Ryan Roberts was perhaps the most pleasant surprise in Arizona’s pleasantly surprising 2011 season, taking over as the team’s third baseman and finishing with 19 homers and 18 steals in 143 games.
Alas, an encore was not meant to be. The 31-year-old Roberts, who lost his starting job last month, was designated for assignment Tuesday after hitting .250/.306/.357 in 252 at-bats this season. The move made room for fellow infielder John McDonald to return from the DL. Given that Roberts had never shown so much power in previous seasons, the decline wasn’t much of a surprise. Plus, even during his breakthrough season, he hit a modest .249.
A trade is likely forthcoming. Roberts is due only about $900,000 over the rest of the season and he offers plenty of versatility (besides third base, he can play second and both corner outfield spots), so a few teams could be interested in bringing him in. The Rays and A’s would be among the logical destinations. The Tigers were also known to want him, but that was before they acquired Omar Infante yesterday.
Update: Roberts told MLB.com’s Steve Gilbert that the Diamondbacks informed him a trade is already on the one-yard line. It sounds like it could happen within the next 24 hours.
The Angels’ bench is looking woefully thin this winter — so thin, in fact, that manager Mike Scioscia says he’s considering utilizing starting pitcher Shohei Ohtani as a pinch-hitter and pinch-runner on the days he’s not scheduled to pitch.
I’ve never had a pitcher pinch-run,” Scioscia told reporters Saturday. “There’s more bad than good that can come out of it. But Shohei is not just a pitcher. He’s a guy that has the ability to do some of the things coming off the bench, whether it’s pinch-hit or pinch-run, and we’re definitely going to tap into that if it’s necessary, because we feel we’re not putting him at risk. It’s something he’s able to do.
Granted, spring training allows for a certain amount of experimentation before managers and players decide what works best for them, so this may not be the strategy the Angels employ for the entire season. In addition to coming off the bench between starts, Ohtani is also expected to see 2-3 days at DH every week, forcing Albert Pujols to shift over to first base to accommodate the new two-way star.
Ohtani’s hitting prowess has already been well-documented — he has a lifetime .286/.358/.500 batting line from NPB and crushed a batting practice home run during his initial workouts with the team this week — but his skills on the basepaths have received less attention so far. MLB Pipeline describes the 23-year-old phenom as a “well-above average runner” whose speed has yet to manifest stolen bases: he’s nabbed just 13 bases in 17 chances over the last five years. That’s a number Scioscia hopes to see increased this season, though he doesn’t want his ace pitcher making any head-first slides on the basepaths to do so.
To be sure, it’s an unorthodox role for any young player to step into, but if anyone can pull it off, Ohtani can.