2013 Reds

The last position player: Donald vs. Izturis

With nothing of importance happening in the Reds’ camp over the past week or so, attention can turn to the battle for the final slot on the 25-man active roster. Assuming that the Reds go with six infielders and that five of those (Votto, Phillips, Cozart and Frazier starting, and Hanrahan at 3B backup) are spoken for, one roster space remains. Conventional wisdom is that the Reds will want this person to be competent at the shortstop position.

Heading into spring training, three candidates were seen as in the competition: Jason Donald, who came to the Reds in the Stubbs/Choo trade; César Izturis, who was signed as a free agent, and Emmanuel Burriss, who also signed as a free agent. Of those three, only Donald is currently on the 40-man roster. While Burriss has had a decent spring (.262/.304/.286 – kind of a bad sign when the slugging percentage is below the on-base-percentage), Donald and Izturis have both had excellent stints in Goodyear.

With the focus of the decision seemingly coming down to Donald and Izturis, let’s take a closer look:

César Izturis – Izturis (33) is a switch-hitter from Venezuela. He broke into the major leagues at age 21 and has played for eight franchises before signing a minor-league contract with the Reds on January 14. Last season, Izturis was a utility infielder for the Brewers and Nationals. Over his career, he has played 1,120 games at SS, 52 games at 3B and 48 games at 2B. He won a Gold Glove in 2003 and made the NL All-Star team in 2004. Always known for his glove, Izturis has dropped off at the plate considerably the past few years, failing to have an OPS over .600 since 2009. Last season, in 173 plate appearances, he managed .241/.254/.343, with 11 stolen bases and 5 CS. His line-drive rate was 21.2%. He hacked his way to a shocking sub-2% walk-rate. Izturis has had a strong spring with the Reds, posting a .302/.362/.442 with four walks and four strikeouts.

Jason Donald – Donald (28) is a right-handed hitter from Fresno, CA. He started playing in the majors for Cleveland, his only previous franchise, at the age of 25. He is under team control through the 2107 2017 season as long as he remains on the major league roster. Donald has played 73 games at SS, 68 games at 2B, 12 games at 3B and a few games at each of the three OF positions. Last season for Cleveland was his worst. His .202/.246/.282 line compared poorly to his 3-year .257/.309/.362 performance. His line-drive rate was 23.5%. His OPS in 2011 was .765 and was .690 in 2010. Last season he stole four bases without getting caught. His walk rate in 2012 was 4.1%. Donald has had even a stronger spring with the Reds thus far, hitting .303/.452/.364 – including 8 walks in 41 PA.

The contract status makes a difference. Izturis would remain under contract with the Reds if he doesn’t make the club out of spring training, while Donald, who is out of options, would have to pass through waivers to be reassigned to the Bats. If the Reds value what Donald provides to the organization in terms of depth, the contract status may make a difference. On the other hand, if the Reds really like Izturis better for the major league club, players like Donald aren’t exactly hard to pick up.

Based on their careers and spring performances, this is a fairly close call. Neither is going to be much of a hitter or a particularly slick fielder. Izturis is a switch hitter and veteran, Donald has had a slightly better spring and is on the 40-man roster. Keep in mind the the spring performances are fairly meaningless in terms of what to expect during the regular season. But if the spring really has been a competition, Donald would seem to hold a slight edge, at least through today.

Neither player is under consideration to be a starting pitcher or the team’s closer.

21 thoughts on “The last position player: Donald vs. Izturis

  1. Izturis would remain under contract with the Reds if he doesn’t make the club out of spring training

    Does Izturis not have an opt out clause in his contract?

    I see this decision as an aging veteran on the decline vs a player entering his prime. All things being equal, I opt for the player entering his prime rather than the player on the decline. Factoring in both offensive and defensive contributions to the team in 2013, I personally see this as a toss up. Neither player has overly impressed me defensively and neither player will provide much, if any offensive production.

    Izturis will certainly not have a rebound performance in 2013, but Donald may have a rebound performance in 2013 if 2012 did represent a blip from a down year. The bottom line is that either of these players could be replaced with a player of equal value off the ST scrap heap if necessary.

    • I think it was Jason Donald’s job to lose and he’s won it fair and square, but I’m impressed that Cesar Izturis put up so much competition. I think Izturis can still find a similar role on another team that wants a veteran backup shortstop. Guys with Izturis’ talent may grow on trees, but guys who offer his combination of talent and experience don’t.

      I think Izturis and Miguel Olivo were both brought in for the same reason, to provide a contingency plan and a veteran to challenge for a spot on the bench. Somehow it seems like both challengers have brought out the best in their competitors (Donald and Mesoraco, respectively) this spring. Good job by the front office.

      @Shchi Cossack: Here’s an article about opt out clauses:
      http://www.baseballamerica.com/blog/prospects/2012/03/new-cba-clause-alters-terms-of-select-minor-league-contracts/

      Basically it says that with the new(est) Collective Bargaining Agreement players with more than 6 years of MLB experience (like Izturis) who sign minor league contracts after the end of their MLB deal automatically have the right to opt out on June 1st. That would seem to apply to Miguel Olivo also. Last year it applied to Jeff Francis.

  2. From Cody Puckett:

    It’s official I’ve been traded to the Chicago White Sox! It’s been real Cincinnati!!

    The Reds get the proverbial PTBNL.

    • @rhayex:

      Keep Donald! He’s under team control for 94 years (2107)!

      Damn, I thought I was the first to notice or comment on that. Glad to see that they have Jason Donald locked up longer than Votto …

      Will Donald’s range suffer before he can play out his contract?

  3. Let’s see: a 33 year old veteran who hacks. Cesar sounds like a prototypical Dusty Baker player to me.

    • @Richard Fitch: Izturis sounds to me like the successor to Juan Castro, Paul Janish, and other slick-fielding no-hit shortstops, with a little Edgar Renteria-esq veteran experience mixed in. A decent option for a team looking for a slick-fielding veteran backup.

  4. Defensive skills tend to drop off pretty quickly for middle infielders. The Reds have seen that with Edgar Renteria, Wilson Valdez and Orlando Cabrera. The Reds got in on all those players too late. Izturis may be in that same stage in his career. No one wanted him other than a minor league deal. On the other hand, Donald is no great shakes.

    The perfect player would be Paul Janish, who is going to sit the bench for the Braves this year.

    • @Steve Mancuso: I was a fan of Janish as well, particularly after his year in 2010. Unfortunately, the last 2 years PJ’s numbers have been .214/.259./.262 and .186/.269/.234. The numbers in 2012 are Wilson Valdez’esque …

      Of course, I was also a fan of Ed Armbrister, so I have modest credibility.

  5. Donald is the better player at this point in his career.

    A sobering though: one of these guys will be batting 2nd whenever he subs for BP. Umm bonkers. 8O

  6. Izturis’ track record is what it is, and Donald is coming off a bad season AND switching leagues. When BP is out, I’d almost hope Cozart gets raised to No. 2 in the order instead of one of these guys.

    • Izturis’ track record is what it is, and Donald is coming off a bad season AND switching leagues. When BP is out, I’d almost hope Cozart gets raised to No. 2 in the order instead of one of these guys.

      I think it’s very likely that Cozart will be the backup for hitting 1st or 2nd in the order this season, as he’s been asked to do both before. At times Dusty felt that he was the best candidate for those roles and I doubt that adding a backup shortstop will change that.

      I don’t think Cozart has been written off by Dusty as a leadoff hitter, he’s just been replaced in that role by Shin-Shoo Choo. Similar story with Brandon Phillips in the #2 spot.

    • @Brian Van Hook: Only because sliding a replacement into the lineup in the same spot in the order as who he’s replacing for a day or two, keeps everyone else in roles they are used to.

  7. Nicely done, as always, Mr. Mancuso. Gotta believe that the Reds will go with Donald (on the 40 man), rather than Cesar (Scrabble winning word/last name) Izturis.

    Myself, I’ll vote for the bounce back year from the 28 yr old, versus a career year from Mr. Scrabble. If Izturis is willing or able to spend some time in the minors, he would give the Reds a nice security blanket.

    • @Steve Mancuso: Agree. He’s on the wrong side of the aging curve and has never been a very good hitter. He’s been a downright terrible hitter the past couple seasons too.

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