There was an interesting conversation that took place between Pat Tabler and Buck Martinez (no, really!) in the top of the seventh inning of Sunday’s Jays loss at Fenway Park. It happened when Mark DeRosa was at the plate, and if you’ve read the title of this post, you probably have a pretty good idea of what it was about.
Buck Martinez: Think DeRosa comes back?
Pat Tabler: Yes.
Buck: You didn’t hesitate. [Laughs]
Pat: [Laughs] I’ve talked to him. They have an option, and he said he thinks that they will exercise it. He’s played a long time, and he’s getting to that spot in his career when he wants to go out a winner, and wants to finish on a strong note. He thinks he’ll be playing next year.
The option on DeRosa’s contract is for $750K (with a $25K buyout), so the money is clearly not the issue as to whether he sticks around. Nor, in a vacuum, is his performance. DeRosa has been better than advertised, which… actually that’s not terribly impressive, seeing as he basically came advertised as some kind of spirit animal/glorified babysitter.
But he’s been decent! He’s versatile– spending time at first, second, third, and even playing an inning in the outfield (which he may again do this week!)– he takes walks, he posted the fourth-highest ISO of his career– his highest since 2009, as he finally regained some power that left him when he injured his wrist for the first time that year (though a move to the Rogers Centre probably didn’t hurt either). Overall, he posted a .353 wOBA and 121 wRC+ in 126 plate appearances against left-handed pitching.
It’s an impressive sample, albeit a small one, but the case against bringing DeRosa back begins right about there– and it’s mostly an issue of roster construction, because unless you want him to be Adam Lind’s platoon caddy against lefties, the number of available spots for him start getting slim.
Obviously the Jays only have 25 places on the roster to play with, and they fill up pretty fast: there are the starting eight position players, the DH makes nine, and five starting pitchers brings the total to fourteen. They’ll also need a backup catcher, a utility infielder who can play shortstop, and a fourth outfielder who can play centre field. That’s seventeen so far, plus they’ll need at least six pitchers for the bullpen. However, seeing as the Jays have frequently– too frequently– carried an eight-man bullpen over the past couple of seasons, it seems more likely they’ll go with seven. Because, y’know, a six man bullpen would, of course, be fucking madness.
That brings the total number on our theoretical roster to twenty-four. So one spot left for DeRosa?
Not necessarily. If he’s the lefty-mashing caddy that Lind so desperately needs, sure. But is he? Because otherwise, in order to keep him, the Jays would need to have their DH platoon mate cover one of the other bench jobs listed– and it’s not likely going to be the shortstop-playing infielder (likely Maicer Izturis, if they can’t find a taker, or otherwise Munenori Kawasaki or Ryan Goins), nor whoever they bring in (or demote *COUGH*) to be the second-string catcher.
In 2013 the Jays had a place for DeRosa and a potential Lind caddy in Rajai Davis, but it’s not likely that scenario will repeat itself, with Davis being a free agent, and looking for more than a platoon gig, and more dollars than a team with options like Pillar, Gose, and Sierra will probably be considering.
If Rajai wants to return, though, I’d have a tough time saying no– a threat on the base paths and a .379 wOBA against lefties sounds quite perfect for a fourth outfielder and platoon DH on a team with a guy like Lind to take the DH at-bats against right-handers. And then DeRosa’s there too, in case someone like Colby Rasmus– or, dare I suggest, Anthony Gose– needs a spell against a tough left-hander. As much as a whole lot went wrong with the 2013 Jays, this setup kinda worked. Or, at least, it did in theory, when everybody was healthy– and once ol’ Gibbers realized that Lind should never see another fucking left-handed pitcher in his life.
Otherwise, what are we looking at here? Pillar is a right-handed bat who can play centre in a pinch, so maybe he’s the guy you look to, despite a somewhat dreadful start to his big league career, after a rapid ascent through the minors. Thing is, that sure would cut down on his number of badly-needed reps at this level, and may end up being too detrimental for him. Same story, to a lesser degree I think, with Sierra, who has certainly has looked like he could be an asset during his September cameo here, but his numbers from Buffalo this year– .261/.309/.422– suggest otherwise, and asking him to play centre would be grounds for instant termination.
So… I don’t know… is DeRosa really so unpalatable as half of a DH if Davis– or someone like him– isn’t around? Maybe not… maybe not…
Consider that even in his three season in the power-sapped injury wilderness– 2010, 2011, and 2012– he managed to put up a .323 wOBA against lefties, taking walks at a 14.4% rate, over a sample of 121 plate appearances. No, it’s not great– more like league average-ish– but that sure is more than Adam Lind will give you in that split. Plus, DeRosa is versatile. Plus, y’know, something something spirit animal/babysitter. Plus, if you expand the sample a bit, and really believe that DeRosa’s new-found wrist health makes a genuine difference, there’s reason to be optimistic, even as he enters his age-39 season. Besides, he’s a young 39! He’s averaged fewer than 100 games over the 12 season since he last spent any significant time in the minors, and just a shade over 50 games over the last four.
Then think about this: even with the time when he was injured– where his ISO dipped to just .087– DeRosa’s vs. LHP split, when you add in this year’s plate appearances, jumps up to a wOBA of .339. And if you really think he might still have in him some of what he was back in 2009, when the injuries to his wrist began to take their toll, add in that data and you’ll see a hitter with a .357 wOBA over his last 409 plate appearances against lefties.
Even through the worst of it– like when he re-injured the wrist in May, 2011, and told the San Jose Mercury News, “I’m not willing to concede to the fact that I can’t come back, but look, I’m also cognizant to the fact that I’ve done significant damage to this thing repeatedly over the past two years”– he’s managed to be a reasonably productive hitter against left-handed pitching. Add in the positional versatility, and therefore the injury cover he can provide, the low cost, and the fact that he wants to be back, appears to be well-liked, and, most importantly, is healthy, and… yeah. Sure!
Maybe I’m delirious from the grind, or all the losing or something– I was pushing reasonably hard for Todd Redmond on the podcast earlier, too– but I really do think DeRosa could be the platoon mate for Lind that the Jays need. If you’re going to carry a guy to only hit lefties, it’s at least nice that isn’t utterly positionless on the diamond. And if this year proves to be a blip and he declines, what’s $750,000 to a big league baseball team? And really, if you’re talking worst case scenarios, how bad is having to cut your right-handed platoon DH, either? In a vacuum where I have no idea what other potentialities may come up, sure, I’d take the chance.