On the major league appreciation scale, utility infielders might have it harder than anyone. Sure, they don't play very much relative to their starting counterparts, and they still bank tidy six-digit paychecks annually (provided that they're in the majors), but think about what being a utility infielder really means -- generally speaking, it means that you've been assessed by talent evaluators from virtually every corner of the major league universe, and they've all arrived at one sobering conclusion: that you're not good enough to cut it as a starter.
To make matters worse, being a major league utility infielder affords minimal job security, because unless you've established yourself as a quality/trustworthy veteran option, you can bet that there are legions of middle infielders in the Double-A and Triple-A ranks that are literally killing themselves everyday just so that they might procure the most outside of shots at your job. You're sometimes asked to perform -- and perform at a high level, to boot -- at a moment's notice, and enough failure to do so in a relatively small sample size could mean the difference between providing a comfortable standard of living for your family, and being forced to take second and third jobs during baseball's off-season because your sub-$30,000 Tumbleweed League salary just isn't enough to support your spouse and children on.
Rarely, those utility infielders flourish into legitimate starting-caliber infielders, with guys like Mark DeRosa and Chone Figgins being the most prominent examples of recent note. Much more frequently, however, their shelf lives prove minimal, and they're banished to the minors in favor of the next shiny new bauble or cagey veteran. And it is the latter outcome that Joaquin Arias now seems destined to fulfill, because Ron Washington's player-first managerial philosophy was sharply eschewed late last night as he did the nigh-unthinkable: he publicly called out Arias (and his atrocious defense), using the media as a platform for his baseball catharsis.
[Arias, for those who might not recall (or didn't witness the horror first-hand, or perhaps blacked out), Arias wandered out into short right field after a lazy B.J. Upton pop fly with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning and the Rangers leading by a 4-2 margin; the ball dropped between him and right fielder Brandon Boggs, although it could be strongly argued that it was Arias's ball all the way. And then with runners on first and third base and one out (still in a 4-2 game), Carl Crawford knocked a grounder to Arias that he should have tossed to first base for the sure out; instead, he made the ill-fated decision to try and start a 4-6-3 double play. Everyone ended up safe, and, well, things violently spiraled out of control from there.]
Of the two plays described in the above italicized paragraph, Washington noted, respectively: "That's the second out right there. That's not Boggs' ball. In my opinion, Joaquin should have caught it. No doubt about it. [...] He should have took the out [on Crawford] right there. That's Baseball 101." And, of course, Washington's right. It doesn't render his late-May proclamation that he "need[ed]" Arias any less bizarre, but that's not the point. The entire problem with Arias is that he's one of the more extreme cases I can recall of tools failing to translate into readily identifiable baseball skills; his plus speed hasn't translated into much (if any) baserunning value, his once-above-average arm/range are now decidedly pedestrian, his plate patience never developed and his gap power only rarely translates into extra-base hits, leaving his batting average empty.
But perhaps most notably of all, Arias just doesn't seem to have any semblance of good baseball instincts or mental make-up. It's like he never really figured out how to process a game situation and execute properly at the same time. And that's just crippling. That's what has the Rangers' former No. 4 prospect (2006) in the manager's doghouse more than anything else right now, and what may well signal the pre-September end of his six-year run in this organization ... but, hey, I don't want to hate him, and in fact don't hate him. He's a very flawed player, but he's also a guy with a family who's probably about to be told that he's not good enough to play in the majors, and that's a burden he's going to have to bear long after the events of last night have faded from our baseball consciousness.
This probably isn't the brutally scathing attack job on Arias's defensive ineptitude that you wanted to read this morning. Hell, I'm not even sure that it's what I, personally, wanted to write. My original intent was to slam this idiotic, media-fueled idea -- which I saw perpetuated on at least one Dallas-Fort Worth television station last night -- that Cliff Lee was solely responsible for the eighth-inning "meltdown" (never mind the fact that it's pretty damn tough to record five outs in one inning). But perhaps this is one of those cases where some things about Arias are just better left unsaid. Or not.