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July 24, 2000

The Daily Prospectus

The Larkin Signing

by Joe Sheehan

In a dramatic turnaround, the Cincinnati Reds signed All-Star shortstop Barry Larkin to a three-year extension on Sunday, just days after completing a trade--which Larkin vetoed--that would have sent him to the New York Mets.

As mentioned Friday, signing Larkin is not the kind of move we would typically endorse, given Larkin's advanced age, 36, and the significant cost involved, about $9 million a year, with about a third of the amount deferred. That said, Larkin has maintained a high level of performance through his mid-thirties and even this year is the third-best shortstop in the game offensively, with a .292 EqA. He is by far the second-best player on the Reds, even given the gap between his glovework and that of second baseman Pokey Reese.

What can we expect from Larkin over the life of the contract? Clay Davenport sent along a projection based on his Wilton system, described in Baseball Prospectus 2000, to give us some idea:

       AB    H  2B  3B  HR   BB SO  SB CS   AVG  OBP  SLG   EqA  EqR
2001  437  127  27   3  12   64 37  14  6  .291 .381 .448  .290   71
2002  413  113  24   2  10   59 34  10  5  .273 .364 .414  .274   60
2003  384  102  17   1   7   51 27   8  5  .266 .357 .404  .267   53

Larkin's plate discipline should allow him to be a quality contributor at least through the first year or two of the deal, assuming he stays at shortstop. The above numbers are decidedly less impressive for a third baseman, with only the 2001 line really acceptable.

Will Larkin stay at shortstop? The Reds are excited about Gookie Dawkins, who hit for a high average at two levels in 1999. In 2000, however, he hasn't hit a lick; just .223/.308/.340 at Double-A Chattanooga and .220/.256/.268 during a two-week stint with the Reds. He's clearly not ready for the majors, and his struggles this season may have influenced Jim Bowden's decision to sign Larkin.

The other interesting factor here is the Reds' proximity to first place. In the two weeks since the All-Star break and the Denny Neagle trade, they've gone 7-4 while the Cardinals have gone 4-7. They are now just five games behind St. Louis and just four out of the wild-card spot. You have to wonder if Bowden is happy that the deal with the Mets fell through, under the circumstances.

Joe Sheehan can be reached at jsheehan@baseballprospectus.com.

Joe Sheehan is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
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