Is there a more unsung job in baseball than the utility infielder?
These are the specialized players that are signed to a contract because they can play tough defense, and generally they can do it at more than one position.
Can they hit?
I hate to stereotype, but not likely. If you find a back-up infielder that has a stick, nine times out of ten, they end up starting.
The Indians have had two clear back-up infielders over the past ten years that were in the running for this position. Some may say three, but Asdrubal Cabrera was brought up as a starter at second base, so he’s excluded. Instead, the energy focuses on the guy who opened the decade at the position, and the guy who closed it out. John McDonald really put a stamp as the utility infielder from the Tribe from 2000-2004, while Jamey Carroll took over the role in 2008 and 2009. Both were fantastic infielders, but where they differed in two key areas. Carroll had far superior offense, and also had more opportunity to play. McDonald played 2nd, 3rd and short, while Carroll only played 2nd and 3b, while spending some time in the outfield. Still, Carroll’s offense takes him over the top.
The All-Aught Indians back-up infielder is Jamey Carroll.
McDonald really had become the poster of what the Indians hunt for every year in a utility infielder. The issue with McDonald really turned out to be his durability. From 2000-2001, and then again in 2003, an injury kept McDonald from performing at the top of his game, and ultimately, cost him this slot.
Carroll really was subtle excellence at the position. Carroll played both second and third for the Tribe, and could be the Indians Super-Utility player, since he played the corner outfield positions as well. Still, his excellent defense at all infield positions, plus his offense made him stand above McDonald.
Carroll immediately played dividends for the Indians when they signed him to a deal in 2008. Asdrubal Cabrera had started with the Indians in 2007, but started the season with the Tribe for the first time in 2008. He struggled, and Carroll stepped in and started when the Indians sent Cabrera to Buffalo for much of June and July. He made 66 starts at second for the season. He also made 18 starts at third base. Overall, his fielding percentage was .970+, and .990 at second base. Offensively, Carroll smoked the ball after May, rolling out a .298 average. He had a four-hit game, and ended the season with a nine-game hit streak. His final stats were a .277 average, and seven stolen bases. More than solid numbers for a utility guy.
Carroll had a similar story in 2009, just without as much opportunity. He hit .276 in a few less at bats. His OBP was .355 for the second season in a row, and in a sorry season overall for the Indians, he was one of the few players who consistently performed.
Carroll is never going to be THE guy in any line-up. What he is though, is the heartbeat of a team. Here’s a guy who probably doesn’t have many more tools as a ballplayer as you or I, but obviously works hard to be where he is. He’s the epitome of what a utility player is. He’s the glue that holds together a team. Unfortunately for the Tribe, there was more glue than team.
Carroll capped off his career with the Indians by winning the Frank Gibbons/Steve Olin Good Guy Award winner.
Like many Indians before him, Carroll’s performance with the Tribe in the Aughts ultimately priced himself out of the Tribe’s range. Carroll signed on with the Dodgers as their utility guy, but not before we send Carroll off with his reward as the all-aught utility infielder for the Indians.