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November 3, 2010

Checking the Numbers

Minor-league Contract Candidates: Batters

by Eric Seidman

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Now that the World Series has ended—and a hearty congratulations to the Giants and their fans—baseball has officially entered its off-season. In the very near future, teams will begin to sign or trade players or cut them loose after deciding they are not worth an arbitration raise. Not every signing is created equally, however, as these transactions can range anywhere from the high-profile free-agent inking a monster deal to Willy Taveras being given a shot at making a major-league roster.

The latter scenario is what has intrigued me lately, as there are always a bevy of big-leaguers given minor-league contracts with or without invitations to spring training, and this upcoming season should be no different. With that in mind, I would like to spend the next two days running through the batters and starting pitchers that could make a roster for the 2011 season but who probably will not have a secure spot entering spring training. So, to start, what exactly does a minor-league contract entail? Who gets them? Why do teams opt for this type of contract?

A minor-league contract is beneficial to the team if for no other reason than finances. The team does not have to commit a spot on its major-league roster for an iffy player but can conceivably stash away a likely contributor in the future at a lower cost. If the player makes the major-league roster, either through exemplary performance in spring training or solid play on the farm, his salary will increase and be prorated at the major-league level to the time spent on the roster. Some minor-league deals come with an invitation to spring training, meaning that the player can outright compete for a major-league roster spot with others up for the same consideration. Others, like the deal Brandon Duckworth signed with the Phillies prior to the 2010 season, do not offer the same opportunity. Duckworth was brought in to provide depth on the farm and was considered a “last resort” option. There was no real indication he would be able to contribute at the major-league level, so an invitation to compete would not have made much sense.

For the players, whether the deals are beneficial isn’t as cut-and-dried. On one hand, it would be easy to see why a player like Jermaine Dye might scoff at the idea of having to sign a minor-league deal. He routinely hits 25 or more home runs and considers himself a known entity. To sign a minor-league deal would be to admit he is no longer that good of a player. Then again, these deals often have “out” clauses that enable the player to ask for his release if he is not on the major-league roster by a specific point in the season. This way, if he thinks he can latch on elsewhere and receive big-league playing time, he will not be restricted to the contract originally signed.

On the other hand, there are players like the aforementioned Taveras, who might simply cherish the opportunity to compete for a spot on a major-league roster. Players in this category are either the Quad-A Timo Perez and Chris Shelton-types or the veterans looking to hang on for another season. And if, for some reason, we have a third hand, it would consist of players coming off of an injury who might produce when healthy. Players of this ilk would receive a paycheck from a major-league team, albeit on a far lesser scale, but hey, getting paid upward of $13,000 a month to do nothing other than rehab isn’t too terrible of a deal, right? These are the general categories of minor-league deals. There may be more, but most signees tend to fall into one of those buckets.

Looking strictly at batters, let’s review which players might be in line for a minor-league contract. Keep in mind these players are not listed in any specific order.

Bobby Crosby
2010 Team/Salary: Pittsburgh Pirates/Arizona Diamondbacks, 1 year/$1 million
Crosby got off to a decent start with the Pirates, hitting .241/.389/.345 in his first month, but his production cratered from that point. In just 47 games from May to July, he managed a .220/.277/.283 line and had shaky defense to boot. The Pirates shipped him to Arizona as part of the Chris Snyder trade at the end of July, and Crosby stepped to the plate a grand total of 14 times over the final two months of the season. Between both teams he produced -0.4 WARP, coming off of -0.3 WARP in the 2009 season. Crosby does, however, have the benefit of producing positively in the past, as well as a reputation for being a solid defender. The history of injuries severely depletes his value, even as a backup, but don’t be surprised to see him given the chance to establish himself as a utility super-sub.

Adam Everett
2010 Team/Salary: Detroit Tigers, 1 year/$1.55 million
Long a darling of the stats crowd for his sabergasmic fielding prowess, Everett represents what happens when a player who is good at literally one thing begins to lose his value in that area. He is not a major-league hitter anymore, and if you look at his career numbers, he really never was one. From 2005-2010, here are his TAv’s: .233, .224, .215, .225, .220, .177. In spite of those putrid marks, his defense was stellar enough that his WARP totals painted a much rosier picture of his performance. Over the last two seasons, his defense has taken a big hit, but like Crosby, it would not surprise me to see a team take a flier on Everett as a defensive replacement.

Garrett Atkins
2010 Team/Salary: Baltimore Orioles, 1 year/$4.5 million w/$8.5 million option for 2011
What a head scratch-inducing career. Yes, Coors Field can inflate a batter’s numbers, but it cannot explain how a 29-year-old averaging a TAv in the .285 range for four seasons can, almost overnight, become as poor of a hitter as Adam Everett. It was a no-brainer for the Rockies to non-tender Atkins following the 2009 season, but most fans expected some type of return to form. Instead, Atkins played so poorly that the lowly Orioles couldn’t even justify keeping him on the field. It could be a long shot here, but perhaps the Phillies would give Atkins a minor-league deal given their health problems a year ago and the homer-friendliness of their stadium, not to mention his ties with Chase Utley.

Melky Cabrera
2010 Team/Salary: Atlanta Braves, 1 year/$3.1 million
There are a few great baseball mysteries over the last decade. Would Moises Alou have caught the Bartman ball? How is it possible to have two completely unrelated Jeff D’Amico’s? And what exactly attracted anyone to Melky Cabrera? He was never a stud on the defensive front and his best seasons offensively amounted to a league-average TAv. His pedigree—starting for the Yankees—should earn him a spring training invitation somewhere, but he should not be playing 130 games a year for anyone, unless he serves as a defensive replacement for Manny Ramirez or Pat Burrell.

Elijah Dukes
2010 Team/Salary: N/A, Last Played in 2009 w/Washington Nationals
Someone has to give him another shot, right? Yes, he has some problems, but he is going to be 26 years old next season and put up a .264/.386/.478 line (.303 TAv) as a 24-year-old. Players like that do not grow on trees. Perhaps a team with a strong veteran core and not a bevy of youngsters could help straighten him out, but I have a hard time believing Dukes’ major-league career is over.

Jermaine Dye
2010 Team/Salary: N/A, Last Played in 2009 w/Chicago White Sox
I expect that the 2010 season for Dye was equivalent to the 2009 season for Jim Edmonds. Both players had proven themselves to be more than capable with the bat, but for one reason or another, they could not find a job or they were too proud to accept a deal they felt was beneath them. Fast-forward to a year later and Edmonds was perfectly fine with a spring training invite and no guarantee of making the roster. I expect Dye to experience the same progression and ink a minor-league deal with a team with the potential to be their designated hitter.

Mike Sweeney
2010 Team/Salary: Seattle Mariners/Philadelphia Phillies, 1 year/$0.65 million
From a pure production standpoint, Sweeney has next to nothing left to offer. When your position devolves into platoon-DH, it is likely a sign that there is very little left in the tank. However, Sweeney is the most likeable person in the major leagues. Nobody dislikes him. This is the reason he still plays major-league baseball. It is very hard to look past his personality and dismiss him on the merits of his talent. And for that reason he is more than likely to be given a minor-league deal somewhere. What remains to be seen is whether that team falls into the same trap as the Mariners, where it would be unpopular with the manager and players to not keep him on the major-league roster even if his production does not deserve a spot.

Carlos Delgado
2010 Team/Salary: Boston Red Sox, minor-league deal
Delgado signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox to rehab from an injury and potentially make the bigs to replace the injured Kevin Youkilis. He suffered a setback while rehabbing and never made it to the majors. He will latch on somewhere as long as he wants to play and can physically handle the load. At his age, one would have to wonder if he will want to take on that challenge. Then again, I cannot see Delgado wanting to end his career on a sour note.

Dan Johnson
2010 Team/Salary: Tampa Bay Rays, 1 year/$0.5 million
I’ll never understand the apparent Twitter obsession with Dan Johnson—or maybe it’s just the people I follow—but the man is patient at the plate and definitely has pop in his bat. The Rays could bring him back with a non-guaranteed spot and a spring training invitation, especially because he is unlikely to attract many lucrative offers elsewhere.

Matt Stairs
2010 Team/Salary: San Diego Padres, 1 year/$0.7 million
Stairs claimed that he wanted to play one more season after the Phillies lost in the 2009 World Series. He then spent the off-season getting into such good shape that he became the spokesman for Nutrisystem. The Padres brought him onboard, and he provided a .475 SLG in 111 PA. At this point in his career, Stairs is what he is, a pinch-hitter from the left side who steps to the plate trying to smash the ball as far as he possibly can. Someone will find a use for that and give him a shot, but the inability to play anywhere on the field hurts his chances with teams that crave flexibility.

Others?

 There are potentially some other batters that could be given minor-league deals, such as Greg Dobbs, Hank Blalock, Alfredo Amezaga, Joe Crede, and Khalil Greene. Can you think of anyone else? And where do you think the guys mentioned above will end up, if anywhere?  

Eric Seidman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Eric's other articles. You can contact Eric by clicking here

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