Farewell to Juan Pierre: Part Two

As promised, we had to break down the Juan Pierre reaction into two parts. Part one was about his time as a Dodger and our happiness to see him headed to greener pastures, regardless of the return. Part two is about the specifics and who we’ll see coming back.

Or as Kensai put it, before the names came out:

Whatever, they could be dead for all I care.

Indeed, because despite how much some of us may have wanted to get Ned Colletti’s promised “back of the rotation” starter, this deal is not about the players who the Dodgers get. This deal would be a win even if no one came back.

Think about the gift the White Sox have bestowed upon the Dodgers, even without the players. They’ve basically paid LA $8m to have less controversy and better defense off the bench. Who cares if the pitchers coming back are even breathing?

So while these guys are hardly top prospects, the fact that it looks like both might actually be able to contribute in 2010 takes this from a “win” to a “huge win” in my book. Let’s learn a little about them, thanks to SoxProspects.com and their writeups on each. (blog idea: how is there not a DodgersProspects.com yet?)

John Ely:

Accolades

  • 2009 White Sox Best Changeup (Baseball America)
  • 2009 Southern League All-Star Game
  • 2009 Southern League Post-Season All-Star
  • 2009 All-FutureSox Team Starting Pitcher

Scouting report
The quick-working former Homewood-Floosmoor hurler has all the intangibles you want. He is aggressive and seemingly fearless. His arsenal is highlighted by a great changeup that Baseball America has called plus-plus. His low 90s fastball has good movement combines with the change to give him a good groundball rate. He also has a 12-to-6 curveball that can be good, but is inconsistent. He has stayed healthy as a pro despite concerns out of college about his delivery. His delivery is considered “max-effort” but is somewhat deceptive. Ely has had good control, but has had mediocre peripherals the past two seasons. He has moved through the minors quickly, skipping Low-A, which could be contributing to lesser stats. Either way, those stats don’t make him look like a good Major League prospect. Still, Ely has a good ERA for the Barons this year and has shown gradual improvement each of the last two seasons. Don’t pencil Ely into any future rotations, but don’t be shocked if he gets a shot somewhere down the line.

Major League Outlook: 5th starter

As much as I’ve harped on the uselessness of wins, even I can’t overlook a 14-2, 2.82 ERA campaign from a 23-year-old in AA ball. Clearly, there’s questions here, but remember that there was never a question about whether you’d be seeing a top prospect in return. This guy is young, has had minor league success, has at least one great pitch (love that “plus-plus changeup”), and that’ll be enough to at least get him a shot in the rotation. Hey, there’s the “back of the rotation” starter we all wanted for Pierre!

Jon Link:  

Accolades

  • 2009 White Sox Best Slider (Baseball America)

Scouting report
Link has struck out a lot of batters in the minors because he has a very good slider, but his fastball and change are solid offerings as well. His fastball usually sits 93-94 m.p.h. and has some sink on it. His changeup has gotten better, helping him get lefties out, but he walked almost a batter an inning against lefties in 2009 for Charlotte. He has the stuff to pitch in the bigs, but he needs to make strides with his control. Link should contend for a spot in the 2010 bullpen if he proves he can throw more strikes.

Major League Outlook: Average middle reliever

When I look at Link’s minor league stats, one thing jumps out at me immediately, and that’s the fact that he’s struck out 10.5 per 9 in each of the last two seasons. That, in addition to the scouting report that reads “has the stuff to pitch in the bigs”, makes me think he’s worth a look in the spring – assuming he can harness the walks of course.

Look, Ely and Link aren’t going to be All-Stars, but each look like they could be somewhat useful to the team in 2010. Considering that trading Pierre for nothing but cash savings and the roster spot would be a victory and that when I first heard “players to be named later” my thoughts were along the lines of the joke of a prospect the Dodgers traded for Jim Thome (what if it was actually Justin Fuller coming back?!), getting two guys with even a little bit of hope is a great deal.

Now, I’ve already seen in several places comments along the lines that this is a good deal only if the savings is spent on pitching. I find that to be a completely separate topic, because simply not spending an additional $8m on a 4th outfielder is a win. Getting decent two pitchers back as well is just icing on the cake.

Farewell to Juan Pierre: Part One

MSTI note: this is going to be a two-part post. Part one deals with only Juan Pierre’s time with the Dodgers and his departure, irrelevant of what the trade is. We’ll deal with that when the two PTBNL are announced.

In the midst of a long, dark, winter in Dodgertown, we finally have a ray of light: Juan Pierre has been traded to the White Sox for two minor league pitchers and relief of about half of his salary ($8m savings according to Buster Olney), and I won’t lie; I can barely contain my glee.

I’ve been accused, more than once, of hating Pierre. In fact, all Dodger bloggers have. That couldn’t be further than the truth, for I love the idea of Juan Pierre. An old-school, hard-working, great teammate with the speed to wreak havoc on the bases and the durability to play every day? Who wouldn’t want that? If I hated anything, it was the absolutely insane five-year, $44 million dollar contract that Ned Colletti lavished upon him in 2007. The contract didn’t make sense at the time, and as both the economy and Pierre’s performance faltered, it made less and less sense. That’s not Pierre’s fault, though; he’d have been crazy to not accept the contract. No, that was Colletti’s fault, because Pierre was never worth that money, and he was especially not worth it on a team with young outfielders Matt Kemp and Andre Ethier having already made their debuts. 

Still, the contract wasn’t Pierre’s fault. If he’d been able to keep up his performance of 2004 (.374 OBP, 107 OPS+), I’d have been able to look past his poor outfield arm. He still wouldn’t have been worth the money, but he’d have been an asset to the team.

But that, as we know, never happened. He declined in 2005 with Florida and 2006 with the Cubs, and his first season in Los Angeles was a disaster, making the third-most outs in the league at just a 77 OPS+, while having a negative 3.1 UZR/150 rating in CF with his noodle arm. As I said at the time in our 2007 season reviews:

So I get to do center field? Sweet! I almost don’t know where to start on this one, so strap in – this one might get long, kids. Let’s preface this by saying that from absolutely everything I’ve heard, Juan Pierre is a fantastic human being and an exceptional teammate. He’s the first one there in the morning, and the last one to leave – no one outworks him. He kisses babies and rainbows and then the babies love rainbows and then the sun smiles and drops sugar cubes on everyone, and the sugar cubes turn into kittens who then frolic in dandelions. Juan Pierre is Mother Teresa reincarnate.

Juan Pierre (D-)
(.293/.331/.353 0hr 41rbi 64sb 15cs)

A D-? Oh, that’s right. We’re not paying him to be goddamn Bono. We’re paying him to do one thing: play baseball. And despite all of his superb human attributes, there’s one thing he’s really not all that good at: playing baseball.

You’d think that a lousy season would put most fans against him, but despite his poor performance, the divide was already growing. On one side, you’d have people like me, who saw the lack of productivity on both sides of the ball and lamented the thought of four more years. On the other, you’d have people who saw him work hard and be a good person, and play small ball like their heroes of lore, and felt that absolved him of all doubt. Keep that in mind, for it’s going to be important shortly.

To Colletti’s credit, he saw after that very first season that Pierre wasn’t cutting it, and he signed Andruw Jones to play center field in 2008. (Let’s save the discussion about how that move worked out for another time, shall we?) Still, this left us in another pickle. If Jones was to play center, how would Pierre, Kemp, and Ethier all co-exist? With Kemp seemingly having earned the right field job after hitting .342 in 2007, new battle lines were drawn: Pierre vs. Ethier in left field.

For his part, the first cracks in Pierre’s veneer of being a good teammate began to show:

“I don’t see myself as a bench player.  I haven’t accepted that. I know if they don’t want me to play out there, that’s their decision. But I don’t see myself as a bench player.”

One reporter asked Pierre if he wanted to remain with the Dodgers to which the 30-year old responded:

“I’m not going to answer that one.  It is what it is. I’m not going to touch that one.”

I, of course, took Ethier’s side in the debate, and I doubt there’s anyone who would argue that point in retrospect. But it once again put those who valued young talent squarely against Juan Pierre, which was unfair to him. Still, even some who’d been backing Pierre came around by the end of the spring, like old friend Tony Jackson.

That crisis was averted, of course, when Jones put forth the most horrendous effort in major league history before being injured. Interestingly enough, concerns about Pierre’s weak arm kept him in left rather than moving him back to center, which had become Kemp’s new domain.

Pierre, moved back into the everyday lineup with the demise of Jones, had just a .328 OBP and .648 OPS on July 31 – at which point he was replaced once again by Manny Ramirez. By the end of the season, his 75 OPS+ represented the fifth year in a row he’d declined since that 2004 peak.

Vin recapped Pierre’s 2008 astutely in our reviews that year:

In 2008, we saw a decline in nearly every statistic; his .283 average and .327 OBP were his lowest since 2005, while his .328 SLG% and 4.1 RC27 were the lowest totals he’s had since 2002.  His MLV was a ridiculous -10.1 (which means he costs his team 10.1 more than the average player), a VORP of 1.1, and an EqA of .247, also his lowest since 2002. 

For a man who will be on the wrong side of 30 next year who has a game that’s dependent on speed and has shown a steady decline since his 2003-2004 heyday in Florida… that’s not good.

For the sake of not beating a dead horse, I won’t rehash the Pierre argument yet again, but even by his own standards, which many supporters of the signing like to point to in terms of what our expectations should be, he failed to meet them. 

When Manny finally re-signed for 2009, and with Kemp and Ethier squarely in place, Pierre’s bench role seemed assured, and indeed he started just five games in the first five weeks.

Of course, Manny was suspended for 50 games in the first week of May. Pierre moved back into the lineup, and here’s where you run into the problems with the media-friendly narrative. The story basically wrote itself; on one hand you have an overpaid, distant, sometimes surly, cheating man-child who doesn’t always hustle. On the other, you have a hard-working old-school clubhouse guy whose only sin was wanting to play. It’s no surprise that lazy writers took that story and ran with it – especially when Pierre got off to such a hot start.

In my own defense, I respect performance. Pierre hadn’t given us much of that in his first two seasons, so when he did, I was more than happy to praise him for it:

Since [the signing], we’ve put forth dozens of posts lamenting his signing and presence, from highlighting his complaints about playing time to trying to find places to trade him to basically blaming him for having to trade Delwyn Young.

Yet, in the interest of fairness, the time has come to admit: Juan Pierre has been awesome in his 11 starts since taking over for Manny. He’s been hitting for average (.435 in that time); he’s been getting on base (.527 OBP), and hell, he’s even hitting for “power” (.630 SLG, though of course no home runs). In the field, well, his arm is still awful, but he has made several outstanding catches that Manny likely doesn’t get to.

How good has he been? So good that even I, of all people, picked him up in my fantasy baseball league the other day. Granted, it was only after injuries sidelined Josh Hamilton, Rick Ankiel, and Pat Burrell from the outfield of the vaunted ”Cock Man Oppressors“, but still – in years past, I’d have picked up Juan Valdez before Juan Pierre.

He was fantastic. I don’t deny it. But that sort of contributed to the problem, because based on that, how many ridiculous stories did you have to read that said that Pierre “saved the Dodgers” or was “better than Manny” or something else equally absurd? Because, don’t forget, he was horrible for more than half of Manny’s absence. I summed this up in our 2009 review (sorry for the length on this one):

Juan Pierre (A)
(.308/.365/.392 0hr 31rbi 30sb)

Nope, that’s not a typo. Perpetual MSTI whipping boy Juan Pierre gets an A. But don’t read too much into it, because it’s not due to the fact that he “carried the team” while Manny was out, which we heard far too many times from clueless announcers on other teams and national broadcasts. See, what they always convieniently forget to mention is that while Pierre was actually very good for the first few weeks of starting (even earning his own post here dedicated to his nice play and improved plate discipline), he was worse than ever after that. Of course, most of the media was so involved in the “feel good story” to notice, but the stats make it pretty clear:

This is a pretty common misconception, because if you remember what actually happened:

Games 1-20: .425/.495/.598  1.093 OPS
Games 21-50: .244/.299/.283  .583 OPS

So if by “such a great job” you mean “had a killer hot streak for less than half of Manny’s absence and was worse than ever for the majority of it,” then yes – great job.

It’s worth nothing that while the Dodgers were 13-7 while he was going good, they were just 16-14 when he was killing the offense. So no, Pierre did not “carry the team” or “save the offense” by stepping in for Manny; he combined a very good stretch with an even longer very bad stretch.

So once again, despite the stats clearly stating the exact opposite of the truth, you now had an army of people supporting an inferior player. Again, though, this is not Pierre’s fault. This was the media latching on to what they saw as a feel-good story (or a Manny vendetta, whichever) and attaching far more importance to a mediocre player than he deserved.

I don’t know who the two minor league pitchers are in this trade, and for the moment, I don’t particularly care. The Dodgers have saved $8m over the next two years. They’ve instantly improved their defense, no matter whether it’s Xavier Paul or Jason Repko serving as Manny’s caddy. They’ve likely improved their offense, because now you can use Pierre’s spot on a better hitter. But most importantly, they’ve saved yet another year of controversy and unhappiness.

So good luck in Chicago, Juan. You never fit here, and much of that isn’t your fault (though better performance may have helped). It’s unbelievable what controversy your presence created, but I never thought you were anything but a baseball player trying to get on the field. I can’t argue with that. I’m just happy it’s on someone else’s field.

With his departure, Juan Pierre’s last at-bat as a Dodger will have been in the NLCS Game 5 loss to the Phillies, which ended the season. Entering as a pinch-hitter for Clayton Kershaw in the 7th inning against Chan Ho Park, he grounded out weakly to first. Fitting, really.

Our Long National Nightmare is Over

Can’t type… should have sent… a poet…

Yahoo’s Tim Brown:

White Sox acquire Juan Pierre for two minor league pitchers. Dodgers pick up about half of remaining salary.

You better believe we’ll have much more on this today, but I need to pick myself off the floor and collect myself. 

Juan Pierre: TRADED!

The Chicago Sun-Times Has Our Back

It’s like Christmas! Christmas in… well, December. Since the McCourts seem intent on being the Grinches of the season, we at least have Joe Cowley of the Chicago Sun-Times, who is doing more for us than Santa Claus ever could. I mean, just look at the headline of his most recent story and try not to shed a tear of joy:

Sox Outfield has lots of room for Pierre
Leadoff man/OF would fill need at tolerable price

It’s… *sniff*…  just so beautiful. Excuse me, it’s getting a little dusty in here. After a few intro paragraphs explaining the Dodger payroll predicament and how LA would likely have to pick up a majority of the contract, Cowley gets to the heart of the matter…

It would give the Sox the third outfielder they covet, but more important, it would fill the hole at the top of the lineup. Pierre is coming off a 2009 season in which he hit .308 in 380 at-bats, stealing 30 bases and scoring 57 runs.

At 32, he also would be the perfect player to hold down the fort until outfielder Jordan Danks is completely ready to be an every-day player.

Yes! Yes, oh lord yes. This is hardly the first time we’ve discussed moving Pierre, of course, and it’s not even the first time that the White Sox have been the prospective destination. The difference here is that it’s not us wishcasting Pierre off on some other club. This is a writer from another city saying, “you know what? I could see him on our team.” That, my friends, is progress. That is a writer opening doors with the fanbase to make this happen.

Of course, what Cowley neglects to mention is what the White Sox would have to give up in return. We’ve all heard that Ned Colletti is looking for a back of the rotation starter type, and the White Sox don’t have anyone who really fits that mold. However, one commenter on Cowley’s story has the answer: Scott Linebrink.

this could be the one and only chance we have to dump linebrink and his 10 mil. kenny needs to sell this hard to the dodgers even if we have to throw in a minor leaguer. pierre is a perfect fit and we could then resign carrasco.

Now, I’ll admit I was somewhat surprised to see this. I remember thinking that 4 years and $19 million was a silly contract for a middle reliever when he signed it after 2007, but I mostly remember him being one of the top relievers in the NL while with San Diego and had a pretty good White Sox debut in 2008 (124 ERA+, 1.079 WHIP).

Granted, he regressed badly in 2009 (1.661 WHIP, woof), but I can’t let one commenter on a news story convince me that White Sox fans are dying to be rid of him. So I did some research…

The White Sox blog, 9/1/09:

At least Scott Linebrink will stick around long enough for me to perpetuate the nickname I gave him last week via twitter: Scotch Linebrink. Both because he gets into stick situations and because he’ll make anyone watching him pitch want to be an alcoholic.

Speaking of Scotty Linebrink, here’s what I was originally writing when the news started to trickle in:

There’s a picture (MSTI note: shown at right) that Sox bloggers have adopted of late that sums up the games better than any blog post could.

Okay, but that’s just one unimaginatively-named Sox blog. How about one of the top White Sox blogs?

Southside Sox, on September 28th, laying out the rules for selecting who should take the fall for the 2009 season:

You also can’t be someone who has an unmovable contract.  So Scott Linebrink will have to wait to take the fall for the 2011 season.

And on August 17, after a bittersweet victory:

The Sox were still giving games away — What other purpose does Scott Linebrink have? — but the Royals have perfected the craft through years of organizational ineptitude. 

There might not be a more hollow victory all season.

- Linebrink gets the win after giving up two 2-out walks and a first pitch, game-tying homer to Mike Jacobs

And on July 16th, talking about the good, the bad…

and the ugly (Wilson Betemit, Scott Linebrink, the inability to find a real centerfielder)

Okay, maybe Sox fans do hate Linebrink. (Especially judging by the 19-page thread at SoxTalk about who they could deal him for.) That last quote in particular is a double whammy, since they’re complaining about the lack of a centerfielder. Juan Pierre to the rescue!

It’s true that adding a reliever isn’t as important as adding a starter, and I agree that Colletti should go that route if he can. But if not? Linebrink’s not a terrible suggestion at all. He’s is owed $10.5m over the next two years (he does have a no-trade clause, but those can be negotiated), so that helps bring the price closer to Pierre’s. The best part is, despite how much Sox fans seem to hate him, there’s a lot to like here. Linebrink may have been awful last year, but that was a little misleading. Check it out:

1) His FIP went from 4.21 to 4.63, which isn’t great but also isn’t disastrous.

2) He actually struck out more than a batter per inning more than in 2008 (7.77 to 8.84).

3) Going by BABIP, he was wildly unluckly. His usual rate was between .260-.300 for the last five years; in 2009, it shot up to .372.

4) His home run rate, while still high, was lower than it had been since 2006.

To be fair, his walk rate skyrocketed from 1.75 to 3.70, and that didn’t help him. But for a guy with his history of success who’s apparently fallen out of favor in Chicago, why wouldn’t you want to move Pierre for him? Sign me up.

Now Here’s A Trade Rumor I Can Get Behind

MLBTR with news that should be glorious but is probably just going to lead to crushed expectations:

Steve Henson of Yahoo! Sports says that three or four teams are interested in Juan Pierre, and that a three-team trade is being explored to bring a bad contract starter to the Dodgers in return. Henson says the bad contract starter wouldn’t be ex-Dodger Derek Lowe.

The 32-year-old Pierre is still owed $18.5MM over the next two years, however he boosted his value a bit by hitting .308/.365/.392 with 30 steals in 2009. It was his best offensive season since 2004, and the second best of his career. UZR/150 pegged Pierre as excellent in LF (+16.4) but awful in center (-19.4).

Three or four teams? Get the hell out. The “three-team trade” is what is really the new wrinkle here; when I said a few weeks ago that I didn’t see a fit to trade Pierre for a bad contract starter, it was because there were so few teams that had such a pitcher and didn’t mind taking a guy like Pierre. Expanding the deal to three teams really opens up some possibilities.

So who are we looking at? MLBTR speculates on a trio of hurt and ineffective Tigers: Jeremy Bonderman ($12.5m in 2010, 81.2 IP the last two years), Nate Robertson ($10m in 2010, hasn’t allowed less than a hit per inning since 2006), and Dontrelle Willis ($12m in 2010, 57.2 IP the last two years). Holy hell, have the Tigers made some poor pitching decisions.

But I don’t see any of those guys being viable options, because you can’t count on a single one of them to give you anything in 2010. No matter how you feel about Pierre, it’s clear that the Dodgers do place a decent amount of value on him as a speedy caddy for Manny, and though we all know Pierre’s not bringing back an All-Star, they’re also not going to give him away for zero on-the-field return at all.

So here’s a quick list of the possibilities for the pitcher (ignoring how the three-team aspect might work for now), looking at both the hilarious ones brought up by MLBTR commentors and a few of my own.

Jeff Suppan. Mentioned in the original MLBTR post, but I don’t even need to look up his stats and salary because it’s pointless. The Brewers are probably the only team that’s more desperate for starters than the Dodgers are, and they just traded for a younger, cheaper, better-fielding version of Pierre in Carlos Gomez to play CF. Pierre’s certainly not displacing Ryan Braun in LF, so there’s no fit here. No.

Carlos Silva. Mentioned in the comments, I’ll admit that he came to mind to me as an overpaid horrible starter, as well. But there’s no fit here, either. Silva is awful (no, really, he’s unpitchable. ERA’s north of 5.90 three of the last four years? Wow), so the Dodgers wouldn’t enter into a deal with three, thirty, or three hundred teams that ended up with them getting him. Even if it wasn’t a three-teamer, with the M’s about to sign Chone Figgins, they have less need for a speed type like Pierre. No.

Gil Meche. Now, this one might have some legs. After two surprisingly effective years in Kansas City, Meche was hurt and lousy last year (5.09 ERA, 1.566 WHIP). He does have $24m left over the next two years, so the Dodgers would have to add a bit more payroll, potentially a problem. If this one’s not a three-teamer, well, the Royals have a mess of an outfield, so there’s room for him, and their GM Dayton Moore has a long history of ridiculous decisions. Mostly, I just want to see Rany Jazayerli‘s head explode if he had to suffer through both Pierre and Yuniesky Betancourt on the field at the same time. Perhaps.

Oliver Perez. Probably the most talented name we’ll bring up, but also the most inconsistent. He’s been so bad with the Mets that you can’t even depend on him being available in 2010, and he’s got $24m left over two years. Besides, Omar Minaya would have to admit the free agent deal he signed Perez to last year was a huge mistake. No chance.

Aaron Harang/Bronson Arroyo. We’ve heard these Cincinnati names pop up time and again, and I’ve never really seen a fit. I’d be happy to get either for Pierre, since both have been roughly league-average in a tough park. But that’s the problem – both have been roughly league-average in a tough park. The Reds won’t give either up for peanuts, and they certainly don’t need Pierre, so here’s where the three-team aspect is crucial. It’s foolish to try to even guess how a three-team trade might work out, but if Colletti can turn a 4th outfielder into either one of these guys, he deserves a golden statue. Maybe, but doubtful.

Kyle Lohse. Fun fact: I actually advocated that the Dodgers sign Lohse when he was still available for peanuts in March of 2008. They didn’t, and he went to St. Louis where he had a very nice 15-6, 3.78 season, which got him a massively overpaid 4-year deal. He was hurt and less effective in 2009, putting up a 4.74 ERA, though his peripherals didn’t change all that much. The biggest issue here is that he’s still got 3 years and about $34m left, so the Cardinals would have to eat a hefty bit of that. Probably not.

As you can see, there’s no simple answer here. There’s options, but none without huge question marks – and that’s even without including the complication of a third team. Regardless of your feelings about Pierre, it’s clear that the Dodgers cannot afford a $10m backup outfielder, so you’d love to see something happen. Now, can Ned pull it off? Sometimes the winter is the best part of the baseball season.