The Futility Infielder

A Baseball Journal by Jay Jaffe I'm a baseball fan living in New York City. In between long tirades about the New York Yankees and the national pastime in general, I'm a graphic designer.

Thursday, July 16, 2009


The Doctor Is In

Enough with the first-half navel-gazing. Over the course of the past two days, Baseball Prospectus colleagues Steven Goldman, Christina Kahrl and I have offered second-half prescriptions for each of the thirty teams -- one or two suggestions that could improve their outlook in the short or long term, depending upon their chances of making the playoffs. In the AL version (BP or ESPN Insider flavor), Steve takes the AL East, Christina the AL West, and yours truly the AL Central. Here's what I had to say about the two teams in my Toledo jurisdiction (yesterday's radio hit is here, btw):
The Tigers have the right idea by benching Magglio Ordoñez who's 163 plate appearances from vesting an $18 million option for next year, and hitting an unacceptable .243/.319/.292 against righties. He can still hit lefties (.300/.356/.463), but in order to limit him to a platoon role and turn the position into an offensive plus—something the Tigers, with a .250 EqA, sorely need—manager Jim Leyland needs a better lefty-swinging corner outfielder than Clete Thomas. The Royals' Mark Teahen and the Orioles' Luke Scott are among the available, affordable corner outfielders who would fit the bill.

One reason the Indians are last in the league in runs prevented is that their pitchers don't miss many bats; they're 12th in strikeout rate and 13th in Defensive Efficiency. As they play out the string, they should move Kerry Wood back to the rotation. He's been lousy enough as a closer (5.28 ERA, -0.2 WXRL, 12 saves in 16 opportunities) not to be missed, and while his fragility might necessitate a short leash, he'd provide the rotation with at least one pitcher with a strikeout rate above league average. For $20.5 million over two years, is that too much to ask?
The Wood one was greeted with plenty of skepticism over at BP, which isn't terribly surprising. It's an outside-the-box modest proposal, something that's not likely to happen. My point is that the Indians, who have only one starter with an ERA below 5.00 (Cliff Lee) have absolutely nothing to lose, and everything to gain. Wood's contract is short enough that it's likely covered by insurance. It's also got a vesting option for 2011 if he finishes 55 games in either year (he's at 29 now), an extra $11 million commitment that makes absolutely no sense. The Tribe is more likely to be able to offload him elsewhere if he can demonstrate that he can start, at least for a short stretch. And not to sound callous, but if he breaks, so what? He's not helping at all at his current level of performance, and he's never going to live up to that contract.

For the NL piece (BP and ESPN Insider), Steve again takes the East, Christina takes the Central, and I've got the West. Here's what I had to say about the Dodgers and Padres:
Snubbed via the All-Star selection process, Matt Kemp can't even get respect from his own manager despite a .320/.384/.495 first-half performance. Joe Torre has batted him seventh or eighth in 45 of 87 games, and in the top five in just 11 games, this despite the fact that his OBP is third on the team behind Manny Ramirez and — wait for it — Juan Pierre. Oh, and he's also stolen 19 bases (second to Pierre) in 23 attempts. Even with Rafael Furcal heating up after a frigid three-month slump, moving Kemp to the leadoff spot would give one of the team's most effective hitters at least another 50 PA over the course of the second half, adding runs to the Dodgers' ledger ["...particularly with Ramirez batting behind him," I should have added.]

Adrian Gonzalez is the poor man's Mark Teixeira, minus the switch-hitting part — an excellent all-around player with power, plate discipline, and a good glove. And the Padres, with a depleted team that's nowhere near contention, should strive to get a Teixeira-like return for their star slugger, the kind of multi-prospect raid on another team's system that can provide several cogs for a future contender. Gonzalez is ridiculously affordable ($3 million this year, just $4.75 million for 2010 and a $5.5 million club option for 2011 that apparently has no buyout), and losing him will make for an extremely bland major league product in San Diego in the near term, though the sight of 275-pound behemoth Kyle Blanks playing first base on a daily basis might offer some amusement. The point is that since the Padres have the leverage here, they don't actually need to deal him yet, and they shouldn't unless they're offered a package that changes their future.
Until the past few days, I've actually been against the idea that the Padres needed to trade Gonzalez, a move that's bound to be a tough sell to Padres fans. But seeing the way opposing pitchers walked the slugger more than 20 percent of the time last month, I don't think there's a lot of excitement to be had by keeping him around amid such a barren lineup. The suspense of whether Kevin Kouzmanoff (.244/.280/.405), Chase Headley (.232/.308/.366) or the undead Brian Giles (.191/.277/.271) — three players who've batted behind Gonzalez frequently this year — doesn't exactly make for scintillating baseball. But that's just me. Padres' fans mileage may vary.

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