Over the last three seasons, the Dodgers have used Juan Pierre, Reed Johnson, and Garret Anderson as reserve outfielders to begin the season. Their newest signing figures to fill the fourth outfielder role, but the only zombie star power relating to his name ends where the “Jr.” portion begins.
Signing Tony Gwynn Jr. for under $700K is a coup for any big league team. Although Gwynn’s 2009 season might represent the apex of his offensive ability – a .311 wOBA with a .270/.350/.344 slash line – he does show the ability to talk a walk while limiting strikeouts. Gwynn’s career batting average on balls in play is right around .290, but his average last season sat below .240 with mostly static batted ball details (at least in terms of groundballs versus balls in the air, if not flyballs and line drives). With an ineffective bat that transcends handiness Gwynn fails to profile as a platoon player either.
Signing Gwynn Jr. to hit is like signing Adam Dunn to field. The value here is in his glove. There’s some disagreement among the defensive metrics on just how much value is to be had though. The Fans Scouting Report had him worth three runs, meanwhile UZR and DRS both held him in double-digit esteem. Even if Gwynn is somewhere in between (say six-to-seven runs in center) he’s a defensive asset worth a roster spot on any team.
This works with the assumption that Gwynn Jr. will be on the bench most days, and not starting in center or left field. Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier should make up two-thirds of the Dodgers’ everyday outfield, with Jay Gibbons presumably joining them. To cast Gwynn as the right-handed portion of a platoon in left isn’t a maximization of his defensive abilities and will highlight his offensive shortcomings. Although the Dodgers’ pitchers might be okay with a lackluster bat in front of them if it means getting Gwynn’s glove into the fold every few days.
As long as the Dodgers don’t attempt to make Gwynn Jr. into something he’s not – i.e. his father – then this has the makings of a prudent signing.