In their championship season of 2017 Marwin Gonzalez set the offensive standard for Houston Astros utility players, slashing .303/.377/530, blasting 23 home runs and knocking in 90, while starting at least 17 games at 5 positions and seeing playing time at 6.
Gonzalez was good enough that year to garner a few MVP votes. The Astros lost Gonzalez to free agency after the 2018 season and within three weeks traded pitching prospect Trent Thornton to the Blue Jays for Aledmys Diaz, who had spent that season manning shortstop and third base for the Blue Jays after dabbling in several positions with the Cardinals in 2016 and 2017.
With Aledmys Diaz thriving around the diamond, how has his flexibility affected the Astros?
I recall questioning the move at the time as Thornton was highly regarded and why would the Astros give up an arm for a guy that plays positions that are taken for years to come? It’s a good thing I’m not the general manager.
Diaz won’t approach the Gonzalez like numbers of 2017 in part due to his own injury, a fractured hand, the result of an errant Ross Stripling pitch on June 5, but he’s still managed to start games at six different positions and a couple as DH.
A player of Diaz’s caliber and flexibility is incredibly valuable, even more so in a season full of health and safety protocols and not knowing who’s going to be available when you show up to the park on any given day. Diaz’s offensive numbers don’t necessarily jump off the page, but there aren’t many teams with a guy on the bench with power, an OPS+ of 122 and a wRC+ of 125 that can play nearly any position on the field.
For me though, the offense is a plus and the larger portion of Diaz’s contribution is on the defensive side. He’s not going to dazzle you with his arm as Carlos Correa does or make the scoops of a Yuli Gurriel at first, but he’s solid, dependable and sneaky good defensively.
In 152 chances across six positions, Diaz has made two errors (one at 2nd base and one at 3rd). We know that errors aren’t everything as far as fielding goes and the advanced numbers portray an even better defender than that: Diaz has positive outs above average (OAA) at three positions: 3rd base (4), 2nd base (1) and 1st base (1). That equates to the 92nd percentile in OAA in MLB.
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Diaz has proven his value time and time again, especially when you consider his $3 million salary for 2021. The right-hander has logged 123 innings at third base, 57 in left field, 58 at first base, 62 at second base, 22 at shortstop and 6 in right field.
Arms are still important and you should tread lightly when trading them, but in today’s game with scheduled off days, late night flights, injuries and health and safety protocols, so is being able to plug an above average hitter and good fielder into almost any position on the field and know that you’re going to get a solid performance.
The Astros find themselves with a slim two-game lead in the AL West as Alex Bregman inches closer to a return. Who knows where they’d be without Diaz filling in all over the field, whenever and wherever needed.