Likely to get the most playing time at 2B, what does Casilla bring to the table?
There's no doubt that in their happiest, least-troubled dreams, the Orioles' management and front office sees Brian Roberts as the starting second baseman for 2013, playing 150 games (or 162, as long as we're dreaming) and doing something like what he did in 2009, when he got 717 plate appearances and put up an .807 OPS (110 OPS+/109 wRC+), leading the league in doubles.
In the three seasons since that one, though, Roberts has played a total of 115 games, missing 371, amassing 513 plate appearances and, with his .244/.308/.340 line, putting up a 78 OPS+, which is about the same as the 2012 versions of Yuniesky Betancourt and Casey McGehee. Now 35 and having had his most recent productive season at age 31, it seems terribly unlikely that he'll be the answer for the 2013 squad -- at least if it hopes to get back to the postseason.
Which leaves, for now, 2011 Rule-5 pick Ryan Flaherty (who certainly has power, but whose other skills, at age 26, are very much up in the air) and Alexi Casilla, claimed off waivers from the Twins early last month. Assuming Roberts is injured or ineffective -- assumptions that, sadly, feel safe -- one has to assume that either Flaherty or the 28-year-old Casilla will take over as the starting second baseman.
As a Twins fan, I've been watching Casilla and dealing with all the attendant excitement, agitation, and frustration for six seasons. Acquired from the Angels in 2006 for reliever J.C. Romero, Casilla never played in more than 106 games with the team, but was a de facto starting middle infielder for at least five seasons. In all, those seasons are ugly ones, as his career 75 OPS+ and a bit less than three wins above replacement would attest.
It's tempting to say Casilla "is what he is" after six years, but in pieces, Casilla has been an awfully useful player. He's put up an OPS+ of 90 or better in three separate seasons, totaling 860 plate appearances, during which he was worth about three and a half wins by Baseball Reference's method -- a rate that, cut down to a full season's worth of PA, has him considerably better than an average starter. On the other hand, in 2007, 2009 and 2012, Casilla played in 242 games and totaled just a single win, thanks to (again via Baseball Reference) 48 runs below average with the bat.
On defense, Casilla seems to have improved from nearly unwatchable (to me) to at least adequate; there was a time when he would make flashy diving plays on what appeared to be routine grounders, simply because his reactions and instincts were that poor. He's gotten better with experience, and the numbers show it as well; well below average under all systems in 2008 and 2009, he's moved generally to average or better (at each of second, short and third) since, considerably above average in 2012.
The one thing Casilla has consistently been is an excellent baserunner. He rarely runs into trouble on the basepaths, and has 71 steals in 80 career attempts; with the bare minimum number of attempts to qualify, he's currently less than a point behind Chase Utley for the top spot in career stolen base percentage (since 1951, from which both leagues have continuously been tracking caught stealing).
In short, Casilla has the look and feel of a non-entity, and he's had years where he's been much worse than that (witness his 45 OPS+ and nearly -2.0 wins in 2009), but he's shown flashes of being a lot better than that. Given a new home and entering his age-28 season, Casilla could be primed for a solid, three-win sort of year. It all depends on which bat he rolls into town with.
The beauty of the situation is that the Orioles have three defensible options to work with at second base, and if it's clear that Casilla's bat isn't there and the others aren't working out either, Dan Duquette is not a man who has ever been afraid to make sudden, drastic changes. Still, it shouldn't be a surprise if Casilla ends up with most of the Orioles' plate appearances at second, and it shouldn't be too much of a surprise if that ends up being a not-at-all-bad thing.
Bill Parker is one of SBN's Designated Columnists and one of the creators of The Platoon Advantage. Follow him at @Bill_TPA.