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Jeff Bailey: The New Josh Phelps?

Remember Josh Phelps? In 2002, he came up as a catcher-turned-first-baseman with the Blue Jays and absolutely smashed the ball (.396 wOBA) for 287 plate appearances. His 2003 was decent, if not mind-blowing. Phelps struggled badly in 2004 and got traded to Cleveland mid-season. He bounced around the majors and minors for a while, and though he never blew anyone away for any length of time again, he was mentioned as recently as last off-season as a minor-league deal or possible stopgap/platoon guy at 1B/DH. With glorious half-season in 2002 far off in the rear view mirror, the days of being the semi-darling of a few isolated bloggers are probably over for Phelps; he’ll be 32 next season and only saw action at the minor-league level for the Giants in 2009.

The point with Phelps was not that he was some super-duper mystery pickup that would put a team over the top. The reason he was brought up was because he was F.A.T. (Freely Acquirable Talent) that could make a contribution in the right situation. Unless a player is utterly horrible defensively (and I realize that one could have made such a claim about Phelps), if he’s an above-average hitter, he probably has a place somewhere, especially if he can be had on a minor-league deal.

Which brings us (finally) to the player at-hand: Jeff Bailey. He’ll be 31 next season (almost as old as Phelps). He’s accumulated 159 plate appearances in the majors from 2007-2009. He’s primarily played first base, but has seen a bit of duty in the outfield as well, although that’s a stretch. He’s basically a glorified career minor-leaguer who’s seen the majors when the Red Sox had injuries.

I’m hardly an expert on all things Bailey, but his CHONE projection caught my eye: .249/.348/.417, or 5 runs above average per 150 games. ZiPS concurs, projecting him at .258/.345/.415. The UZR data is in too small a sample to be relevant; Rally’s TotalZone projection for Bailey last season and the Fans Scouting Report this season suggest that Bailey is probably average-to-below-average defensively.

Bailey looks like about a 1 WAR player. He’s going to be 31 and has little (if any) upside. He’s not a player every team should be after for even the right price. It depends on the situation. For example, if there’s an NL team with a hole at first base, maybe a platoon of Bailey and, I dunno… Eric Hinske might be a good idea if the team lacks other options. If a team really has no AAA depth, Bailey’s definitely worth a look.

Like the latter-day Phelps, Bailey doesn’t have much to offer other than a non-horrible right-handed bat. He should be available on a minor-league deal, or, if a bidding war breaks out, at the major-league minimum. Perhaps this is obvious, but remember the New Josh Phelps when you read about a team trading actual talent for or giving millions to the New Mike Jacobs.