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November 20, 2012

Out of Left Field

Fish Out Of Contention

by Matthew Kory

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Last season the Phillies found themselves choosing between Juan Pierre and Scott Podsednik for the last spot on the bench. For this I made fun of them. Picking between two old guys whose careers were pretty much over is like choosing between getting kicked in the junk or punched in the neck. Neither is desirable and in fact you’re better off without both. The Phillies, in their infinite wisdom, chose Pierre, and exiled Podsednik to Elba the Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs Elba.

The funny part was that Podsednik did nothing in Triple-A and was essentially given to the Red Sox, where he suddenly remembered (learned?) how to hit. Pierre had been slated for the back of the Phillies bench, but due to injures, he ended up with over 400 plate appearances wherein he somehow managed the respectable batting line of .307/.351/.371. So much for making fun of them.

Pierre was so good last season that he has already signed a free-agent deal. Now Juan Pierre is no back-of-the-bench player. Heck no! For the unprincely sum of $1.6 million Juan Pierre is now a major part of the new-look Marlins. The Marlins were so proud of the signing they sent out an official Tweet proclaiming it “OFFICIAL” that they had just signed Pierre. No response yet from Giancarlo Stanton on the signing, official or otherwise.

Pierre’s deal is fourth most expensive on the team, so at least in context you can see why they went all caps on that announcement. Pierre jumped just ahead of Greg Dobbs’ two-year, $3 million deal, something that is sure to engender some dissent in the clubhouse. Here are the top four Marlins players by salary in 2013:

1. Ricky Nolasco ($11.5 million)

2. Yunel Escobar ($5 million)

3. Adeiny Hechavarria ($1.75 million)

4. Juan Pierre ($1.6 million)

More Pierre contract news: Should he win the National League MVP or World Series MVP award, Pierre will be in line for a $100,000 bonus. If he wins both, well just go ahead and double it, buster! And, per the terms of his contract, if he wins the MVP, the World Series MVP, the LCS MVP, the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger, and is selected to the All-Star game*, he’ll barely make more than Hechavarria. Now that’s a bargain! Hard to see what everyone is complaining about.

* I love the idea that Pierre could win the MVP, the World Series MVP, the LCS MVP, the Gold Glove, the Silver Slugger, and not get selected to the All-Star game.

In truth, Miami might as well have made all of them $100 billion bonuses, though now that I write that I remember that someone is going to have to make the All-Star team for the Marlins. Maybe Miami taxpayers will pay for the bonus. 

Of course nobody would care about the Juan Pierre signing if it hadn’t come on the heals of the Marlins' historic salary dump wherein they sent Jose Reyes, Mark Buehrle, and Josh Johnson to Toronto for the previously mentioned Escobar and Hechavarria, several prospects, and Jeff Mathis, whose contract doesn’t quite crack the top four. Analysts have lined up on different sides to criticize the deal, though there seem to be two general aspects that most agree on.

1. It’s probably a fine baseball trade.

2. It totally stinks.

Last offseason the Marlins brought in three prominent if not necessarily top-of-the-line free agents in Reyes, Buehrle, and Heath Bell. Combined, they purchased 13 player-seasons from those players and received three. Those players represented a new, competitive Marlins organization, one that would supplement home-grown talent with top players from other organizations. The days of $40 million Marlins payrolls were over! Then the trade happened and now it’s difficult to see it as anything other than a massive betrayal of not only those players (who were apparently verbally promised they wouldn’t be dealt), but of Marlins fans and local taxpayers who (foolishly) paid for the majority of Marlins Park. For years the Marlins complained they couldn’t compete unless they got a new ballpark. Now they have one and, if they can compete, they don’t want to.

The irony is, dealing those players may yet prove to be a smart baseball decision. There are cases to be made that the Buehrle and Bell signings were ill conceived and that paying Reyes $22 million a season in perpetuity (really through 2017) didn’t make much sense if the rest of the team wasn’t going to be competitive. Getting those players off the books now while they have value and using them to bring in good young talent might not be the worst idea in the world. But the optics on the thing are awful.

After the Red Sox made a similar trade in late August wherein they dealt Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez, in year two and year one of seven year pacts, respectively, the expectation was that Boston now had spending power which they would use to sign free agents and extend young players. With the Marlins there is no such expectation. The trade clears payroll for, well, because owner Jeffrey Loria would rather not pay expensive salaries.

And so this brings us back to Juan Pierre and his much ballyhooed $1.6 million deal. Perhaps my favorite part of this deal, one so universally panned, was the headline on the Marlins website immediately after the deal was first reported.

“Marlins working on deal to revamp roster.” Yes, indeed. They might also have gone with “Marlins working on deal to HA HA F you!” or “Marlins working on deal because losing is just fine with them*.”

* How bad was the deal? I didn’t even need to mention the necessity of gold-plating the Kleenex boxes on the second yacht to make fun of it.

While they’re insulting their fans, here are some other players the Marlins might consider signing:

Jason Giambi: Sure they don’t have a DH in the National League and Giambi was in the process of petitioning the league to use a Segway to get from home to first, but hey, that didn’t stop the Rockies.

Yuniesky Betancourt: I mean, if you’re going to insult your fanbase, insult your fanbase, right?

Joe Inglett: In a six-year career he never played for the Marlins and that is unbelievable and shouldn’t be allowed to stand.

Bobby Crosby: He used to be good at one point, right? And you wouldn’t have to worry about him reaching any incentives!

Livan Hernandez: Come on! How can you not sign him?

Bobby Jenks: Although that would require bringing back Ozzie Guillen.

Brad Lidge: No way he’s as bad as Heath Bell.

So, the Marlins signed Juan Pierre. Miami fans now have something to look forward to next summer. Those two sentences have nothing to do with each other.

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

Related Content:  Jose Reyes,  Mark Buehrle,  Juan Pierre,  Josh Johnson

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