The San Francisco Giants won the World Series last season in large part due to a fantastic pitching staff. However, the offense provided timely hitting down the stretch of the regular season and in the playoffs thanks to some key acquisitions made before, or during, the season. Oddly enough, three of the key players on their championship squad were picked up off of the scrapheap. Each member of the trio was available to virtually every team either through free agency, outright release, or waivers, yet all three wound up in San Francisco, and boy did they pay dividends.
Aubrey Huff was acquired at the start of the season, after having put together an abysmal 2009 campaign. He produced 1.8 wins below replacement level that year as part of an erratic prime. Pat Burrell joined the team in June after being released by the Rays. Suffice to say, he came nowhere near living up to expectations after signing a two-year deal to DH for the reigning AL champs. Cody Ross was acquired off of waivers towards the end of August, costing only his remaining $1 million in salary.
These three players illustrated the inherent value in scouring different areas of the talent spectrum. Not every move needs to be substantial to make a difference, and sometimes improving in a few smaller areas can reap the same reward.
Given that the trade market is pretty pathetic this year, many contending teams will need to turn to scrapheap stars like Huff, Burrell and Ross to improve their odds of making and succeeding in the playoffs. Since scrapheap isn’t a technically defined term, for the sake of this post we will look at players who a) don’t cost much, b) produce well in certain situations (they field very well, or are studly in platoons), and c) are not part of a contending team.
After all, teams in contention might look to acquire these guys, not send them packing. So who fits that criteria this year?
Conor Jackson, Athletics
Overall, Jackson has an unimpressive .248/.323/.319 line. His .295 wOBA is right in line with his .304 wOBA from a year ago, and while he may have recovered from his bout with Valley Fever, his production is a far cry from its 2006-08 levels. However, against lefties, Jackson has much more value. In 76 PAs against oppo-handed hurlers this year, he has a .360 wOBA, down a bit from his stellar .371 career mark. Add to that solid fielding at both corner outfield spots and first base, and his relatively modest salary ($3.2 million, of which $1.6 million is remaining) and he could help a lot of teams. A free agent after the season, Jackson would be nothing more than a rental, so the cost to acquire would be minimal, and the platoon benefit he might provide will likely outweigh it anyway.
Clint Barmes, Astros
He isn’t the traditional deadline deal candidate, but the cost — his salary and what it would take to bring him aboard — and the potential benefits he could provide are fairly underrated. While the Astros major assets like Hunter Pence, Wandy Rodriguez, and Michael Bourn garner plenty of attention, Barmes shouldn’t be ignored. He has practically defined the league average over the last few seasons, and is currently on pace for a 3+ WAR campaign.
Barmes would be a rental as well, as this was his final year of arbitration, but paying ~$2 million to bolster the middle infield with his averageish bat and solid glove would be prudent for a number of teams.
Wilson Betemit, Royals
Basically the opposite of Barmes, he is an all-bat, no-field infielder designed for either a platoon or a shared role of some sort. Betemit has never batted more than 315 times over the last four seasons, and his poor fielding negates most of his offensive value, but under the right circumstances his switch-hitting could be a major plus for a contender. His .287/.343/.421 is down from the .297/.378/.511 a year ago that came close to generating a full blown “Free ____” campaign, but the current line is still above the league average.
James Loney, Dodgers
I know, I know, after writing an article about how Loney isn’t good enough to be an everyday first baseman I’m suggesting a team in the mix acquire him? Well, as was pointed out at the time of that article, Loney has a significant home/road split, indicating that his offensive suckitude might have a lot to do with the confines of Dodger Stadium (or did McCourt sell off the naming rights yet?). Granted, a trade elsewhere isn’t going to automatically trigger his road numbers to the forefront, but he would be expected to perform markedly better in another uniform. Still under arbitration for another season, Loney could be a nice fit for a team like the Pirates assuming his career H/R splits persist in some capacity upon moving.
Corey Patterson, Blue Jays
The guy has been given opportunity upon opportunity to live up to his former status as a top prospect, so why wouldn’t the trend continue now? Patterson has above average fielding and baserunning marks, and actually has a reverse platoon split this season: .347 wOBA vs lefties (as a lefty), and .283 wOBA against righties. That isn’t a career-long phenomenon and is likely the product of a small sample size as opposed to a change in skill, but he wouldn’t be acquired strictly for his bat. Patterson would be brought in for his total package of production, to provide outfield depth, and to serve as a pinch-runner/defensive replacement.
These names aren’t really attractive, even when stacked up against Cody Ross and Pat Burrell from a year ago, but all five could help a contending team in some capacity, and none would cost all that much to acquire. Bigger moves are certainly more noteworthy, but these low risk moves do pay off from time to time, and given the low level of risk inherent in them, the odds of success greatly outweigh the likelihood of failure.