When Eric Wedge managed the Indians, many fans thought his ideal team would consist of players who could all play every position on the field. He loved versatility.
His most noted experiment involved trying to make Ryan Garko, a college catcher, who quite frankly had no speed whatsoever into an outfielder, playing him in both LF and RF.
He used Casey Blake, a third baseman by trade, at 1B and in the outfield.
He loved guys like Chris Gimenez, who could catch and play other positions, and when then-GM Mark Shapiro traded for Mark DeRosa, he had to be ecstatic.
The problem for Wedge was he tried to make young players, who were playing everyday (Garko) play other spots, and the guys like Gimenez are marginal major league players at best.
We say this because if you look at the current Indians’ roster, they have a bunch of players who can play multiple positions.
The difference is Terry Francona’s team is littered with guys who have performed in that role for most of their major league careers, and in most cases, have flourished moving around the field and not being in the lineup everyday.
The main players on Francona’s bench are veterans Ryan Raburn and Mike Aviles. Raburn can play the corner outfield spots as well as both infield corner spots and even 2B in a pinch.
Aviles can play all of the infield spots and even played a few games in LF last season.
And although neither of them will get 500 at bats in a season, when they get around 300 plate appearances in a season, they are solid big league hitters.
Everyone points out that Raburn will likely not be as productive as he was last season (901 OPS in 243 at bats), but his career average is .258 with 10 HRs per year and a respectable 762 OPS.
Aviles is a career .273 hitter and gets around 8 homers per year.
Francona was a master last year of putting players like Aviles and Raburn in situations where they would be productive, and there is no reason to think the same won’t be true in 2014.
Now, the Tribe is trying to improve the versatility of the Tribe by giving Carlos Santana some playing time at third base. While no one really believe the plan is for Santana to play full-time at the hot corner, he gives the skipper an option against a tough lefty to put Santana there instead of Lonnie Chisenhall.
The difference in the Santana conversion and those of the Wedge era is that the player went to Francona and the front office and wanted to make the move instead of being a full-time DH.
This way, the former and current back up catcher can play a day or two at first base, allowing Nick Swisher a day off or a day at DH, maybe a day at third, and catch one game to give Yan Gomes a day off.
If a young player isn’t on board with the move, then it doesn’t have as good a chance of succeeding. Besides, Santana was a third baseman in the minor leagues, so he’s played the position before.
It’s a tribute to the locker room that Francona and the front office have crafted that Santana wanted to make this move.
Watching this move from his view as an ESPN analyst, Eric Wedge is surely envious.