairston, he managed a 1.0 WAR last year, so he could potentially be of similar value to Salazar (depending on how bad Salazar’s defense is), although Hairston’s WAR was a bit inflated by seeing extensive time at short (which has a higher positional adjustment). He posted negative WAR values in 2006 and 2007.
If I’m Jed Hoyer and Bud Black, I hold my nose and run Salazar out there at second, spelling him late in games with Hairston or Eckstein, and also occasionally sliding him over to first to give Adrian Gonzalez a few days off. It might lead to a few of ESPN’s “Not Top Plays,” but it’ll help the Padres out in the win column.