Yesterday the Cardinals added their first free agent of the off-season, and his name wasn't Holliday, Cameron, Harden, Lackey or even Kearns. The identity of our latest redbird? Ex-Kansas, NYM and Atlanta Braves utility guy Ruben Gotay, who signed a one-year minor league deal with an invite to spring training. In the likely event that we hold onto him, he won't make more than the league minimum in 2010.
So, in the manner of my epoch-making post last year looking at 2009 Cardinals MVP Royce Ring, I thought I'd take a quick look at his career so far and see if there's any way he can make a significant contribution to our 2010 season.
Gotay is 26, and has bounced around AAA and MLB clubs the last 5 years, after being drafted as an 18-year-old out of Indian HIlls Community College in the 31st round of the 2000 draft. In 2004 and 2005, he was a bit-part player with the sorry Royals, putting up sub-.300 wOBAs with mediocre defence in the middle infield. In 06, he was traded to the Mets for in a two-way young, mediocre utility infielder swap for Jeff Keppinger (who had a nice 2007 with the Reds before becoming one of the worst players in baseball in 2008). Gotay spent 2006 as a 23 year-old in the AAA affiliates of the Royals and Mets, doing little with the bat to suggest he was likely to rake at MLB level. He was, nonetheless, still somewhat young for that level (or for MLB), so perhaps there was still some projection left.
In 2007, Gotay enjoyed his strongest year, putting up a decent .335 wOBA with a .351 OBP and 4 HR in 211 major league plate appearances with the Mets. He spent most of that time, as he has done throughout his career, at 2nd base or as an occasional pinch hitter.
In 2008, Gotay began a 2-year "journeyman" period, making his only MLB starts with the Braves, where he put up a .299 wOBA, on track with his .300 career line, in 117 PA mostly off the bench. He did, however, up his walkrate to a palatable 11.3%.
In 2009, after a short spell on the books in Pittsburgh, he landed in Arizona's AAA affiliate in Reno, and put up his strongest professional season to date at age 26 - despite not getting the call from the major league team, Gotay put up an enormous 21.6% (!) BB%, getting on-base at a .429 clip, and hit 11 dingers, putting up a .395 wOBA. I'd be inclined to take the increased power (Gotay had never reached double-figures in HR for any professional season) as a park effect - although I can't get park factors for AAA Reno (as the D'Backs affiliate played in Tucson before 2009), looking at the stats of that ballclub it seems pretty clear that it's a very good hitters' park indeed. That said, a 21.6% BB rate is nothing to sniff at, especially given that his previous season saw an uptick in walks as well.
Gotay is a switch-hitter, and can play 2B, 3B or (at a pinch) SS. He's basically put up the equivalent of a little over one year of UZR data at major league level (spread over several seasons) at 2B and comes in at a disappointing -7.7 runs, entirely due to poor range (his arm and glove and generally believed to be decent). He's likely better at 3B, although he probably doesn't have the bat to stick there in the majors. If he makes a start for us in the majors at shortstop, ever, let's just say we've probably got some pretty major injury issues there.
Career major league line in 811 PA: .255/.315/.371. Very marginal. Career wOBA of .300. However, I do believe there's a chance he's better than this line, as he put up many of his plate appearances as a 21/22-year-old in Kansas, when he predictably struggled. His stats since then (at AAA and MLB) have improved slightly, but he's still unlikely to sniff league-average offensive production and, at best, will be a useful backup guy with an ability to get on-base.
Gotay is best used against right-handed pitching as a left-hander. He's put up a decent line of .267/.316/.404 and has all but one of his MLB HR from this side. That's actually not a bad line, but given Schu is our 2B and hits right-handed pitching well, and Gotay doesn't have the bat to play 3B, it's hard to see where he fits in. In a pretty tiny sample size, Gotay doesn't hit left-handed pitching well, so it's hard to see any world where he's more use than Julio Lugo.
Overall, it's difficult to see where Gotay fits in, or why we need to add another utility middle-infielder when we just let Hoffpauir walk (unless Gotay's crazy BB% from AAA last year is a sign that he's really maturing at the age of 26, although it should be said that we got great offensive seasons from Tyler Greene, who has a great glove, and Jarrett Hoffpauir, who had more pop than Gotay, at AAA last year). It's hard to see how he's any better than Brian Barden, who likely has a slightly better glove (and, unless we look at 2009 stats in a vacuum, when Barden sucked and Gotay was excellent at AAA, a better bat).
Having another warm body can't hurt, I suppose, unless.... and here's the big problem - Gotay, if he's used with the same level of organisational sense that our AAA management wheeled out Jarrett Hoffpauir day-in, day-out as out starting 2B at Memphis last year after a genuine high-end prospect (Dan Descalso) had been brought up, could end up blocking an actual potentially useful player. Descalso played too much 3B and altogether not enough 2B last year after his promotion to AAA Memphis, and if that happens again this year, it could serve to severely dent his development. It's probable that Gotay will merely be a fill-in at 2B, SS and 3B (at present, it seems likely that Barden will be our only AAA 3B, with David Freese likely in the majors and utility-catcher Brandon Yarbrough will leave as a MiLFA), which would, I guess, be fine - but WOE BETIDE anyone who f's with our Descalso! Chris Maloney, take heed.