Dodgers Sign Aaron Miles, For Some Reason

Now this is happening:

The Dodgers signed journeyman infielder Aaron Miles to a Minor League contract Monday with an invitation to Major League camp.

The eight-year veteran batted .281 in 79 games with St. Louis in 2010. He finished fourth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 2004 with Colorado and was a member of the 2006 World Series champion Cardinals.

With Jamey Carroll the primary backup middle infielder, Miles will compete for a spot with Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Juan Castro, the latter also on a Minor League contract.

I am constantly trying to reassure people that minor league contracts are never as big of a deal as they seem, and the inherent lack of risk makes them almost a no-lose proposition.

In this case, I’m not so sure, because Miles is atrociously bad. No, really; among players who have had as many plate appearances as Miles had since he debuted in 2003, only three players in baseball have been less valuable. It’s a special kind of “not valuable”, though. If you’re simply awful, you don’t get to stick around for that long. Miles has really hit the sweet spot of being bad enough to hurt his teams for years, yet not so bad that he gets outright drummed out of the game. It must be his A+ levels of “grit” and “scrap”.

Rk Player WAR/pos PA G AB H 2B HR RBI BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Geoff Blum -1.0 2839 902 2592 635 131 59 303 .245 .298 .369 .667
2 Mark Teahen -0.7 2994 753 2713 727 159 63 318 .268 .330 .415 .746
3 Juan Encarnacion -0.3 2653 663 2431 656 136 79 358 .270 .320 .437 .757
4 Aaron Miles 0.6 2574 796 2373 668 93 16 184 .282 .321 .354 .675
5 Shea Hillenbrand 0.7 2647 648 2468 705 139 78 358 .286 .324 .444 .768
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 2/7/2011.

But what’s really important here is the last sentence of the dodgers.com story above. Miles is likely competing with Juan Castro and Ivan DeJesus for a second backup infield slot behind Jamey Carroll. Since I don’t believe that DeJesus would get stashed on the big league bench over playing every day in AAA, that means you’re rooting for either the 4th worst player of the last seven years in Miles, or the 4th worst batter in major league history in Castro.

What that means is that you need to root for Xavier Paul like you’ve never rooted before. The top five outfielders are basically set, with Matt Kemp, Andre Ethier, Jay Gibbons, Marcus Thames, and Tony Gwynn. Thames and Gibbons can each spot at first base, if needed, so the question becomes whether the Dodgers are willing to live with only Carroll as the backup at second, short, and third. It’s not an ideal situation, I’ll grant, and could prove troublesome when Don Mattingly wants to get Casey Blake out against tough righties or double switch. But the versatility of Juan Uribe and Carroll, who can each play all three positions, helps immensely, and if an injury hits it’s generally not that hard to call someone up from AAA very quickly, if needed.

It basically comes down to this question: do you want to live with the 10% chance that you’re short of infielders for a few innings late in a game? Or the 100% chance that Castro or Miles would be a total waste of a roster spot while Paul has (likely) been shipped off?

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Totally unrelated, but be sure to read Jon Weisman’s interview with GM Ned Colletti. Well worth the time.

In Which I’m Obligated To Talk About Michael Young

The “Michael Young is unhappy in Texas” story has been going on for quite some time, both in recent years when he asked for a trade after being moved from shortstop to third base, and again now that the Rangers have signed Adrian Beltre and pushed Young to designated hitter. This saga would generally have little interest to me, except that every time the story comes up, the Dodgers are mentioned as a possible trade partner, though the Rockies are generally seen as the favorites.

T.R. Sullivan’s MLB.com article from Sunday brings the Dodgers up again:

The Athletics, Angels and Blue Jays have all been mentioned as possibilities. The Dodgers are interested, but are prevented by their unstable ownership situation. Most reliable sources say teams are interested and the Rangers are willing to talk, but nothing is imminent at this point with the Rockies or any other team.

Young is owed $48m over the next three seasons, and so I think Sullivan is completely accurate: there’s almost no way the Dodgers can shoehorn that into their payroll as we currently understand it, which is already at somewhere around $110m for 2011. So let’s be clear that we’re talking about a hypothetical situation which is almost certainly not going to happen. But the issue here isn’t whether it’d really happen or not; the issue is that (according to Sullivan, anyway), the Dodgers appear to have interest, enough so that Steve Dilbeck is addressing it in his LA Times blog. Is this a situation where the McCourt divorce debacle might save the Dodgers from the chance of making a big mistake?

I’ve seen fans, both here and elsewhere, who would love for this to happen, because they think he’s an upgrade over Casey Blake, which could then push Blake into being the bench bat he probably ought to be. Yeah! Wait, no, and I don’t even like Casey Blake. This is a great example of why raw numbers are not always what they seem. First off, let’s just acknowledge that there are plenty of people out there who see that Young had 91 RBI (Blake had 67) and four more homers (in 147 more PA) and think that makes him some sort of “run producer”. It doesn’t.

No, despite outproducing Blake in OPS last year (.774 to .727), both bWAR and fWAR (which don’t always align) agree that Blake was the more valuable player than Young in 2010. bWAR has it 3.1 to 2.7, while fWAR calls it a 2.8 to 2.7 decision. I’m not going to pretend that WAR is exact enough that 0.1 is much of an edge, but note again that WAR is a counting stat, not a rate stat, and therefore the 147 more PA allowed Young more time to compile that total.

Young lags behind Blake for two primary reasons. First, despite his perception as a plus defender (he won the AL Gold Glove as a shortstop in 2008), Young’s reputation far outshines the metrics. Fangraphs has him as a negative fielder in 8 of his 10 full seasons, while Blake has been solidly above average in each of his years with the Dodgers. If that doesn’t make Young a better third baseman than Blake, it’s hard to think that as he enters his mid 30s, Young could still transition back to the more difficult middle infield positions.

The other problem for Young is that he’s been helped in a large way by his home field in Texas. Over his career, the split is massive; .322/.372/.487 (.859) at home, but just .279/.322/.411 (.733) on the road. That’s 126 points of OPS lost on the road, and the split didn’t get any better in 2010: .307/.361/.509 (.871) at home, .260/.299/.380 (.679) everywhere else. That’s a nearly 200 point difference, and you’ll excuse me by not being excited by the prospect of having a guy who got on base at a .299 clip away from his home field last year being imported into Dodger Stadium.

You’ve heard me talk about how I think Blake is at the end of the line in the past, but I’m having a hard time seeing how Young would be any sort of upgrade – and that’s without even considering that Young is due $16m in each of the next three seasons, while 2011 is likely Blake’s last season in blue, or that the Rangers would want some sort of talent in return. It just doesn’t make sense.

For the record, this isn’t the first time this has come up. In the offseason of 2008-09, we started hearing similar rumors, after the Rangers wanted to move him to third base to accomodate Elvis Andrus. Young went on to have a career year in 2009, which was of course completely unsustainable and which he did not repeat in 2010. Here’s what I said at the time:

The Texas shortstop has requested a trade after the Rangers *gasp* asked him to move to third base. Hey, good luck with that, guy. You’re going to be 32, on a four-year slide in OPS+ (131, 108, 107, and 96), immensely helped by your home park, and about to start a ridiculous $60 million contract extension. Not only that, you’re an overrated defensive shortstop (Gold Glove be damned, FanGraphs actually has him at a negative rating) and your reputation is taking a hit because of your balking at this request to help your team. I particularly like this quote from an unnamed GM in today’s Buster Olney blog:  

“Put it this way,” one GM said. “If the Rangers offered up Michael Young for free — with that contract, I don’t think there would be any takers.”

What does this have to do with the Dodgers? Because, of course, they keep popping up on the list of Young’s possible suitors after he said he’d move to second base in order to faciliate a trade. You know what? Forget the home park helping his stats, and forget the immense contract. Just look at the lines:

22 year old, “overmatched” rookie Blake DeWitt: .264/.344/.383
31 year old, All-Star super veteran Michael Young: .284/.339/.402

Look at that. DeWitt actually had a better OBP and a competitive SLG, and that’s including the two solid months he was completely awful that led to his demotion. If Michael Young could only just barely outperform DeWitt while playing in Texas, why would we want to have him at another year older and not playing in that bandbox? Not to mention, the extra $60 million. So, no thanks. Enjoy Texas, Michael.

I’m not, of course, suggesting that DeWitt is a better ballplayer than Young (though when you include the salary difference…) I’m just saying that while Young has been a solid player for a long time, he’s also been a very overrated one. Inflating the payroll and giving up talent for a player who doesn’t obviously make the ballclub better makes no sense, and in this case I’m happy to see that the financial constrictions are helping to prevent this hypothetical from moving forward any further.