Wilkerson?? Really??

Title: Wilkerson?? Really??
Date: May 9, 2008
Original Source: The On Deck Circle
Synopsis: The Jays signed Brad Wilkerson and traded for Kevin Mench to replace the void filled by Frank Thomas and then Adam Lind. The only really interesting point looking back is that to perform these transactions, the Jays DFA`d Sergio Santos (shortstop at the time), whom they acquired via trade (as a pitcher) recently.

I’m bypassing any real writing today because the Jays are allegedly on the verge of signing Brad Wilkerson. I’m having trouble getting my head around this. Not as much trouble as I had understanding stranding a lead-off triple in the 10th inning, but it’s a tough one anyways. Luckily, only The Globe is reporting it right now, and no major sites have confirmed it. But still, if this rumor is even remotely true, I’m a little stunned.

First, let’s look at the timeline:

Jays suck, cut Thomas.
Jays suck, call up Lind.
Jays give up on Lind after 20 at bats, go with Stewart.
Jays win 5 of 7, decide they need a “right handed power bat.” Khandor has mild stroke.
Jays alter need to “a bat who hits lefties.”
Jays allegedly sign Brad Wilkerson.

Does that not seem like a ludicrous course of events?
 More after the jump!
Ignore for a minute that searching for a lefty-mashing bat just weeks after cutting Thomas (who is now hitting the ball remotely well) makes no sense from a baseball perspective. Even if you imagine the Jays never had Thomas, this sequence of events makes little sense.

You can also ignore the effect all of this has on Lind, not because it’s unimportant but because I’m too blind with rage to even discuss this 20 at bat abortion. 20 at bats? For your future DH/LF, who you called up fresh off an injury? Who hasn’t even had a chance to work with new hitting coach Gary Denbo yet? (Wait, that last one may be a good thing.) (I kid.) And you replace him with another lefty?

So let’s just look at the need for a “bat that hits lefties well.” Fair enough. The Jays are hitting .221 against lefties as a team, and it’s only two left handed bats, Stairs and Overbay, are hitting .100 and .241, respectively. It makes sense to want to platoon Stairs and rest him against lefties. After all, that’s why Stewart was acquired. So…I don’t have a problem with the team searching for somebody to hit in the low-middle of the lineup to try and help the team out against left-handed hurlers (especially since we’ll see 3 in 4 days against Cleveland starting tonight).

The options, allegedly, were Jason Botts and Brad Wilkerson. Why these two? Because the Jays were reluctant to make a trade or add much more salary and both of these players had just been waived by their respective teams (Texas and Seattle). That means the Jays can get them on the cheap, ala Frank Thomas and the Oakland Athletics.

As much as I make fun of Botts, I wouldn’t have minded him. At least he has power and would be great joke fodder. He’s also just 27 and has some upside. True, he has struck out 108 times in his 282 career at bats, but he also has 20 extra base hits. He has also destroyed the ball in the minors over the past few years. Yeah, Botts probably sucks just as much as I usually claim, but at least there’s upside. He also, umm, hits lefties. He’s a switch hitter but hits .273 for his career against left handers, though the sample size (66 at bats) is admittedly small. So Botts was a bad choice, but you could sign worse.

You could sign Brad Wilkerson.

The last time Wilkerson was good was…uhh, I think I was still in my “only hockey” stage then. Apparently Ricciardi has liked Wilkerson for years, which worries me a great deal. Wilkerson has a .249 career batting average, has never hit better than .268, and has only once hit more than 20 home runs (though he’s averaged 19 for the last six years). His OBP is better, with a .354 clip, and his OPS+ shows that he is slightly above average (by 7 percent).

The real problem is that he hasn’t hit .250 in three years and just got cut by a mediocre Mariners team. He hit .234 last season, had just a .319 OBP, and struck out in nearly one third of his at bats. He did hit 20 bombs in under 400 at bats, but that was also in hitter-friendly Texas. This year, things had been largely the same, hitting .232 without a home run so far.

But what about the “lefty hitting” requirement? Ignore that Wilkerson is a lefty, because he’s actually a little better against them than against right handers, for whatever reason. For his career, Wilkerson has hit .265 against LH and .242 against RH. He also hits home runs at an almost identical rate against all pitcher types and has a .363 OBP against lefties.

Fair enough. Given that last paragraph, Wilkerson looks like an adequate though unspectacular pick up. Since Wilkerson is also a mid-level fielder, you can expect him to play LF with Stewart DH-ing when he subs in for Stairs. Writing this, I’m getting a little more excited about this possibility.

Wait, excited about .265 against lefties? Has the season gotten that bad?

No, it hasn’t. Wilkerson will be fine as a 4th outfielder, and he’s only playing against left handers, most likely. I’m fine with a very inexpensive upgrade from an “I strike out against every lefty” player to an “I might hit well and hit a few jacks, but have no downside” player. Still, this is nothing to get excited about.

Oh…and even the extra 50 batting average points Wilkerson may give the team against left handed pitchers is not worth the damage done to Adam Lind by pulling the plug on him this quickly and not letting him face major league left handers.

Seriously. Wilkerson is a fine addition and makes good baseball sense for the price. I’m just really frustrated with Lind’s treatment. It makes no sense. None. Zero. Weasel’s bedpost notches. Nil.

I’ll update this story in the comments when/if it becomes official, but I’d love to hear some other takes on it since mine seems wishy-washy at its most decisive.

Update!!! (from my comments)
Breaking News!

The Jays signing of Wilkerson is official. They also picked up Kevin Mench from the Rangers for cash. To make room, Inglett was optioned down (and they had one free spot). Chacin and Sergio Santos, two guys who were thought to be big prospects a few years ago, were designated for assignment and could potentially be lost in the next few days, though it seems somewhat unlikely.

I’m assuming they’re getting Wilkerson for a prorated portion of the minimum. Mench is due an undisclosed amount…he last made 2.75-3.25M in the past two years but isn’t on record anywhere for 2008, not that I can find. I’d guess, then, they’re giving him a prorated amount of the veteran minimum too.

Okay, so my take on Wilkerson is pretty clear above, I think – it’s a fair move, but screwing over Lind makes no sense.

As for Mench, well, he’s a bit better of a fit given the needs of the team. Despite just a .271 career average, he’s averaged about 20 HR per 500 at bats for his career. In fact, his career numbers and season-by-season totals are very similar to Wilkerson’s (though Mench has slightly less power and is a few months younger, the AVG/OBP/SLG splits are close). Advantage Wilkerson overall, but advantage Mench for recent performance (a better 2006 and 2007).

The key difference is that Mench is a right handed bat. He has a .301 career average against lefties and hits home runs at a much faster pace against them (more than 1 every 20 plate appearances). His OBP against lefties is still comparable to Wilkerson, but he offers some extra pop in those situations.

So why both? Probably because neither has been spectacular over the past year or two, so this will spurn a bit of competition. The team now has two lefties (Stairs and Wilkerson) and two righties (Stewart and Mench) platooning at the DH and LF positions, giving Gibbons a lot of options and hopefully breeding some competition that will lead to at least one player emerging as a solid performer. I’m not sure how they’ll all be juggled and how they’ll all get playing time, and I’m not a proponent of severely limited playing time for guys, so I’m not a huge fan of grabbing both.

Kind of feels like the spring training situation, though, no? I think in a few weeks Wilkerson will be on his way out (with Velandia) as McDonald and Eckstein return. Still, not a bad two-week plug in.

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