The offseason has provided a good amount of drama, some mammoth contracts, and plenty of frequent flyer miles racked up. One thing that I think has gone under the radar a bit is the caliber of players — maybe more so in terms of how good they once were — who have already settled for minor league deals, or may be in line for them as we draw closer to Cactus and Grapefruit League play.
Today, let’s take a glance at the minor league pacts signed in the last week, and have a look at their potential implications.
Juan Pierre – OF – signed with Phillies
At his best, Pierre was a 2-3 win per year outfielder who made excellent contact, stole bases by the boatload — at about an 80 percent success rate — and could go and get it out in the outfield. Basically, almost his entire skill set was predicated on his speed. Now 2011 may be an outlier, though at 34-years-old I’d lean in the other direction, but his razor-thin margin for error with that particular set evaporated. How thin was his margin for error? Despite virtually identical OPS and adjusted OPS+ figures, his WAR dropped from 2.9 in 2010 to -0.4 last season. He still made excellent contact (94.9 percent contact rate), but his stolen base rate plummeted to 61.3 percent. Add to that a UZR nearly 20 runs worse than his previous campaign, and it’s fair to wonder if Pierre’s wheels have much tread left on them. On a minor league deal to be a fourth outfielder, Pierre makes plenty of sense; that’s what the Phillies are doing here. But he’s liable to be completely worthless in the outfield without his trademark speed, so he certainly can’t be counted on for much.
Dan Wheeler – RP – signed with Indians
It’s a little odd that Wheeler, who has been among the better middle relievers in the game the past decade, had to settle for a minor league deal coming off a decent season in Boston, but he’s decided to do just that. Wheeler’s never really brought the heat (89.5 mph average), but instead has relied on a good slider/cutter, with a pair of show-me pitches in his curve and changeup. None of those really seemed out of whack with the Red Sox last season, as Wheeler tossed just under 50 innings of 7.1 K/9, 4.9 K/BB ball. In a market that was flush with middling quality middle relievers, it’s still a bit surprising to see guys like Matt Capps and Jon Rauch get guaranteed cash, while guys like Todd Coffey remain unemployed and Wheeler signs for virtually nothing. If Wheeler makes the club, he’ll get $900k for the season. Props to GM Chris Antonetti of the Indians, and props to Wheeler for finding a good landing spot after going out on his own campaign trail.
Corey Patterson – OF – signed with Brewers
Indeed, Patterson is still kicking around, paving the future for guys like Felix Pie. Should he make the team (not likely since the deal doesn’t include an invite to big league camp), Patterson will be actually in his second tour of duty with the Brewers (he’s played with eight clubs overall), with whom he spent a brief 11-game stretch in 2009. Patterson hasn’t been useful since 2006, as he’s been worth a net WAR of 0.6 in the interim. Still, he’s relatively speedy and can handle center, there’s enough of a market out there for him. If he makes the club, it’ll only be maybe if Norichika Aori isn’t quite ready or in Ryan Braun’s stead. Otherwise, Nashville it is!
Ronny Paulino – C – signed with Orioles
Paulino’s kicked around for seven seasons as a decent offensive catcher who doesn’t peg a ton of runners, but is considered a decent receiver. In other words, he should make a pretty good caddy for Matt Wieters. At his best, Paulino can flirt with league average offensive production — pretty darn good for a catcher — and will throw about about three out of every 10 opposing base thieves (for reference, 28 percent was the league average in ‘11). Buster Olney recently tweeted about the Orioles only picking through the scraps every year, but as an avid thrift store shopper, that’s not always a bad thing. Paulino’s a good low-cost, no-risk pickup that should aid in Wieters’ development, and not embarrass himself when it’s his turn to shine.
Zach Duke – SP – signed with Astros
Maybe it’s just society, or maybe it was just his superficial 1.81 ERA in 2005 that has made everything such a disappointment since for the Duke of Zach. Like many of the others on the list, Duke was a former top-100 prospect who had a hot start but never really sustained it in any meaningful way. Duke found himself in the desert last season, eventually switching to the bullpen with mixed results (6-8 K/BB rate, but 3.86 ERA in 25.2 IP). A spot in Houston’s rotation doesn’t seem likely unless Wandy Rodriguez is dealt, and even then isn’t for sure. That probably tells you all you need to know about Duke’s stock at this point in time.
Jeff Francis – SP – signed with Reds
In an offseason where Jason Marquis nets a somewhat lucrative one-year deal, it’s simply stunning to me that Francis, who for all his faults was a 2.6-win pitcher last season, had to settle for a minor league deal. Sure, there’s more red flags than a Chinese embassy here, but projection-wise you have to believe Francis has matured greatly as a pitcher to be a nearly 3-win hurler despite an 84.7 mph average heater. Can you even call that a heater? Maybe it’s a warmer. Joking aside, Francis hasn’t landed in an ideal place with the Great American Ballpark (120-133 home run park factors via StatCorner), but if he gains velocity back in his ongoing rehabilitation efforts, as a lefty he could carve out a nice, long career in the back of a number of rotations.
A few others, briefly:
Manny Delcarmen – RP – signed with Yankees – Once a prized pupil of a Red Sox bullpen factory, he’s seen precipitous decline in recent years. Needs to get velocity, K/9, and BB/9 trending back to ‘07-’08 figures.
Pat Neshek – RP – signed with Orioles – Neshek was a lights-out late-inning option for the Twins before arm injuries struck. Owner of the funkiest delivery in all of baseball, Neshek doesn’t need all the velocity to return, but needs all of his previous command. Don’t count on it.
John Maine – SP – signed with Red Sox – Former prized prospect had it for a while in New York, but has steadily declined since ‘08. Got smoked in PCL in ‘11, but who doesn’t, especially with a 2.00-plus WHIP?
Austin Kearns – OF – signed with Marlins – Ever wish it was 2006 again? Kearns does: pre-2006 he was .265/.361/.463; since .242/.339/.366. Guess some people just don’t get over being dealt for Bill Bray.
Scott Olsen – SP – signed with White Sox – Former three-time top-100 prospect according to Baseball America who sprang out of the gates as an impressive 22-year-old. All down hill since then, as Olsen stopped whiffing hitters and started whiffing other things, apparently. Lives and dies by the slider, because his fastball is not good. Like at all.
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