On Friday, the Arizona Diamondbacks decided not to tender an offer of arbitration to Chris Burke. After coming over from the Astros in the Jose Valverde trade, Burke was a massive disappointment, hitting .194/310/.273 in 165 at-bats, yielding an awful -11 wRAA while only playing about 1/4 of a season. In short, he was a total disaster, and the D’Backs decided that they didn’t want to give him a chance to get a raise in arbitration after such a poor season.
For some team looking for a middle infield/utility player option on the cheap, however, Burke should be near the top of the list. Even with his poor 2007 and miserable 2008, his career is .241/.318/.363, which translates to a .304 wOBA. That’s not good, certainly, as Burke has racked up -29.5 wRAA over his career, but that averages out to about -13 runs per 600 plate appearances. That’s not good – Burke almost certainly won’t be an asset offensively going forward.
However, Burke is a good defensive player. In his career, he’s logged 854 innings at second base and has posted a UZR/150 of +10. He’s also logged 1,111 innings in corner outfield spots and posted a UZR/150 of +14. While he’s been used as a utility player, he’s put up very good numbers in his two primary positions of 2B/LF. Combined with positive scouting reports, we can be pretty certain that Burke’s a defensive asset.
As a guy who can be an asset as a defender at multiple positions, he doesn’t have to hit much in order to be a useful utility player, and if his offense rebounds to anything close to his 2006 performance, he’d be a league average starter.
At 29, Burke is simply too young to give up on and assume that his struggles the last two years represent a true collapse of his skills. Jerry Hairston Jr provided a great template for a resurgent player of this skillset, bouncing back from a horrible 2007 to be quite valuable for the Reds in 2008. A smart team with a need for a solid backup middle infielder with upside will bring Burke into camp and find a way to get his glove in the line-up on a semi-regular basis.