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DeRosa By the Bay

In a shocking turn of events, the San Francisco Giants recently signed a 30-something free agent to help fill a void in the lineup. An unpredictable one, that Brian Sabean. Mark DeRosa, 35 in February, will likely man the hot corner for the Giants on most nights, shifting Pablo Sandoval to first base.

After reportedly seeking a three-year deal worth as much as $27 million total, DeRosa had to settle for a milder two-year, $12 pact with San Francisco. The University of Pennsylvania product once was an obscure utility man with the Atlanta Braves, posting a combined 81 wRC+ from 1998 to 2004 (his park and league-adjusted offense was 19 percent worse than average).

However, DeRosa emerged as the Swiss Army Knife of ball players with the Texas Rangers. He didn’t play a whole lot in 2005, with a wRC+ of 102 in 166 plate appearances. But the righty batter was penciled into the lineup card daily in 2006, posting a 108 wRC+ while bouncing around the diamond (second base, third base and right field, with a few cameos at shortstop, first base and left field).

Those contributions helped land DeRosa a three-year, $13M deal with the Chicago Cubs prior to the 2007 season. He replicated his Lone Star State production in the Windy City in ’07, with another 108 wRC+ season while playing every position on the diamond at some point, save for catcher and center field (he spent most of his time at 3B and 2B).

2008 would be a career year for DeRosa, who bopped to the tune of a 128 wRC+ while doing his usual “wherever ya need me, skip” act in the field. He walked in a career-high 12.4 percent of his PA, compiling a .196 ISO to boot.

After the season, the Cubs shipped DeRosa to the Cleveland Indians for a package of young arms including Christopher Archer, John Gaub and Jeff Stevens. With the team’s playoffs aspirations obliterated by mid-season, however, the Tribe dealt DeRosa to the St. Louis Cardinals in late June for relief prospects Chris Perez and Jesse Todd.

DeRosa suffered a left wrist injury in ’09, serving a DL stint for a torn tendon sheath just after being acquired by the Cards. He played through the ailment once he was activated in mid-July. Overall, DeRosa batted .250/.319/.433 in 576 PA, with a 101 wRC+. Despite the bum wrist, he actually retained much of his power stroke, posting a .183 ISO on the season.

His plate discipline wasn’t as sharp, though. Perhaps it was the wrist injury, as such maladies sap a player’s bat control. Or maybe it was just the normal decline we expect to see in a mid-30’s player coming off of career-best campaigns. Whatever the cause, DeRosa took a cut at more pitches off the plate, swung at fewer offerings within the strike zone and made less contact:

19.5 Outside-Swing%, 71.3 Z-Swing%, 82.5 Contact%

20.9 O-Swing%, 66.3 Z-Swing%, 79.3 Contact%

23.5 O-Swing%, 65.2 Z-Swing%, 77.9 Contact%

(The MLB averages in recent years are: 25% for O-Swing, 66% for Z-Swing and 81% for Contact)

DeRosa should be roughly a league-average hitter in 2010, though there’s downside potential because of his age. He played mostly third base in ’09, but logged enough appearances in the outfield to qualify there as well. Unfortunately, DeRosa likely lost second base eligibility in many leagues (he appeared in just two games at the keystone).

CHONE projects DeRosa to hit .262/.343/.415 next season, which is about average offensive production. Bill James calls for a similar .260/.335/.418 line, while the fans are slightly more hopeful with a .273/.346/.436 forecast. DeRosa is an adequate option in NL-only leagues, but there’s no upside with decent hitter, in his mid-30’s, coming off of an injury.