Shortstop Jack Wilson is glad to get another chance with Mariners
Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson wasn't at his best after coming to Seattle last summer in a trade, but was given a two-year contract extension by the team during the offseason.
Seattle Times staff reporter
PEORIA, Ariz. — Mariners shortstop Jack Wilson was walking through the clubhouse the other day when Ichiro decided to put some of his surprising humor on display. P "What the (expletive) do you want?" Ichiro barked as Wilson walked by his locker.
Ichiro quickly burst out laughing, letting everyone know it was a joke. But the moment could have been a euphemism for the way many Mariners fans felt toward Wilson last season, when he arrived in Seattle after a midsummer trade, then barely hit his weight and struggled to display his impressive defensive skills.
Wilson had been hampered at the time by a bad hamstring and, later, a bruised heel that ended his season early. He also struggled to adapt to unfamiliar American League pitching and says he never really demonstrated to Seattle fans what his game is all about.
But the Mariners gave Wilson another chance, getting him to tear up a one-year club option and sign a two-year, $10 million extension. This spring, the Mariners are giving a fully healed Wilson the added responsibility of relaying the team's defensive signals and alignments — highly unusual for a shortstop — and relying partly on him to smooth the experimental transition to third base by Jose Lopez.
"I didn't know what their plans were for me when the season ended with me not being able to be healthy for them down the stretch," Wilson said. "I was really excited to come back and have the opportunity."
So are the Mariners, because the presence of Wilson — who won a Fielding Bible award this winter as the best defensive shortstop in baseball — offers them security in their attempted move of Lopez to third. For one thing, the Mariners wouldn't dream of handing Adrian Beltre's former signal-relaying duties to Lopez when he is just starting to learn a relatively unfamiliar job.
On another front, the ability of Wilson to range far to his right for balls deep in the hole will take the pressure off Lopez when it comes to going after balls hit to his left side. Wilson said he is by far at his best when ranging to his right and prefers when third basemen allow him to take those "in-between" balls.
"It's almost like I don't really want them to cover too much ground over there because it's going to take one of my (strong) things away," Wilson said. "Whatever guy ends up being over there, we're going to be in a very good situation. We're going to have a very good defensive team."
Mariners manager Don Wakamatsu said he's never been part of a team that has used the shortstop to relay defensive signals, something usually done by corner infielders.
"We're not trying to reinvent the game," Wakamatsu said. "But it makes more sense to us because it goes along with other things on our defense that the shortstop does, which is different in the game.
"There's a method to the madness, obviously."
But the Mariners feel Wilson is the kind of player they can design strategy around. His selection as the Fielding Bible award winner more or less confirmed their belief that he could be the game's top defender at his position.
Unlike the Gold Glove awards, chosen by managers and coaches and often criticized as a popularity contest, the relatively new Fielding Bible awards are chosen by a panel of baseball statisticians and columnists. They are named after the Fielding Bible book by baseball-stats maven John Dewan and based largely on some of the defensive metrics he helped create.
"It's actually a pretty big deal, I think, for players," Wilson said. "Because it's not something like a Gold Glove that's voted on by managers and stuff. It's more of an award that's by the numbers."
Wilson is also an avid reader of the thinking behind more modern defensive stats like Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) and Dewan's Plus/Minus System.
"When it came out, being a defensive player, we can actually use this in salary negotiations because finally there is almost a set value for defense when there never was before.
"You couldn't compare defensive players, but now you have the UZR and all these different defensive ratings where you actually could almost compare two players defensively. Which for a guy like me is pretty important because the biggest thing I bring to the table is defense."
And now, the Mariners hope signal-caller Wilson can help them set that table as well.
Geoff Baker: 206-464-8286 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read his daily blog at www.seattletimes.com/Mariners
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