Bill Hall Signs With Houston; Now What?

Yesterday, we heard from Tony Jackson that the Dodgers and Bill Hall each had a “strong preference” for each other. (This inspired me to make the joke on Twitter, “Maaaake out already.”)

Well, Ken Rosenthal tells us now that Hall has found another date to the prom:

Source: #Astros agree with Bill Hall. Will be regular 2B. 1 yr, $3M range with mut opt. Pending physical.

A few days ago, I looked at Hall and wasn’t thoroughly impressed, though I do like him far more as a team’s second baseman than their left fielder. But I also concluded by saying that he was the best of a bad lot, so I’d have been okay with it – and now he’s gone.

That leaves us with… well, it’s not good. Jackson claims that Scott Podsednik is still in the running, which is an idea that is just so incomprehensible with the way this roster is constructed that I won’t even discuss it until it happens. Colletti’s claimed for weeks that he’d be comfortable allowing Jay Gibbons, Xavier Paul, Tony Gwynn, and even Trayvon Robinson to fight it out for left field time, but since they’re all lefty and since none of them – along with Andre Ethier – can hit lefty pitching, not having a righty (if not two) off the bench to substitute seems like a poor choice.

Meanwhile, the Athletics just picked up Josh Willingham (OPS+ of 127 and 129 the last two years) for two prospects who ESPN’s Keith Law described as “a minimum-salary relief arm in Rodriguez plus a fringe prospect in Brown” – i.e., not a great haul. Sure, Willingham’s going to make about $5m in arbitration in 2011. He also had a .909 OPS against left-handed pitching last year. He’d have looked nice in the middle of the lineup, no? You don’t think this team would have been better off not signing Matt Guerrier to a multi-year deal – a move that just about everyone hates, by the way – and instead sending a fringe outfielder and lottery ticket reliever to the Nats, and using Guerrier’s money to pay Willingham? Would Paul and Travis Schlichting have been enough? Because I’d have done that deal ten times out of ten.

But it’s too late for Willingham, I suppose, and now we’re left with only the prayer that Scott Podsednik won’t be walking through that door. I’d like to think that there’s still hope for Lastings Milledge or Marcus Thames on low-guarantee deals, but I think we all know how likely that is. Or you can hang on to the pipe dream that Ivan DeJesus forces Juan Uribe to 3B and Casey Blake to LF, though I can’t really see that happening either.

Really, it’s a sad day when a Bill HallBill Hall!- goes elsewhere, and all you can think is, “oh, crap.”

So How Do You Feel About Bill Hall?

Ken Rosenthal reports that Bill Hall may be getting closer to coming to town.

The Dodgers are in discussions with free agent Bill Hall, who would be their primary left fielder. Hall, who hit 18 home runs in 344 at-bats for the Red Sox last season, likely would be the Dodgers’ last significant addition; the team is nearing its budgetary limit.

Now, I posted on Twitter earlier today that I was surprised to see Hall’s reverse split in 2010 – a putrid .199/.276/.404 against lefties – and that it made me less interested in him, since the main priority right now is an outfielder who can hit lefthanded pitching. I was kind of surprised at the reaction I got, with several people rightly pointing out that Hall’s 2010 splits were an aberration and that over his career, he’s been better against southpaws than righties (.790 vs .736). That’s true, and I’m not going to claim that one odd year carries more weight than his career, but there seemed to be a lot of people who were vocally defending him, and I’m just having a hard time seeing it.

Most of the people who seem to like Hall quoted his career stats, which aren’t awful (.310 OBP, 94 OPS+, several seasons with good stats vs. LHP) but certainly aren’t much to hang your hat on, either.  Sure, he was great in 2005, with an .837 OPS, and 2006, when he had 35 HR to go with his .899 OPS. But since the end of the 2006 season, he’s been dreadful – in 1534 PA for three teams, he’s at .233/.297/.405. Over 1500 PA is a pretty good sample size, and that adds up to a .702 OPS, not exactly what you want from your starting left fielder.  

I’ve also seen people trumpeting Hall’s versatility, as he’s seen time at every position except for 1B and C. I just don’t see how that applies here, though. If that’s the role they were signing him for – utilityman with some pop – I’d have no problem with it. But that doesn’t sound like what they’re after him for at all; as Rosenthal says, he’d be “their primary left fielder”, and the Dodgers are actually setting themselves up with a flexible squad. Sure, Hall can play shortstop. But if Rafael Furcal goes down, is Hall playing shortstop? No, Juan Uribe would slide over, or even Jamey Carroll. You can use the same permutations at 2B and 3B, without even considering Russ Mitchell and Ivan DeJesus in the minors. So while I like the flexibility Hall brings, it’s not a major selling point right now.

Of course, at this point in the winter, the other options are slim. Austin Kearns brings OBP (.351 last year, .353 career), but little power. Lastings Milledge brings youthful promise and a nice split against lefties, but has yet to really see that potential translate on the field. Magglio Ordonez brings power but can’t really play left field. Then there’s those who suggest having Casey Blake be the righty portion of a LF platoon, and I must admit I don’t hate that idea. But who plays third base? Adrian Beltre‘s salary is out of reach, and I’m terrified that Colletti might push for the expensive, aging, Michael Young, who Texas is rumored to be interested in moving. Young’s an upgrade over Blake at the plate, but is a poor fielder and is owed $48m over the next three years. Still, that’s unlikely, so there’s not much chance of hoping for Blake to move to the outfield – unless you want to see Uribe at 3B with Carroll or DeJesus as the full-time 2B.

The point here is not to bash Bill Hall. He is what he is. If and when Hall is signed, I won’t complain too much, because he may be the best of a poor lot (assuming it’s a one-year deal, because, come on). The problem is just that the Dodgers managed to get this far without solving the problem in the first place.

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In addition to Juan Castro, who I discussed at length yesterday as being one of the worst hitters in major league history, and catcher JD Closser, who was already in the organization, the Dodgers announced today that they’ve signed Eugenio Velez to a minor-league deal with an invite to spring training.

Yes, that’s another ex-Giant, one who has a .688 OPS in parts of four seasons in San Francisco, and not only was non-tendered last month, but wasn’t offered a contract despite not even being arbitration-eligible. That’s right, the Giants could have had him back for the minimum, and said no thanks.

Still, I don’t hate this as much as you’d think I might. Yes, he was a Giant, and no, he’s not been very good in the bigs. But he’s been pretty decent in the minors, because in parts of four seasons at AAA his line is .302/.355/.455, and he’s flexible enough to play 2B and all three OF spots. It’s a minor league deal at the minimum, so there’s no risk, and the Isotopes need players too. I don’t think he’s got much chance to make the MLB roster out of camp, and even if he does, he’s still preferable to Castro. So yes, let’s all have fun with the “ex-Giant” jokes, but this signing is hard to argue.

Is The Fascination With Juan Castro Going to Cost the Dodgers Chin-Lung Hu?

As you’ve probably heard, the Dodgers signed infielder Juan Castro to a minor-league contract with an invitation to spring training. Normally, this would be no big deal – like every team, the Dodgers hand out more than a dozen non-roster invites to veterans each year – but the association between Castro and the Dodgers has never been normal. This will be his 4th stint with the team since he originally arrived in 1991, and he’s managed to be on the team in each of the last two seasons despite signing a minor-league deal in 2009 and being cut by the Phillies in 2010. For whatever reason, the Dodgers have an infatuation with Castro that defies reason.

I say it defies reason because Castro may be the least valuable players in baseball. Now, I’m hardly breaking any major news by saying that he can’t hit, because everyone knows he can’t hit. He’s never come within sniffing distance of even a league-average OPS+ of 100, and he’s never actually even hit 90, and that’s what happens when you’ve never had a season where your OPS has topped .678. So Juan Castro is not a major-league quality hitter. We all knew that.

But what I was very surprised to find out is that Castro is one of the worst hitters in the entire history of baseball.

No, really.

Castro has somehow accumulated 2,834 plate appearances over his 16 big league seasons. 1,664 other players since 1901 can say they’ve had as many or more, lead of course by Babe Ruth’s superlative 206 OPS+. Castro, on the other hand, checks in with the 4th-lowest OPS+ of all time. Of all time!

Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age G H BA OBP SLG OPS
1 Bill Bergen 21 3228 1901 1911 23-33 947 516 .170 .194 .201 .395
2 Hal Lanier 49 3940 1964 1973 21-30 1196 843 .228 .255 .275 .529
3 Tommy Thevenow 51 4484 1924 1938 20-34 1229 1030 .247 .285 .294 .579
4 Juan Castro 55 2834 1995 2010 23-38 1096 597 .228 .268 .327 .595
5 Bobby Wine 55 3467 1960 1972 21-33 1164 682 .215 .264 .286 .550
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
Generated 12/12/2010.

This isn’t the first time we’ve talked about Bill Bergen, since he came up with Garret Anderson was making his assault on the worst offensive season in Dodger history last year. He’s still thought of as one of the better defensive catchers in history, but was of course abysmal at the plate in a career that ended before World War I. Lanier and Thevenow were middle infielders playing in eras that valued fielding from the shortstop position and thought of any offense as just a bonus.

And then there’s Castro. I think it goes without saying that with offensive performance so bad, there’s no amount of superior glovework that can make that okay. Still, if your fielding is that good, you can almost see how – in the right situation – a manager might make space at the back of the roster. I guess.

But that’s the problem here. Castro, 39 in June, is no longer the plus fielder he once was. Going by UZR/150, he’s far below average at 3B (-15.8), and while his career mark is still plus at SS (7.3), he’s living on his past since he’s not even come in as average there since 2007.

Which brings us back to Chin-lung Hu. He’s never managed to repeat his 2007 success, when he had an OPS of .871 between AA and AAA and looked to join the wave of top Dodger prospects headed to the big leagues. He flopped miserably in a 2008 trial with the big club, and he’s received just 31 MLB PA over the last two seasons.  Despite that, his glove has consistently been looked upon as excellent – certainly above-average for a big league shortstop. At the plate, he’s not hopeless – he just finished his 3rd full season at AAA, and he’s improved in each year leading up to a .317/.339/.438 showing this year – but I don’t think any of us look at him as more than a starter on a second-division club or a backup on a better team.

While that’s hardly not what we expected from Hu back in 2007, it’s also not without value. That’s a plus glove, with the chance to be a bit below league-average at the plate, and the hope for more since he still doesn’t even turn 27 until February. But for the second year in a row – surely you remember the Dodgers choosing Nick Green over him last year, right? – rather than giving Hu a spot as a backup, they’ve brought in a clearly inferior veteran who offers no value to fight for the spot instead. While that was merely annoying last year, since Hu was headed back to ABQ and we all knew Green wouldn’t last, this year has the potential to be much more dangerous, since Hu is now out of options and must be kept or lost.

Sure, it’s possible none of this comes to pass. Perhaps they do sign Bill Hall (more on him in a second) to plug the LF hole and decide his infield experience means that they don’t need another dedicated backup infielder alongside Jamey Carroll. Perhaps Ivan DeJesus, coming off a solid AFL stint, impresses in spring to the point where he claims the 2B job and Juan Uribe is pushed to 3B, with Casey Blake rounding out the bench. But the Dodgers didn’t sign Castro to be veteran depth at AAA; that never seems to happen with him (he’s played just 45 minor league games since 2001), and an Isotopes squad that may have DeJesus, Dee Gordon, and Justin Sellers up the middle next year doesn’t really have a need.

So tell me, would you prefer a plus glove with a mediocre bat who’s about to be 27? Or a mediocre glove with historically bad offense who’s about to be 39? Seems like a no-brainer to me, especially because some other team will claim Hu on waivers, but it’s hard to not see how this is going to turn out based on past history. Besides, Hu’s already lost this battle once before, because you may remember that Castro spent the entire 2009 season with the Dodgers, while Hu & Blake DeWitt languished in AAA, and out-of-options Delwyn Young was traded to Pittsburgh.

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According to Tony Jackson, the candidates for the left field opening are down to four, two of whom are Hall and (sigh) Scott Podsednik. My guess is that Austin Kearns is one of the other two, as we heard rumors about that during the winter meetings, and I’d like to think that Lastings Milledge is the other, though that’s based on nothing but my own speculation. Perhaps Ryan Ludwick, who’s another name we’ve heard, but he doesn’t seem like a great fit because he has a definite reverse split – that is, despite being righty, he’s always been better against them than lefties. Doesn’t fit on this team.

I was asked on Twitter how I’d rank those four options if I had the choice:

Milledge, Hall, Kearns, not having a LF, folding the team, Podsednik

Yep.