The Back Up Problem

Paul Janish is an endlessly interesting player.  Which is interesting in itself, because objectively speaking he is an endlessly UN-interesting player.  His defense is Gold-Glove caliber, which I guess qualifies as "extraordinary", but his limits with the bat are more than enough to offset that.  Still, I'm afraid my constitution will significantly deteriorate if he doesn't get a decent shot this summer.  I need to know.  I need to see what kind of player Paul Janish is.  Is he Mark Belanger or is he Juan Castro

It seems the Reds are fine going into the season with him as the starter, which has been met by the folks here at RR with a collective shrug of ambivalence.  We've been over this time and again (slow off-seasons are a breeding ground for dead horses), but there just aren't any players out there that appear to be noticeably better than him.  At least, none that are reasonably available.  The Reds have said that they prefer to find a back up infielder who primarily plays shortstop.  This leads to a unique problem:  how do you find a back up for a guy who probably is a back up himself? 

We already know the Reds have talked with Edgar Renteria.  I'm sure they've kept up discussions with Orlando Cabrera as well.  Cristian Guzman and Nick Punto are also still on the market, but are likely a bit less attractive (if that's even possible) than Renteria and Cabrera.  Here's some Bill James projections:

AVG OBP SLG defense
Renteria .274 .333 .381 ugh
Cabrera .268 .316 .364 guh
Punto .242 .329 .309 good
Guzman .275 .314 .368 probably awful

It's worth mentioning that Cabrera has played the most games over the past few years.  Renteria and Guzman have been hurt, and as far as I can tell Punto has been a bench player.  Guzman was ousted from the Nationals infield by younger, better players, and as I recall his defensive deterioration had something to do with it as well.  I guess to sum it all up, none of these guys are going to get your lather up.  Also of note, James doesn't like Janish at all, and projects him to a .232/.308/.335 line for next year.  I would rate his defense as better than all these guys, but it illustrates just how equally uninspiring our options are right now. 

But maybe we are looking at this back up business all wrong.  Who's to say we need a true shortstop on the bench all the time?  If the Reds really are okay with Janish as the starter, we shouldn't need a second shortstop sitting around all summer.  If he were to get hurt or crash and burn, Kris Negron and Zack Cozart should be ready enough to take over, at least temporarily.  So maybe what the Reds should be looking at is another good, versatile bench player instead of wasting a roster spot like they have been the past few years. 

I'm thinking particularly about Joe Inglett.  He's a true utility player, playing SS, 2B, 3B, and every outfield position over the past few years.  He's probably best suited for 2B, but he can probably cover SS well enough to not embarrass himself if push comes to shove (think better than Jeff Keppinger, but probably not by much).  James projects him to hit a decent .284/.347/.381 from the left side, which is a more than respectable performance for a part-timer.  He led the NL in pinch-hits last season, so he's shown that he can more than handle coming off the bench.  He also hits left-handed, which is something the bench is sorely lacking at the moment.  He'd make a good complement to Miguel Cairo.  He was non-tendered by the Brewers because he is eligible for arbitration for the first time, so he'd likely sign for less than $1 mil, and could probably even be had on a minor league deal. 

It doesn't seem like any of the true shortstops available are worth a damn, so perhaps it would better serve the team to fill that bench spot with a more versatile and valuable player.  We are only talking about adding value on the outside margins of the roster, but when you are competing for a pennant (with a tight budget, no less) every little bit helps.  That extra half of a win could make a difference.

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