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February 5, 2013

Rumor Roundup

Tuesday, February 5

by Daniel Rathman

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Remember when, at the Winter Meetings, a few executives expressed dismay to CBS Sports’ Danny Knobler about a  bidding war for Jack Hannahan? Well, if you think that the only thing more perturbing than a bidding war for Hannahan is a bidding war for Ryan Theriot, be careful what you wish for.

Multiple teams pursuing Theriot
According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, the Indians and Rangers are courting the 33-year-old infielder, who delivered 104 games of below-replacement-level work to the world champion Giants last year and has hit three home runs since June 30, 2009. Meanwhile, at least as of three weeks ago, the Giants had not yet closed the door on bringing him back.

Theriot is still a high-energy player who makes consistent contact, runs hard, and is willing to get dirty on defense, but his diminishing versatility mired him on the bench for most of the stretch run and postseason in 2012. Once able to handle spot assignments on the left side of the infield, Theriot’s -7.8 FRAA mark last year, which came on the heels of a -5.4 FRAA effort in 2011, suggests that he is now barely passable even at the keystone. Theriot outlasted Emmanuel Burriss, who was designated for assignment when the Giants acquired Marco Scutaro from the Rockies, but he made only 84 plate appearances from the beginning of August through the end of the regular season, when Joaquin Arias’ superior versatility and the newcomer’s torrid hitting left the Louisiana State University product without an obvious role.

Teams that still believe that Theriot can improve their major-league roster are likely willing to overlook those shortcomings for an empty .270 batting average and a positive influence on their clubhouse. Despite lacking flashy skills, Theriot provides no shortage of entertainment: In addition to scoring the winning run in Game Four of the World Series—the only post-season game in which he cracked the starting lineup, as the designated hitter, no less—he made funny faces, almost injured Aubrey Huff, and photobombed Matt Cain’s post-championship interview while using the restroom.

Theriot also has an intriguing track record against left-handed pitching, including a .310/.356/.413 triple-slash line with 12 extra-base hits and only eight strikeouts over 137 plate appearances two years ago. He was markedly less productive versus southpaws last year, managing only a .272/.319/.344 triple-slash line, but his overall numbers were depressed a bit by an inflamed right elbow, which he injured in spring training and aggravated in early May. That ailment eventually led to the first disabled-list stint of Theriot’s career.

Theriot’s hopes of securing an Opening Day roster spot seem better in Texas than in Cleveland, though neither offers a clear path. Both teams will field a strong everyday second baseman—Ian Kinsler and Jason Kipnis, respectively—but the Indians also already have two right-handed-hitting backups in Mike Aviles and Ryan Raburn. The Rangers recently added Jeff Baker on a minor-league deal, but he, like Theriot, had a down year in 2012 and is a spotty up-the-middle defender. If top prospect Jurickson Profar will open the 2013 season in the minors, then Theriot could fit as manager Ron Washington’s 25th man.

Rays could trade at least one of their extra infielders
Speaking of 25th men, Brignac, who was on the periphery of the Rays’ roster landscape heading into the offseason, appears to have been displaced by general manager Andrew Friedman’s winter pickups. Yunel Escobar and Kelly Johnson, the new middle infielders, won’t leave much playing time for the left-handed-hitting Brignac, and Elliot Johnson, who played in 123 games last year, seems to be “on the outside looking in,” too. Tampa Bay Times beat writer Marc Topkin wrote over the weekend that both of them might be on the move.

The 27-year-old Brignac was considered a four-star prospect as recently as 2010, but while he is a quality defender, his offensive tools have not materialized into big-league performance. Johnson, a 28-year-old switch-hitter, did not profile as an everyday shortstop in his top-10-prospect days, but he managed to post a respectable .269 TAv versus right-handed pitching in 2012. Since neither of them has any minor-league options left, barring an injury to Escobar, Johnson, Ryan Roberts, or Sean Rodriguez, Topkin’s trade prediction seems logical.

Although rumors connecting specific teams to Brignac or Johnson have not yet surfaced, the Astros—who, on Monday, sent their incumbent shortstop, Jed Lowrie, to the Athletics—could be in play. General manager Jed Luhnow’s remaining options at the position are Tyler Greene, Jake Elmore, and Marwin Gonzalez, so a buy-low gamble on Brignac might prove worthwhile.

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

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