Taking a look at baseball's best super-utility options
Speaking to reporters on Saturday, Billy Beane referenced Ben Zobrist as "very, very unique" and then pointed to another unusually versatile player as a role model for another Oakland newcomer.
With Yunel Escobar on hand to play shortstop, Beane said that Marcus Semien, who was acquired from the White Sox in the Jeff Samardzija trade, will remain an everyday player, with Bob Melvin using him the way Clint Hurdle did Josh Harrison last season.
"[Semien is] somebody who can play second, shortstop and even go into the outfield," Beane said. "He also hits from the right side, which is always great."
That's the exact profile of the Pirates' Harrison. He entered 2014 without a job and emerged as such an important player that Andrew McCutchen said at one point that Harrison was the team's true MVP. Harrison wound up being named on 17 of the 30 ballots, finishing ninth overall.
Harrison was on the National League All-Star team. He hit .315 with 13 home runs while stealing 18 bases, scoring 77 runs and compiling an .837 OPS. More impressively, he did this while starting 55 games at third base, 23 in right field, 21 in left field, 13 at second base and four at shortstop.
His flexibility is a huge asset for Hurdle, but at the moment the 27-year-old is penciled in as Pittsburgh's regular third baseman, allowing Pedro Alvarez to move over to first base. Assuming Harrison does stay put, and that the switch-hitting Zobrist (who had double-figure starts at second, short, left field and right field last year) will be used mostly at second and in left field for the A's, who could fill their shoes in 2015?
Ten-plus starts at four different positions is asking a lot of any player. Here are some candidates to do that:
Mike Aviles, Indians
A natural shortstop, like most players on this list, Aviles has huge value for Terry Francona because he can fill in everywhere. He started at six positions last year, playing almost equally at third base, second base and in the outfield. His OPS dropped for the third straight year, so the question is whether he can hit well enough to merit 350-plus plate appearances for a fourth consecutive season.
Ryan Flaherty, Orioles
A savior when Manny Machado was injured down the stretch last season, he remains a Rule 5 success story. Jonathan Schoop has taken over as the regular second baseman, forcing Flaherty to move around. His left-handed bat will allow him to step in for Machado, Schoop and shortstop J.J. Hardy, and the trade of Nick Markakis and loss of Nelson Cruz could make him a depth piece on the outfield corner. He's a career .221 hitter but was used well by Buck Showalter in the postseason, when the Orioles were without Chris Davis, Matt Wieters and Machado.
Brock Holt, Red Sox
Another versatile guy developed by the Pirates, Holt was an "Everywhere Man" in his rookie year. His best stretch of 2014 came filling in for Will Middlebrooks at third base, but he also started games everywhere except pitcher and catcher for John Farrell. Holt, a left-handed hitter, hit .281 and stole 12 bases while ranking fifth on the Red Sox in plate appearances. His playing time figures to decline in 2015 -- in part because of another versatile player, Mookie Betts -- but he should still be the best left-handed option off the bench when he doesn't play.
Arismendy Alcantara, Cubs
For now, he's listed as the Opening Day center fielder, and he could remain a regular there throughout 2015 as Albert Almora checks off time in the high Minors. But the switch-hitting Alcantara can do a little of everything -- hit for power, steal bases and play the middle infield (some scouts like him as a shortstop better than Javier Baez, who forced Alcantara to move to second base in the Minors). Look for Joe Maddon to use Alcantara in many different ways, especially if he doesn't make some changes with his throwing style in the outfield.
Danny Santana, Twins
Minnesota's center fielder is a lot like Alcantara, except that he's already shown himself to be a weapon. He hit .319 as a rookie to establish himself as a likely leadoff hitter for Paul Molitor, and he did that while moving between shortstop and center. It's unclear where he fits long term as Byron Buxton is considered the long-term center fielder, with an ETA of late 2015. Santana's glove may not be good enough to play regularly at shortstop, but his bat and versatility will keep him in the lineup.
John Jaso, Rays
A different type of player than others on this list, Jaso is viewed as a key for Tampa Bay to contend this season. The Rays believe he has improved as a hitter since he broke in as a backup catcher with them in 2010 and '11, and could hit him fifth against right-handers. President of baseball operations Matthew Silverman expects Rene Rivera and Curt Casali to be the primary catchers for new manager Kevin Cash, freeing Jaso to be in the lineup as the designated hitter and first baseman. He's never played the outfield but might be worth a look out there.
Martin Prado, Marlins
The plan is for him to take over third base from Casey McGehee, who was traded to San Francisco. But Prado never stays anywhere for long. As recently as 2012, he was primarily a left fielder and he has started 47 games at second base the last two years.
Emilio Bonifacio, White Sox
A jack of all trades who has stolen 124 bases the last four seasons while never starting more than 61 games at the same position for one team, this guy is the Energizer Bunny for a lineup. He's a nice fit with the upwardly mobile White Sox, who are buying time for second-base prospect Micah Johnson. Bonifacio started 53 games in center and only 25 at second last year, also getting a few starts at shortstop. As a switch-hitter, he could expand his positional repertoire to include third base and the outfield corners. Also keep an eye on White Sox rookie Tyler Saladino, who hit .310 in Triple-A last year and is being developed for a super utility role, similar to Semien.
Alex Rodriguez, Yankees
Why not? He's owed $61 million and is only six home runs away from a $6 million incentive bonus (for hitting home run No. 660, which would tie Willie Mays for fourth all time). Since re-signing Chase Headley, Brian Cashman has said there's no everyday role available for Rodriguez in the field. He is likely to get at-bats primarily as a DH, but why not look at him all over the field in Spring Training? He could serve as a backup at third base and first base, for sure. What about the outfield corners? If Rodriguez can hit enough to contribute as the DH, the Yankees might not want to risk injury by moving him around. But really, what do they have to lose at this point?