You know the adage about old dogs and new tricks? The Washington Nationals, Arizona Diamondbacks and Boston Red Sox (among others) are hoping it doesn’t apply to baseball players.

Each of those clubs is asking an important acquisition or incumbent star to switch positions this spring. That’s always a gamble; sometimes it pays dividends, sometimes it comes up snake eyes.

At best, it allows the team in question to fill a need and put its best bats in the lineup. At worst, it can create a defensive deficiency and throw a player off his game.

Let’s examine three high-stakes spring switcheroos and see how they’re going so farand how likely they are to work out through the dog days of summer.


The Player: Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

The Switch: Third base to first base

Last season was a rough one for Zimmerman. Injuries limited him to just 61 games, and, in his absence, Anthony Rendon become one of the premier third basemen in the game.

Rendon’s ascent is undeniably great news for the Nats, but it created a potential positional crunch. Where would Zimmerman, once a franchise cornerstone at third, play?

Washington answered that question by letting first baseman Adam LaRoche walk in free agency and setting up Zimmerman’s slide across the diamond.

So far, Zimmerman is saying all the right things. “I think it’s a big part of us being a good team so that’s the whole goal,” he told The Washington Post‘s Chelsea Janes. “I’m just going to be the best that I can be over there and help the guys out in the infield.”

Zimmerman was a plus defender at third for a number of years—he won a Gold Glove in 2009—and he logged 18 innings at first last year, committing one error in 24 chances. So there’s no reason to assume he can’t adjust.

The only possible pitfall for the Nationals is that, as a National League team with a stacked roster and no designated hitter, they don’t have anywhere else to put the former All-Star, meaning it’s first base or bust. 

Barring further injury, bet against “bust.”


The Player: Yasmany Tomas, Arizona Diamondbacks

The switch: Outfield to third base

Tomas played mostly outfield with the Industriales of the Cuban National Series, but Arizona is engineering a transition to third.

So far it’s been a mixed bag, as manager Chip Hale told‘s Steve Gilbert:

I think he needs to be better than what we’ve seen. Mostly just the focus. I think the plays he’s not making is because maybe he loses focus. He needs to know that every play at third base, every pitch he’s got to be ready. So if we see that, I think the physical part of itcatching the ball and moving to the ballI think he can do it.

The Diamondbacks didn’t sign Tomas to a six-year, $68.5 million pact for his glove. They’re hoping he’s the latest Cuban import to take MLB by storm, and that he’ll team up with All-Star first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and outfielder Mark Trumbo to form a murderous middle of the order.

But, like the Nats, they don’t have the luxury of the DH. Tomas began getting outfield reps in late February, per Nick Piecoro and Zach Buchanan of, so there’s that option.

Ideally, though, the D-backs want the 24-year-old slugger at the hot corner. He’s just got to prove he can handle it.


The Player: Hanley Ramirez, Boston Red Sox

The Switch: Shortstop to left field

Hanley Ramirez was the second-worst defensive shortstop in baseball last season, if you believe FanGraphs. So when the Red Sox inked him to a four-year, $88 million contract, the decision to initiate a position shuffle seemed obvious.

Then again, Ramirez has never played an MLB inning in left field, where Boston plans to stick him, or any other outfield spot, for that matter.

Breathe a preliminary sigh of relief, Sox fans: The early reviews are positive.

“I was ready, definitely,” Ramirez said of his new assignment, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. “I’ve done the work, it’s been good.”

“We have no question about his ability out there,” added skipper John Farrell.

Left field, as Abraham points out, was a defensive black hole last season in Boston. As long as Ramirez is competent at tracking down line drives and playing caroms off the Green Monster, he’ll be an upgrade.

Ideally, with a move to a less physically taxing position and the occasional stint at DH, Ramirez will avoid the injuries that have cost him more than 100 games over the past two seasons. 

That means more chances to hit baseballs, which is what the Red Sox are paying him to do.


All statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference unless otherwise noted. 

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