clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Plan De off the Table

I never liked Mark DeRosa as much as I thought I would. Some of it's his fault—wrist injury or not, he was just bad as a Cardinal, and not in an attractive way—and some of it isn't—he couldn't be the Super Sub once left field and the platoon problem at second base were fixed in completely satisfactory ways. But however those reasons come together to form the pie chart of my distaste for Mark DeRosa, I'm glad the Cardinals were not the team to mistakenly give him two years as a starting third baseman. It wouldn't have been an awful move, but it would have been a lateral one. It would have been a case of spending Holliday's Millions for little reason beyond having spent them. 

But DeRosa never seemed like a good fit for the Cardinals' Christmas money anyway; Freese is more likely to stick at third than Allen Craig is as the lone starter in left field, and since Craig is right-handed an outfield/third base platoon based on DeRosa's consistently above-average outfield UZR would be a waste of resources. Ideally, losing out on DeRosa, presumptive plan A among the plan Bs for which Mozeliak has kept "lines of communication" open, sets things in motion for the Cardinals; if that motion doesn't lead to Holliday, at least it leads somewhere.

Plan Bay

I haven't had much chance to talk about it, but I like Jason Bay as a backup option, especially as the demands of this second tier of free agents seem to have trended down. The main reason for my Bay optimism is this: it seems fair to infer, from his continued unemployment and the failure of several desperate, well-heeled teams to give five or six years to this model of offensive consistency, that his terrible defense is finally priced into the bidding for his services, if not his own concept of his worth. 

Of course it only takes one exec who isn't doing that to spoil everybody else's collusive broth. But if the rest of the GMs can manage to keep Omar Minaya distracted, Bay's relatively short-term demands—I can't see him turning down an eight year deal, or getting one—are an attractive proposition to a team looking to juggle a lot of plates at once. It keeps the Cardinals looking competitive in the eyes of Albert Pujols, whom it frees up long-term space to resign; it supplements a core with several pieces in their prime without sacrificing so much long-term freedom of movement. 

His defense is bad, and it will probably stay that way. Of late it is, if you believe the PBP metrics, somewhere in the Chris Duncan neighborhood. That makes him overrated, in the sense that he's closer to the good version of Chris Duncan than he is Matt Holliday, but it doesn't keep him from being a significant update over the Xavier Nady/Jermaine Dye class of sub-$10 million options. For no more than four years and no more than $15 million, a guy like Jason Bay would make for an expensive but possibly worthwhile finish-line push for an otherwise well-constructed team. It's the contractual equivalent of the Matt Holliday trade; it might not be supportable in terms of the wins the Cardinals would get over the life of the deal, but if Mozeliak thinks they need those three wins a year, and that this is the only way to get them, it doesn't matter how much cheaper the one and two win options are. 

(And on a selfish and possibly useless note, I like that I know why Jason Bay is a terrible defender. With corner outfielders, in particular, I'm often struck by how terrible a scout I'd be, according to UZR. Players who have apparently always been terrible might look perfectly acceptable in my eyes, while Matt Holliday is apparently a plus outfielder. But with Bay it's easy: he got hurt, and since then he hasn't been the same defensive player. That's good, honest bad defense. A man can live with that, especially with hope springing eternal that might come to Spring Training with his knee in the best shape of its life.)

Plan Cheap

Over at Play a Hard Nine Erik has some low-hanging fruit ideas of his own, and if nothing else they offer a fair example of just how low that fruit can go—better than replacement level, but not much better. His favorite option is Gabe Gross and—well, he suggests Shelley Duncan, but I can't imagine John Mozeliak willfully getting himself into that mess again. Gabe Gross and a right-hander who hits approximately as well as Shelley Duncan.

I can't quite get on board with it; I have no reason to believe it, but I'm kept up at night by the idea that players like Gross and Randy Winn, who have remarkable corner outfield numbers in the PBP systems but are measured indifferently in center, are the next category of players, like the mythical lefty-masher, to be dismissed as illusory when further statistical analysis is done. It just doesn't make sense to me, pending an intuitive explanation, that some players have a wider gulf between their play in center and left than others. 

My favorite cheap option—this should be distinguished from my idea of the best cheap option—is Jack Cust and Allen Craig. Here's why it's my favorite: I love Jack Cust. He is everything that learning about sabermetrics between 2001 and 2003 taught me to love about baseball. He runs like someone who's been shot in stride with a tranquilizer dart; he plays defense like someone who's been tranquilized. But he draws walks in stupendous numbers—143 in his 2006 Ken Phelps AAA valedictory season—and when he makes contact, which is exceedingly rare, he hits long home runs to every field, which is a rare trick for three true outcomes types. He is, in total, Baseball Prospectus 2003, sabermetrics at its most post-Moneyball strident. Defense? The bourgeoisie sop for GMs not fearless enough to sign Manny Ramirez to play shortstop!

Here's why it is, if not the best cheap option, at least a marginally interesting one: Cust has a useful platoon split, an OBP-heavy OPS, and, coming off the worst season of his brief career, looks to be extremely cheap for a player who CHONE projects at .236/.379/.455. A .380 OBP standing in front of Albert Pujols, especially from someone who is a pleasant-surprisingly mediocre baserunner, excites me nearly as much as Matt Holliday's .540 slugging percentage would batting behind him.

There is, of course, the reason he's so cheap: he shouldn't be playing left field, or right field, or first base, or anywhere in the National League. But you have to be trading that money, heretofore earmarked for Matt Holliday, back to yourself for something; in this case, it's the distinctly unpleasant opportunity of watching Jack Cust play left—which if you believe UZR is as awful as, say, watching Chris Duncan clones play left and right field. Keep Craig (or the fifth outfielder, whoever it may finally be) on defense as much as possible, platoon them strictly, and expect to get something close to what DeWitt pays for. 

Alternately, hope Matt Holliday is getting discouraged about that Teixeira contract he's been promised.