If you'd told me in spring training that I'd be writing a column advocating for Alexi Casilla to be the Orioles' everyday second baseman, I'd have made a very strange face at you. But baseball is a very strange mistress sometimes, and here we are.
I do my very best not to question the master plans of Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter. They improbably led the Orioles out of the wilderness last year, and they showed that they're probably better at what they do than a bunch of bloggers. But on the issue of the Orioles' starting second baseman, I'm going to break my silence.
Going into 2012, it was common knowledge that Brian Roberts was the Orioles second baseman, but also that the team was busy making contingency plans. Last year's rule five pick, Ryan Flaherty, was duking it out for playing time with Casilla and Yamaico Navarro. It seemed like the Orioles had, at worst, set themselves up with some replacement-level options in the event of a Roberts injury.
But then a funny thing happened. The Roberts injury came, in just the third game of the season, and it took 25 starts for Showalter and Duquette to admit that Flaherty's .461 OPS just wasn't going to cut it, glove or no glove. During those 25 starts, Casilla got a few spot starts but was mostly relegated to pinch hitting and running. When the Orioles finally had enough of Flaherty and sent him down, Navarro got a callup and seemed to immediately slot in as the regular starter. MASN's Roch Kubatko recently confirmed that Showalter wants to "take an extended look" at Navarro.
Mark recently pointed out the abysmal black hole of production that the Orioles are getting from the second base position. An ensuing discussion confirmed that Casilla hitting his career numbers would put the Orioles at 10th in the AL in offensive production by a second baseman. That's not setting the world on fire, but it's not a black hole, either -- especially for a guy the team picked up off waivers in the offseason as an insurance policy.
I'm not passionate about Casilla. He's not an amazing choice or a long-term solution. He's a flawed ballplayer, but he's the least flawed of three bad options. Flaherty is a glove with no bat right now. Navarro is an alleged bat (except he's really not) with no glove. Casilla is a slightly-below-average bat with a glove and some speed to boot. This is not a hard decision. None of these guys are exactly at "prospect" status anymore, even if Navarro is only 25.
Ryan Flaherty might have earned his extended look after the team invested a roster spot in his all season last year, and after he showed a bit of development at season's end. But that experiment is over unless he rediscovers a hitting stroke in Norfolk. Yamaico Navarro has bounced from team to team and minors to majors for the last four years. The guy is known for his bat rather than his glove, yet he's sporting a career OPS of .520. He's never stolen a base in the major leagues. I would be deeply shocked if Navarro was a capable starter for any team for even one full season.
That leaves Casilla. As I said, don't read this article as excitement for Casilla. Read this article as a lukewarm endorsement of predictable mediocrity. We know that Casilla can handle the glove at second base. We know his bat has come and gone over the years, but his career .635 OPS would be adequate - anything beyond (which he's actually done a few times) would be a pleasant surprise. We know that Casilla can steal a base (career 76/9 SB ratio). He's just about exactly what you want in a backup infielder and a #9 hitter on an AL team.
So why aren't we seeing him just about every day at this point?