Diamondbacks Sign Eric Chavez

The third base market continues to clear. Eric Chavez is now off the market, as the Diamondbacks signed the veteran to a one-year, $3 million deal Wednesday.

As the contract suggests, Chavez is unlikely to be a full-time player in Arizona. However, given the myriad struggles the club experienced at third base last season, we can expect Chavez to play a significant role. He hit .281/.348/.496 last season with the Yankees and could form the meaty side of a platoon in Arizona — 273 of Chavez’s 313 plate appearances came against right-handed pitching, and he hit them for a sharp .299/.366/.545 (144 wRC+) line. Arizona third basemen posted just a .240/.293/.382 in 2012.

Chavez’s bat hasn’t showed up like this since 2004, when he hit .276/.397/.501 with the Athletics and led the American League in walks with 95. Chavez managed just 803 plate appearances and a .239/.296/.390 line from 2007 to 2011. Injuries were a constant, and although he showed some power (.151 ISO), his walk rate dropped off and his strikeout rate rose.

Chavez will be 35 years old in 2013, and so the Diamondbacks are certainly assuming some risk he reverts to the limbo of his career we saw in the five years prior to his breakthrough in 2012. The performance Chavez gave the Yankees, however, was worth much more than $3 million — he posted 1.8 WAR in 313 plate appearances.

Top Diamondback third base prospect Matt Davidson is still some time away from the major leagues. He posted a .261/.367/.469 line in Double-A last year but struggled in the Arizona Fall League; he’s likely to begin the season in Triple-A and could be ready for 2014, and so the Diamondbacks needed a short-term fix. With Jeff Keppinger already getting a multi-year deal and Kevin Youkilis receiving multi-year offers, Chavez’s willingness to take a short and low-cost contract is worth assuming his inherent risk.

Ostensibly, Chavez will platoon in Arizona much like he did in New York — beyond just his wide splits, Chavez isn’t the kind of player built to handle everyday playing any more. Chavez’s most likely partner is Chris Johnson, the 28-year-old who settled into the third base job after coming over from Houston. Johnson hits the ball hard, as he owns a .155 ISO and has posted a line drive rate of at least 23 percent in each of his three major league seasons. However, plate discipline issues — a 25 percent strikeout rate against just a five percent walk rate — have limited him to just an average bat (100 career wRC+). It would play just fine, except Johnson rates poorly in defensive metrics and reputation.

The other problem: Johnson has exhibited reverse or even platoon splits throughout his career, never hitting lefties for better than a 92 wRC+ even in his sharp rookie season. Johnson only has 1300 career plate appearances — 333 against lefties — so plenty can change, but 42 strikeouts in just 151 plate appearances against southpaws in 2012 is not encouraging.

Unless the Diamondbacks make a trade, bring back Mark Reynolds (given it was current Arizona GM Kevin Towers who dealt him away, an unlikely option) or sign a free agent like Brandon Inge, the Diamondbacks are likely stuck with the Chavez/Johnson platoon as they head in to spring training. It may not be the most palatable solution to the third base issue, and they may not be done dealing. But Eric Chavez gives the club solid odds to fix the problem against right-handed pitching at the least, leaving the Diamondbacks much closer to a full solution than they were 24 hours ago.

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15 Responses to “Diamondbacks Sign Eric Chavez”

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  1. Steve says:

    decent move for AZ. wasn’t asking for much money and they obviously need depth at 3rd.

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  2. Ye Olde Pub says:

    Decent move for AZ. wasn’t asking for much moolah and they obviously need depth at 3rd.

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  3. this guy says:

    decent move for AZ. wasn’t asking for much cheddar and they obviously need depth at 3rd.

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  4. that guy says:

    A solid move for the Snakes. It required minimal investment, in terms of both finances and duration, while addressing a clear need for attrition at the hot corner.

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  5. DBA says:

    I’m mystified that the Yanks didn’t get this done. They need help at 3B, the seemingly had a good experience with Chavez in 2012/indications were he liked playing in NY, and the price was right (importantly including no costs in ’14).

    What gives?

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    • Preston says:

      I actually think that the A-Rod injury made it less likely that they bring back Chavez. They now need an every day guy, and with Chavez’s injury history and age, he isn’t that guy.

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      • jsolid says:

        if the goal is to get an excellent starter for 2ish months until ARod returns, who then goes to the bench/DH pool, what are the other options? Youkilis? Polanco? Chavez was the best option out there, i cant imagine why they didnt resign him. the price of that contract is about one-third (!) of what ARod will make while he is on the DL.

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      • Preston says:

        It’s not that they’re better players. It’s that they’re more likely to play. Eric Chavez has serious back problems that literally make it difficult just to get up in the morning http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304765304577480803911265114.html
        He shouldn’t be counted on to play the field more than 2-3 times per week and any day could be his last in the bigs. I think the Yankees would trade some upside in production for some certainty. I actually think that a Jack Hannahan/Jason Nix platoon would be the best fit for them.

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      • Preston says:

        I also think that A-Rod will miss a lot more than two months of the season 4 months is the minimum. At his age it’s probably going to be more like 6, and I think the Yankees would be shortsighted to allow him to rush back considering his age, and contract. So then you have to assume it will be at least a few weeks of MiLB rehab and then he will probably DH a lot when he does return. I think he’ll probably miss at least 4 months, and be more of a DH occasional 3B when he does return.

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      • DBA says:

        Totally understood that Chavez comes with a health risk attached, but at that price it seems a risk well worth taking. Particularly if these 1 x $12 rumors for Youkilis – not exactly the paragon of durability – are close to accurate.

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  6. Ben says:

    Given those splits, the only thing Chavez brings you over Johnson is better defense. So, playing Chavez when sinkerballers like Miley pitch will improve that left side of the infield. On the other hand, is that a significant enough difference to warrant $3 million. Also, I agree, Yankees need a third baseman for everyday, Chavez would only have worked if they had resigned someone like Casey McGee (1-5 wRC+ .326 wOBA vs. RHP). Chavez wasn’t the answer for the Bronx Bombers.

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  7. Dink says:

    I would think this would also allow them to play Johnson AND Chavez against tough RH’s and sit Goldschmidt on occasion, with Johnson shifting over to 1b

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