Tagged: Centerfielders

The Pierre Predicament

GM Ned Colletti has really made some strange moves during his short tenure with the Dodgers (i.e. the Julio Lugo trade, signing Luis Gonzalez, extending Nomar’s contract, etc..) but none have been as puzzling as the long-term, big-money, contract he gave to slap-hitting, weak-throwing, centerfielder, Juan Pierre last offseason. Pierre is a player that has made a career off of warped perception and likability. He’s been a fan favorite ever since his World Series days with the Marlins and has always been thought of as one of the better leadoff hitters/speedsters in the league by the average fan. Dodger fans who may have thought this got a rude awakening last season and found out the hard way what kind of player Mr. Pierre really is. I’m sure he’s a nice person (I previously noted his likability) but he is not a leadoff hitter and he is not a centerfielder…I’m not even sure if he’s an outfielder at all. To the untrained eye he appears to be a perfectly capable leadoff hitter; he is fast, steals bases and gets nearly 200 hits per year. So what’s not to like about that? If you take a closer look, you will see that his OBP% (on base percentage) is no better than an average #7 or #8 hitter. Last season with the Dodgers Pierre had a miserable .331 OBP%. How could that be? You just said he averages nearly 200 hits per year! The reason why his OBP% is so laughable is because he rarely takes a walk; about 1 walk per every 20.25 at-bats to be exact. He took a meager 33 walks last year in 668 at-bats. Are you kidding me!? He strikes out more often than he walks…and he doesn’t strikeout often, only 37 Ks last season. The problem is that he accounted for 467 outs last season, 319 ground-outs and 148 fly-outs and grounded into 10 double plays (which would’ve been more if he batted lower in the order). No matter which way you look at it, that is not a very productive player, especially for what he’s getting paid. And that’s not even factoring in his fielding ability and arm.
Juan Pierre’s arm may be the weakest in Major League Baseball. Anybody that has ever seen him make a throw from CF knows what I’m talking about. He can barely hit the cutoff man from the middle of the OF. Every time an opposing team’s player hit it to CF last season, he knew that he could get an extra base or two off of Pierre’s arm alone. I don’t even know how many times I saw that weakness exploited last year. If a single was hit to Juan Pierre, you automatically assumed the runner would end up on 2B. That’s a pretty basic skill that baseball players are naturally expected to have so when you end up with a CF who can’t even throw the ball properly, it puts your team at an incredible disadvantage. His only saving grace is his speed. He does have range and can get to the ball…that is when he doesn’t make a wrong read or get a bad jump but with everything factored in, he should NOT be a major league centerfielder, no question about it.

The signing of Andruw Jones was Ned Colletti’s way of admitting that he made a mistake. Generally, teams don’t lock up 2 CF’s in two consecutive years (except for the Angels). Now there is word that the Dodgers are considering moving Pierre to a corner OF spot (preferably LF) which would instantly make him one of the worst corner OF in the game in the process. The idea seems absurd and is almost unimaginable. It sounds even more outlandish when you logically deduce that Andre Ethier will be riding the pine because of it. If that were to happen, there would be no question that it would be all about money. You just don’t bench a .284/.350/.452 hitter (Andre Ethier) for a .293/.331/.353 hitter (Juan Pierre), unless you are actively trying to lose games. Pierre’s contract is virtually unmovable so it will be next to impossible for the Dodgers to trade him without eating a significant portion of the money owed, meaning that the only real option is to make Pierre a 4th OF. He’ll be one expensive 4th OF, true, but the Dodgers have far better options and should play them if the idea is to win the game. It would defy logic if a future Hall of Fame manager like Joe Torre made a guy like Juan Pierre his everyday #8 hitter/leftfielder.

It should be mentioned that there were other suitors for Pierre’s services at the time Colletti locked him up, including the hated Giants, White Sox and Orioles but none of those teams were willing to offer him the kind of money that we did. There could be a possible match with one of those teams but if we are fortunate enough to trade him, we can expect one of two outcomes; he’ll be traded for next to nothing in a salary dump or we will have to cover most of the salary which would basically assign Pierre’s salary to whatever no-name prospect we’d be bringing in. We’d still be paying the money to Juan Pierre but would only have a low-level relief prospect to show for the $10 million per year salary that’s on the books.

Many saw the Pierre signing last year as a panic move by GM Ned Colletti; a sort of consolation prize after having struckout on all of the big name, free agent, power bats like Alfonso Soriano and Carlos Lee. It was seen as a move to appease the fan base when in actuality, it did just the opposite. Most fans that keep up with the game knew Pierre was a terrible fit for this team and shouldn’t have been signed. The move was widely criticized in the media and Pierre did nothing to justify his contract during the season. It would be a real tragedy if a player like Matt Kemp is traded to accommodate Pierre’s ridiculous contract. To trade a 5-tool, power hitting, 23 year old to make room for an albatross would not only be a mistake, it would be baseball blasphemy. If that’s the case, Juan Pierre will go down as one of the worst mistakes in Dodger history. Hopefully it won’t come to that.

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Is Andruw the Answer?

There’s been much talk all over Los Angeles and the baseball world about the Dodgers’ recent signing of former Braves superstar, Andruw Jones. Much has been made of the contract that he signed ($36.2 mil over 2 years) which makes him the 5th highest paid player in baseball (per year). Of course, the total number of years makes this a relatively small deal if you compare it to a guy like Alex Rodriguez, who will get paid nearly 10x as much money over 10 years. Even so, the deal has some people scratching their heads because of the terrible season Jones had last year. It was literally the worst of his career by far. He hit an abysmal .222 with a near career low 26 HRs (he hit 18 in his 1st full season in the league). Andruw has never been much of an OBP guy but has always been a run producer. Even with the low offensive output last year, Jones still managed to knock in 94 RBIs. Both power numbers (HRs and RBIs) actually would’ve made Jones the Dodgers’ most productive hitter last year, which demonstrates just how badly we needed him. Some say that he is beginning to decline, which of course, every player does but Jones is only 30 years old which isn’t very old at all for a position player. After all, it’s not like he’s a pitcher. The question is, was this the right move for the Dodgers? My answer is, yes, without a doubt. The Dodgers obviously had a glaring hole in the middle of their lineup last year and as I previously stated, Jones’ power numbers still would’ve been better than anything the Dodgers’ put up last year, even in the worst year of his career. He was the best power hitter available in a weak free agent market, it’s that simple.
In my opinion, Andruw still has several prime years left. Let us not forget that the year before last, Jones tore up the league when he hit .262 with 42 HRs and 129 RBIs. The year before that he hit .263 with 51 HRs and 128 RBIs. In any case that is an ELITE power hitter which is exactly what the Dodgers were in the market for. Face it, the free agent market was rather pitiful this offseason. The only position with options was CF; Torii Hunter was available, Aaron Rowand is still out there, a Japanese stud, Fukodome, entered the market, etc… So was Jones really the best option? My answer is STILL yes, without a doubt. Guys like Torii Hunter and Aaron Rowand have never been true power hitters and have been pretty average offensively throughout their careers. They are both coming of career years at the plate and if you look at their stats as a whole, it’s unlikely that they will be able to repeat those numbers anytime soon. The opposite is true for AJ. Last season was so unlike any season he’s had, that it’s hard to believe that he won’t be back to his old self this year. Last year’s numbers look like a blip on the screen when taken into context. The length of his contract should also be factored into the bigger picture. He’s only signed for two years so if he does happen to bomb, it won’t tie up the Dodgers payroll for years to come. If we had signed Torii Hunter at age 32 for five years, then we would’ve been paying a 37 year old CF $18 mil per year during the back end of the deal. That’s the kind of contract that can ruin a team.

However, there were some troubling signs last season. It seemed like every time I turned on SportsCenter over the summer they were showing highlights (or lowlights) of AJ whiffing 4 times in a game. He did that several times and if I remember correctly he even struck out 5 times in one game. That is worrisome to say the least. On the other hand, it wasn’t widely reported that Jones was dealing with a hyper-extended elbow throughout the entire season. It clearly affected his swing but he played thru it anyway since he was in a contract year. That’s a pretty easy explanation of what was causing the problems last year and if that’s the case, he should be good to go this season and back to his old self.

No matter which way you look at it, the Dodgers desperately needed a power hitter that could clear the bases with one swing of the bat. I very much believe in the youth movement, guys like Matt Kemp and James Loney could very well hit over 25 HRs this season but that is still a big MAYBE. If Andruw plays a full season, injury-free, it’s a virtual lock that he’ll hit well over 25 dingers and that’s what we need at this point…a sure thing. Signing Jones was a far better idea than say trading for a guy like Miguel Cabrera. The Dodgers are in a bit of a bind with their young players right now. They are no longer prospects and are now big league assets. We depend on them as parts of our everyday lineup. If we were to trade multiple young players for a big bat, we would’ve created more holes than we would’ve filled. You don’t have to give up anything to sign Jones, not even compensation draft picks because the Braves didn’t offer him arbitration. The move also frees up the Dodgers to trade a guy like Juan Pierre or Andre Ethier for pitching help or a 3B. It should also be noted that Jones is a Gold Glove-caliber CF and will be a major upgrade over Juan Pierre defensively. He can make all the catches but more importantly he can make all the throws. Opposing teams won’t be looking at extra base hits every time they hit it to center. He will save a lot of runs compared to a guy like Pierre which by itself would be worth taking a chance on, not to mention the massive offensive production. Adding Jones to the lineup is a major coup for the Dodgers and should quickly pay off. The Dodgers lineup may actually intimidate opposing pitchers this season:
1. Rafael Furcal – SS
2. Russell Martin – C
3. Matt Kemp – RF
4. Andruw Jones – CF
5. James Loney – 1B
6. Jeff Kent – 2B
7. Andy LaRoche – 3B
8. Juan Pierre – LF
Every single player in that lineup is capable of hitting at least 20 HRs each (except for the two bookends, Furcal and Pierre). If you add in the continuing development of players like Matt Kemp, James Loney, Russell Martin and Andy LaRoche, this could actually be one of the more potent lineups in the National League.

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Keeping Kemp is a No-Brainer

The Los Angeles Dodgers should not even entertain the mere idea of trading rising superstar Matt Kemp. Kemp’s name has seemingly been thrown into every single trade rumor that’s been bandied about this offseason. For a team that is so starved for power to even consider trading one of their only true power hitters is mind boggling. The signing of Andruw Jones adds power to the lineup but what good will it do if he has no protection? Kemp projects as a 30/30 guy next year, is 23 years old, has gold glove-caliber defense, steals bases, hits for a very high average (.342 last season), is an on-base machine, has a very affordable contract and is under the club’s control for a number of years. There’s a reason why his name is mentioned in every trade rumor…because other teams want to make him a cornerstone of their franchise. And why is it that the Dodgers have traded away all of their homegrown stars over the past 10-15 years? Paul Konerko, Mike Piazza, Pedro Martinez, Matt Kemp? Clayton Kershaw? It’s the wrong move to make.
The idea of trading Matt Kemp on it’s own is absurd but the idea of trading Kemp to make room for Juan Pierre is baseball blasphemy. It should not even be a topic of discussion. Ned Colletti is going to have to swallow his pride and admit that signing Juan Pierre was a complete waste of time. It was a move that was widely criticized at the time and for good reason. We had absolutely no need for him. Juan Pierre is a specialty player and only does certain things well. If your team is not in need of those things, he’s virtually worthless. It would’ve made sense had we needed a leadoff hitter but we already had Rafael Furcal. Pierre is nothing more than a grossly overpaid #8 hitter and it’s time to cut our losses. I’m sure Juan Pierre is a nice guy and I mean no disrespect to him personally…I actually feel like the right thing to do for all parties involved would be to send him elsewhere. There are plenty of teams out there that could use him. After all, there were other teams bidding on him at the time Colletti signed him. If we were to package Pierre along with a couple of prospects and cash, we could probably get a fairly decent return for him. However I contend that when trading prospects you only trade guys that you can afford to lose. You do not trade cornerstones of the future and everyday lineup. You trade guys that are log jammed at certain positions like Chin-Lung Hu, Ivan DeJesus, Tony Abreu, Blake DeWitt, Delwyn Young, etc… I’m sure that a small market team in need of **** would love to make a deal for Hu and take on a popular and well known player like Pierre if the price was right. The point is, Pierre is the OF who should be traded, not Matt Kemp. If all else fails I would even consider releasing Pierre before I’d ever think of trading Kemp. Keeping Kemp and Ethier would actually give us a fairly formidable lineup from top to bottom:
1. Rafael Furcal SS
2. Russell Martin C
3. Matt Kemp RF
4. Andruw Jones CF
5. Jeff Kent 2B
6. James Loney 1B
7. Andre Ethier LF
8. Andy LaRoche 3B

Matt Kemp is the type of player you build around, not trade away and will be a cornerstone of whichever franchise he’s on for years to come.

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