Well, I slept on it. I fired off my “I don’t like this!” post around midnight last night, immediately after I heard of the Andruw Jones signing. It’s been 12 hours or so, and I’ve had time to think about it. Guess what? I still don’t like it. But I think I’ve decided my dislike is far more related to the Juan Pierre situation than the Andruw Jones situation. So basically, this year’s free agent center fielder signing has me upset about last year’s free agent center fielder signing.
Last night, in my list of pros and cons, I had the following two cons:
CON: Oh yeah, and the guy we just signed for $18 million a year batted .222 last year with a .724 OPS. Yes, he gets a decent number of walks, but when all your walks only get your OBP up to .311, I am not impressed.
CON: Jones is listed at 6’1″, 170 pounds. If Jones weighs 170 pounds, I’ll eat my hat, unless he beats me to it and eats it first. He is at least 220, and he will not be an elite center fielder for much longer (if he still is).
I am willing to semi-retract some of this. Obviously, Jones had an off-year in 2007, but rumor has it that he was hurt. If he can put up his usual .260-.265 average with an OPS in the .850-.900 range, he will definitely be an offensive help that the Dodgers sorely need. The Dodgers haven’t had a bona fide 35 HR, 115 RBI guy in a while (especially if you don’t count Adrian Beltre’s fluke season).
And as for the defense, the guy has won 10 straight Gold Gloves, and even with the terrible track record of GG voters, I am willing to bet that he deserved at least seven or eight of them. So replacing Juan Pierre (who has NO value on the offensive OR defensive side) with Andruw Jones (who has proven value on both sides) is definitely a good thing.
But therein lies the rub, TimTim. I don’t think he’s replacing Juan Pierre. He’s moving him to left field, where his offensive woes will stick out even more. In center, he’s a sore thumb; in left, he’s a hand in a freaking wood chipper. If Juan Pierre is in the Dodgers’ starting lineup on opening day, it is for one reason only: they still owe him $36 million, and teams don’t bench players who make that much money.
Here is what Rob Neyer had to say about it this morning:
With Jones aboard, every inquisitive Dodger fan wants to know what happens to erstwhile center fielder Juan Pierre, who’s still owed $36.5 million over the next four years. The early speculation is that he gets pushed into left field, but that’s only because it’s hard to imagine the Dodgers benching somebody they still owe $36.5 million. I’m not sure how general manager Ned Colletti explains this to his boss, but Pierre simply must be benched or traded (and if traded, the Dodgers will have to eat an unhealthy chunk of that kooky contract).
It really is that simple. When you have Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier as alternatives, playing Juan Pierre hurts you in every way. Ethier doesn’t have nearly the upside of Kemp, but both are — right now, today — better than Pierre, and they are 23 (Kemp) and 25 (Ethier), both significantly younger than Pierre. Oh, and did I mention that they both cost the Dodgers roughly a nickel a year?
On the one hand, this could just be an acknowledgement that the Juan Pierre contract was one of the worst of our time, so the Dodgers are treating it as a sunk deal, which they should do. (This would make them the second team to do this with a bad center fielder signing from last winter, on the heels of the Angels signing Torii Hunter two weeks ago after getting Gary Matthews Jr. the year before.)
On the other hand, this could mean the Dodgers intend to deal either Matt Kemp or Andre Ethier in a deal for one of the top starting pitchers on the market, such as Erik Bedard. Trading either of those guys would hurt the Dodgers’ offense — any scheme that puts Pierre in an everyday role hurts their offense almost as much as it hurts my eyes — but trading Kemp for anything less than a Bedard or a Johan Santana will come back to haunt the Dodgers for years.
Or, should they keep Kemp but send him to Triple-A or relegate him to part-time duty, they’ll retard his development, since Kemp is still raw as a baseball player and needs reps at the big-league level to continue to work in areas like pitch recognition and reading flyballs off the bat. They could make out better if they trade Ethier, who is just a fringe-average corner outfielder and unlikely to produce at a higher level than this, but that still hurts their club by giving Pierre 600 at-bats that should go to someone who can hit.
Neyer had a bit to say about the financial aspects of the Jones signing, too, but I don’t care much about that. Do I think $18 million a year is at least 40 percent more than Jones deserves? Absolutely. But hey, it’s not my money, and it’s not like a) the Dodgers are going to run out of money or b) they are going to lower ticket prices if their payroll is lower. The money is a non-issue for me as a Dodger fan.
So really what this boils down to is this: if the Dodgers’ outfield on opening day is Kemp, Jones, and Ethier, I love this signing. If it’s Kemp, Jones, and Pierre, I am not happy, but it’s still probably an improvement (essentially trading Ethier for Jones). If it’s Ethier, Jones, and Pierre, that means Matt Kemp has probably been traded, and I will have lost faith that Ned Coletti knows how to run a baseball team.
Ned, if you’re reading this: bite the bullet on Pierre. Trade him for whatever you can get. Eat the contract. I don’t care. Just don’t play him in 2008!