Ty France seems to be one of those players without a position. That seems to be a trend with a lot of quote/unquote third basemen who come up through the minors at that spot, especially when they’re more known for their bats than their gloves. Do natural third basemen even exist? Or are they just plus-sized second basemen or slow-footed short stops? You be the judge!
Ty France, apparently, is coming at it from another angle, as a slightly-more-athletic first baseman type. Like, imagine if Daniel Vogelbach was 2/3 of his actual size, but, you know, could still actually hit a baseball.
These types of supposedly-deficient defenders always intrigue me, because if his 2020 season was any indication, the bat is there! He slashed .305/.368/.468 in 43 games across two teams (coming over in the Austin Nola deal with the Padres), with not really much of a dropoff at all during the transition. Ideally, you probably want a little more than the 14 extra base hits in that span, but a high batting average and competent on-base percentage makes up for a lot of ills in the power game for me. I’d rather someone come from this type of floor, because you can tweak a swing to create more loft if need be; but that kind of eye for balls and strikes is much harder to teach by the time you get to the Major League level. Knowing when to swing and what to swing at is an art, and most baseball players fail miserably at it.
He’s also only 26 years old, with up to five seasons of team control (including arbitration years), and while he’s not proficient at any one position, he’s capable of filling in at just about any spot on the infield (and by that I mean first, second, or third base).
It’s hard to talk about Ty France without talking about Dylan Moore, because both of them look to factor heavily on this team in the early going of the 2021 season. Presumably, that puts Moore in left field (next to Kyle Lewis in center, and Mitch Haniger in right) and that puts France at second base (between Evan White at first and J.P. Crawford at short, with Kyle Seager at his trusty third base spot). While we know Moore can play anywhere, it’s unknown at this time if we can hide France in one of the corner outfield spots in a pinch, but given our history of left fielders, it wouldn’t shock me to see the team give it a go (it just depends on how much of a liability France is up the middle).
As I alluded to, France’s “natural” position is third base. One would hope, if Seager ends up leaving after this season, that France could slide in there and we won’t miss a beat. But, if France isn’t any good at third, you’d have to wonder about his ability to play second, where I would assume – even between a couple of Gold Glovers in White & Crawford – defensive range is more of an issue.
Worst case scenario has the Mariners playing France primarily as the team’s Designated Hitter. You would think, given our history with Edgar Martinez (and our complete inability to properly replace Gar since his retirement), that the Mariners – more than most – can appreciate what an elite DH can bring to the table. But, like most teams, we’re trying to live in the 21st Century, where the DH is more of a rotational job, to give guys days off from playing in the field every day. Which means that, in their mind, you probably don’t want to be saddled with France at DH more than 3-4 times per week, which means he will need to be at least an adequate fielder 2-3 times per week. If he’s completely inept, that’s a problem, as it drastically reduces your lineup versatility.
That’s why guys like France – more often than not – aren’t foundational pieces, but instead guys who bounce around in deals like the one we made last year. He has value – so long as he’s hitting – but rarely gets the opportunity to stick in any one place thanks to his mediocre glove.
I’m, nevertheless, quite high on him for the reasons I’ve stated. The Mariners also have one of the best infield coaches in the Major Leagues, so I would hope that he can mold France into something passable in the field. Because, if we can work that out, that’s a HUGE hole we don’t need to fill later.
If we’re looking to break the playoff drought in 2021 – at least a year ahead of schedule – then we’re going to need more consistency out of our everyday lineup. While the pitching is shaky, as we saw last year, our coaches were able to mitigate things by keeping close tabs on the starters in their individual starts (not leaving them out there to get out of jams too often in the third/fourth times through the lineup). Obviously, the bullpen needs to drastically improve, but given the natural volatility of even high-level relievers, sheer randomness could always come into play to help us out this season. But, we need the hitters to hit, and not go into super-long funks.
That means, of course, that our stars – Lewis, Haniger, and Seager – need to perform to their potential/abilities, and that means some of these diamonds in the rough that we’ve stumbled upon – Moore, our catchers, Crawford, White, and France – need to be more consistent, and help pick up the slack when others are struggling. I have no doubt that France’s bat can be a big pick-me-up for this team. But, he just needs to not be a total wasteland out in the field.
I believe he can do it! And I hope that Austin Nola deal continues to pay huge dividends for many years to come!