How Do You Solve a Problem Like McDonald?

I know, the season ends and already the references go south to showtunes. Actually, I've been using the offseason to check out some new music. I highly recommend the new Radiohead, "In Rainbows", the new Band of Horses, "Cease to Begin", and the new Weakerthans, "Reunion Tour".

So, here's the thing. I really like Johnny Mac. Being a former punch-and-judy hitting SS myself, I appreciate his game more than others might, and I think the slick defense provided by Mac, Aaron Hill, and Lyle Overbay, as well as our outfield, was a big contributing factor for the success of our pitchers this season. The Jays seemed to agree, giving Mac a $3.8 million, 2-year contract to (ostensibly) continue being their everyday SS for the next two seasons.

Mac's projections for 2008, though, to the tune of .244/.289/.313, don't much inspire confidence that such a situation is, as Voltaire might say, the best of all possible worlds. According to the Hardball Times , Mac contributed 2.6 Win Shares with the bat and 5.3 with the glove, which was good for 1 win share above bench. As that number would suggest, that makes Mac a useful bench player. For example, Marco Scutaro managed 1 WSAB as well, in about the same number of plate appearances.

It does not, however, make Mac a good option as an everyday SS. If the Jays had as good a lineup as they thought they had before the 2007 season, Mac's bat might play everyday. But if they don't, as the 2008 projections suggest, Mac's best case scenario is that he fields well enough to be a bench player in an everyday role, since his career numbers are no better than his 2008 projection and he has only exceeded a .620 OPS one time, in a 166 at-bat split season.

What, then, to do about the SS spot? Well, Mac's contract is not so high that it would preclude the Jays from acquiring a different starting SS and using Mac as a bench player. Here are some options should they wish to attempt to do so. By the way, for the sake of this post, we're not considering moving Aaron Hill to short. Nor am I considering blockbuster moves, which J.P. has said he won't be making, or A-Rod.

David Eckstein:
Pros: Eckstein's 89 career OPS+ looks good next to Mac's, he's okay in the field (while not as good as Mac), possible gamer.
Cons: In a thin free-agent crop, will likely cost a ridiculous amount. His hitting and fielding both seem to be trending downward quickly. Also, he has been a bit gimpy over the last couple of seasons. Is his lack of melanin responsible?

Omar Vizquel
Pros: Well, there's the fielding reputation, of course. Crafty veteran. Can swipe a bag (380 career steals, 14 last season). Good offensive season in 2006. Like Eckstein, is Hugo-sized.
Cons: Ancient. Terrible season with the bat least year. Fielding is slipping.

Bill Hall
Pros: Very good bat for a middle infielder, particularly in the power department. Can play many other positions as well. Had a very good all-around season in 2006, where he played mostly SS. Coming off a not-great season, so asking price from Milwaukee might not be so high, considering his salary and their depth in the infield and outfield. Is from Mississippi, which my friend Woody assures me is a plus.
Cons: Fielding reports mixed, but reputation not great. Error-prone, and might not stick as everyday SS. Not a great hitting season in 2007. Might still cost an arm and leg given his gaudy 2006 numbers, in any case, will cost money and talent. Another righty power hitter?

Jack Wilson
Pros: Wilson had a good second half of the year with the bat, and ended up with an extremely respectable 105 OPS+, given his fantastic fielding skills. Pirates would probably give him up for a song, given his salary. If Towers ever gets back on the mound for the Jays, potential for Jack Sparrow references.
Cons: Only has one other decent offensive season, though career numbers still substantially better than J-Mac (79 career OPS+ to Mac's 58). The salary is pretty steep, and there's at least a chance that his trade value might be overinflated due to his strong showing with the bat over the second half of 2007. Pirates reportedly asked for Troy Glaus for him this past season, suggesting they are either (1) insane; or (2) not serious about dealing him.

Royce Clayton
Haha, just kidding.

Tomohiro Nioka
Pros: In Japan, has been above-average with both the bat and the glove. Can also play 3B and OF. Good power for a middle-infielder. Theoretically, fielding should translate well to the turf at RC. Very good last two seasons offensively.
Cons: Power is the skill that translates most poorly from the Japanese league. Will be 32 next season. Might take a season or more to adjust to MLB. In this age of flush teams, could cost a lot (although not too many teams need a SS).

Akinori Iwamura
Pros: Great fielder at 3b, good bat from the left side of the plate, which is nice. Can steal a base. Devil Rays might be willing to deal him, since they have so many young position players, a crowded infield, and always need pitching. Very reasonable salary, though we would probably have to eat part of Tampa's posting fee.
Cons: Might not be able to play SS (though from what I have seen, I think he could). Power hasn't come around from Japan (it's only been one season). Tampa has been reluctant to make deals in the past.

Kazuo Matsui
Pros: Surprisingly excellent fielding numbers in 2007, though at second base. Gold Glove SS in Japan. Very good baserunner who is likely to steal 30+ bags. Line-drive hitter. Has played well for Colorado after his eviction from Queens. Enough contact ability and speed to not kill you at the top of the order despite mediocre discipline. Switch-hitter, which is nice, better from the left side. Will be a free agent.
Cons: Hasn't played SS since his first season with the Mets, and that didn't go well (though he hit decently that season).

Alexei Ramirez
Pros: This Cuban free agent has a good power bat. Only 26. Good fielding reputation backed by Cuba's reputation for producing excellent fielding SS's.
Cons: Unknown quantity. Could be expensive.

Orlando Cabrera, Rafael Furcal
Pros: Either could be available, as both LA and LA-Orange County have younger players (Chin-Lung Hu on LA's side and a whole host of young infielders for the Angels, including Erick Aybar, Brandon Wood, Macier Itzturis, Chone Figgins) who are about ready to step up. The younger players might be available too, though they might cost even more because of their low salaries.
Cons: It's hard to imagine either coming cheap. LA likes veterans and so might be more likely to keep Furcal and trade Hu, which would be just fine with me too. On the Angels side, Bill Stoneman has been reluctant to make trades.

Other options might be Juan Uribe, who fields decently and has good power despite horrible discipline, and Jeff Keppinger, who has been a good contact hitter at the AAA and MLB levels but hasn't played too much SS at the major-league level. Don't forget old friend Felipe Lopez, who was a good hitter before going to Washington, but has always been a horrid fielder. He could be non-tendered by Washington, but I don't see J.P. picking him up. Out of all of these, I'm most intrigued by Nioka and Hall. I wonder what it would cost to get Hu in a trade? Matsui and Wilson, though, would be reasonable upgrades and would likely not cost very much. Keppinger would be a great addition as a bench player but I don't like the move as a starting SS. What do y'all think? Any options here I left out?

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