For those of you who assumed that the arrival of J.J. Hardy and Brendan Harris meant that Cesar Izturis would be in another uniform next season, you will be surprised. Cesar Izturis has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal to compete for a utility role with Brendan Harris. Izturis had been looking for a starting job this offseason, and to be honest I thought he had a good shot at it. With seemingly every GM talking a big game about the value of defense, I figured he would latch on somewhere. Odds are his agent looked around, saw the Orioles with two injury risks in the center infield, and saw an opportunity for playing time.
I am not sure how I feel about this signing to be honest. It brings back a player whose offensive limitations have been so well documented that the Izturis’ stat line from 2010 just reached the New York Times’ Bestseller List. The upside was always his stellar defense, which did take a step back last season as he was relied on more heavily given the uncertainty at second base with Brian Roberts off the field. Julio Lugo (remember him?) certainly wasn’t doing the Orioles any favors.
It’s clear that Buck Showalter loves the way Izturis plays, and was likely a strong advocate for at least getting him into Spring Training. He has publicly stated that he would have no objections for bringing back Cesar as the starting shortstop, but with Hardy’s arrival that case is all but closed. So how will the competition likely go?
Brendan Harris was discussed in more detail here, but it goes like this: Harris, like Izturis, has struggled offensively. Hitting just .157 last season, his numbers have been in steady decline over the past four seasons. Unlike Izturis, Harris has shown the ability to hit for a high average in the past, with a 2007 season that sported a .287 average with 12 home runs. He still holds a career average of .260 with a .318 on base percentage, to Izturis’ .256 with a sub-.300 on base percentage. Not all that far off, but far enough to make a difference, especially when you factor in the complete lack of power that Izturis has shown even in the hitter-friendly Camden Yards.
This competition may come down to flexibility. Izturis is primarily a center infielder, having logged 93% of his innings at shortstop and dividing the other 7% between second and third. Harris, on the other hand, has spent just 49% of his innings at short, 26% at second, and 24% at third. In the end this one will come down to Showalter, and his like for Izturis might make the difference. But going into this competition, I think Harris may be more prepared for a utility role. Settling in after being a starter may not be as easy for Izturis.