How will the Diamondbacks solve the Ketel Marte puzzle ?
Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo is no stranger to cliched phrases, and one we have heard in the past is that part of his job it to put players in the position to succeed.
A hot topic of discussion all off-season and into the start of spring training is where exactly Ketel Marte will play. General Manager Mike Hazen emphasized last week that Ketel’s flexibility is a big strength both for him and the organization and it sound like the team was leaning that way again.
Torey seemed to echo that position last week when he could not articulate a clear plan for centerfield or Ketel’s intended usage. It was thought by some perhaps the signing of Asdrubal Cabrera might impact Ketel’s usage, with Cabrera getting the nod at 2b and Ketel moving to CF. But Lovullo indicated twice in today’s ZOOM conference (audio clip at end of article) that while Cabrera will see time at 1B, 3B, & 2B, he is primarily thought of as a “corner infielder”. So it does not appear a lot of 2B innings are in the planned usage for Cabrera.
Lovullo ultimately deferred on these questions last week saying that they had not had a chance to speak with Ketel yet prior to reporting to camp. However when addressing the media today Ketel himself said that the coaches still have not yet had that discussion with him. He also chose his words carefully, and emphasized he’s not the type of person to question his coaches. But he once again said he would prefer to play one position as he has a personal goal of winning a Gold Glove – and last I checked, they don’t have a utility player Gold Glove award.
However Lovullo strongly indicated again today that Marte will be moved around the diamond a lot as he was in 2019, emphasizing his versatility in allowing them to make a competitive lineup from night to night.
“As I’m thinking through it selfishly, being a little bit versatile throughout our defensive alignment is probably something that gives us a chance to win a game and I’m always going to choose that”
(The words “plug and play” also came up a few times, and that now seems to be a contender with “Game planning” for the predominant drinking game catchphrase.)
I followed up by pressing him on the lack of communication with Marte and the potential disconnect over his desires and personnel goals. Torey said they’ve had some “basic” conversations about this but not the formal sit down to outline their plans and get his feedback. He also indicated this would be a fluid situation for “quite some time” and we all need to be patient with it.
It can reasonably be argued that putting your best and brightest star in a position to succeed will be the most important decision this team needs to make, not just for 2021 but for the next several years as well. They don’t need to placate him. He’s a professional, and should play hard no matter where they put him on a given night. I have little doubt Ketel will continue to do that. Ketel also said that he’s worked hard to be ready to play at multiple positions. But it also seems like the Hazen and Lovullo might be taking the easy way out with roster and lineup construction. Perhaps it’s an offshoot of the downward pressure on payroll that is forcing their hand.
For my money, I think they need to make the tough call and determine what his best position is, and stick with it and build around their best player as opposed to building around the convenience of being able to bounce him all around the diamond. It’s not my money though, so we’ll just need to be patient I guess.
A few other points coming out of the calls today:
- Ketel requested to be allowed to play 7 games in winter ball. That request was denied by the team.
- Marte echoed Torey’s comments last about needing to be more patient and selective at the plate.
- He mentioned again that the hand injury impacted his season, but refused to answer a direct question about exactly when it became an issue, saying he’d addressed it many times before.
Also, a side note about Cabrera: I found myself wondering today how the emphasis of him playing “corner infield” impacts Pavin Smith and other players as well. When asked if Cabrera would be used more against right or left hand pitching, Torey said he didn’t know right now. He is well aware of the switch hitter’s ebb and flow to his platoon splits over the years. But it’s hard to imagine Christian Walker being benched against lefties very often if at all. At the same time Eduardo Escobar is a switch hitter himself and for his career has hit lefties better than righties. (2020 small sample aside – he hit nobody, left or right, in 2020)
So it would seem likely that the bulk of Cabrera’s starts are going to come against right handed pitching, spelling Walker and Escobar alternatively. And that being the case, I don’t see any at bats for Smith, as the two corner outfielder incumbents, David Peralta and Kole Calhoun are also left handed hitters. So I think the Cabrera signing most directly impacts Smith and the plan is for him to start the year in AAA, with maybe a spot opening up for him mid season or after the trade deadline, as last year