Thursday, January 1, 2009

Return of the Beard

Earlier this week, I was thinking about writing an article explaining why the Indians should pursue free agent Ty Wigginton to fill their infield hole. Wigginton is a "Casey Blake-esque" type player (and yes, apparently Blake-esque is now a description for utility players on the Tribe), one who plays multiple positions in both the infield and outfield, hits with some pop, and provides adequate defense. Not quite a scrapper like a Jamey Carroll, but a useful glue-guy, the type of player who ends up on championship teams, signing with little to no fanfare, but doing the small things to push the team over the top.

Instead of signing Wigginton, who in addition to playing like Blake was seeking a similar contract (Blake received a 3-year, $17-24 million contract [depending on incentives]), the Indians traded for a cheaper alternative in Mark DeRosa. The Tribe has essentially brought back "Blake-Lite", however for a shorter commitment and at less money in a move that is hard to dislike if you are an Indians fan. DeRosa is signed through this season for $5.5 million and is even a more reasonable choice than Wigginton.

For once, the Indians are the beneficiary of a team's desire to shed payroll(as opposed to the other way around) as the Cubs attempt to clear space to sign perpetual headcase and disabled list resident, Milton "Yahtzee" Bradley. The Indians are receiving a replacement part to fill the space left by Blake's departure. DeRosa, 33, and Blake, 35, have put up similar numbers in their careers. Compare Blake and DeRosa's numbers from last season especially:

  • Blake, playing for both the Indians and the Dodgers, hit .274, with 21 HRs, 81 RBIs, and an OBP of.345.
  • DeRosa, for the Cubs, hit .285, with 21 HR, 87 RBIs, and an OBP of .376.

While Blake has shown more power than DeRosa in the past, DeRosa provides equal value in his willingness to play multiple positions on the field. Last year, DeRosa played six different positions, including 95 games at second, 38 in right field, 27 in left, 22 at third and 10 each at first and shortstop.

Mark Shapiro has already indicated that DeRosa will play third, keeping Jhonny Peralta and Asdrubal Cabrera at second. Although numerous people have been calling for Peralta's shift to third base, keeping Peralta at shortshop actually keeps his value highest as he remains a top offensive shortstop in the American League, as opposed to an average hitting third baseman (the same justification can be used for keeping Victor behind the plate). And if needed, Peralta can be shifted a later point, having been playing third base exclusively in winter ball.

DeRosa's most important attribute could be allowing Wedge to rest a different starter each day, shifting DeRosa to fill whatever void exists. For a team with a limited budget like the Indians, having one super-utility player allows for great flexibility and putting the best lineup on the field in any given day. If someone slumps for period, DeRosa could be shifted to that position strengthening the team.

This deal also did not cost the Tribe very much at all. Relief pitcher, Jeff Stevens, acquired from Cincinnati for Brandon Phillips, was the best of the players given up. However, given the depth of young arms that the Indians have competing for bullpen spots, it's doutbful that he would have made a great impact this year. The other pitchers, Chris Archer and John Gaub, are so far down in the farm system that its impossible to project their future professional careers. Archer, 20, was a fifth-rounder in 2006. He has a strong arm but he walked 84 batters in 115 1/3 innings in low-A ball. Gaub did strike out 100 in only 64 innings with Lake County but isn't considered a top prospect in the farm system.

Trading for DeRosa fills a need for this team, while again highlighting the low-risk, high reward philosphy that the Indians have been forced to pursue in recent years. If DeRosa is more Casey Blake failing to drive in runners in scoring position than the Captain Clutch Casey Blake of last season, the Indians can cut their ties and insert Barfield (who I think is underrated and has a potential surprise season in him), Carroll, or someone else at third. In the end, I'm just glad that there might be a replacement beard on the field next season.


new blogger said... mentioned that Marte hit something like .291 in his final 34 games last season. Maybe we shouldn't give up on him.

Alvaro Espinoza said...

Marte has spring training to show he has any semblance of value or he won't make the roster. I think Barfield will end up being the better player in the majors.