In Search Of A Platoon Partner For Adam Lind
Toronto needs a right-handed bat it can pencil into the lineup vs. left-handed pitching in favor of Adam Lind and, with the possible exception of Moises Sierra, the club doesn't have that type of piece within the organization. Mark DeRosa would have been a good fit had he not retired, as he posted strong numbers vs. lefties last season -- .267/.368/.443, 13.5 walk rate, .355 wOBA, 123 wRC+ -- while also adding some positional flexibility, receiving playing time at first, second, third and designated hitter.
Manager John Gibbons shielded Lind from southpaws for close to half the season but, due to a resurgence at the plate, began starting him against lefties, leading to predictably poor results -- Lind posted a .208/.240/.333 line, 4% walk rate, 31% K rate, 253 wOBA and 53 wRC+ over 100 plate appearances. A larger sample against lefties doesn't paint a rosier picture for Lind, either, as his career numbers vs. them look like this: .219/.261/.342, 5 BB%, 25.6 K%, .265 wOBA and 58 wRC+ over 855 plate appearances.
The Blue Jays can unearth value at the plate by sitting Lind vs. left-handed starters and pinch-hitting for him against lefty relievers. It sounds like a broken record, but Lind really shouldn't be facing southpaws when there is a clear advantage to be gained by going with an alternative option. Lind mashes righties, though, making him a valuable piece on the team.
Lind's 2013 vs. RHP: .309/.385/.539, 11.2 BB%, .230 ISO, .396 wOBA, 151 wRC+
Lind's career vs. RHP: .286/.343/.508, 7.9 BB%, .221 ISO, .364 wOBA, 125 wRC+
So with that in mind, here are five right-handed hitting free agents the Blue Jays could (and should) target:
Jeff Baker; Age: 32; 2013 salary: $1.75M
2013 vs. LHP: .314/.407/.667, 13 BB%, .352 ISO, .452 wOBA, 186 wRC+, 101 plate appearances
Career vs. LHP: .298/.353/.522, 7.9 BB%, .224 ISO, .375 wOBA, 128 wRC+, 827 plate appearances
Baker hits lefties hard and for power and has a track record of doing so. He might not offer much in terms of defensive value but has experience playing a number of positions, though signing Baker would mainly be to plug him in as a DH vs. lefties, not to play the field. His ability to play the corners in both the infield and outfield, however, as well as second base, would certainly come in handy.
Among players who had a minimum of 100 plate appearances vs. left-handers, Baker had the top HR/FB ratio in baseball and trailed only Miguel Cabrera in ISO. A repeat performance in 2014 isn't even necessary if Baker hit at his career line, as replacing Lind's at-bats with that type of production would make for a strong pairing.
Baker was dealing with a sports hernia toward the end of the season, but no reports have surfaced about him undergoing surgery to repair the injury. He's coming off a career year at the plate and his consistent production against lefties and ability to play multiple positions makes him the most appealing target on this list for me.
Kevin Youkilis; Age: 34; 2013 salary: $12M
Career vs. LHP: .291/.411/.498, 15.8 BB%, .207 ISO, .394 wOBA, 140 wRC+, 1257 plate appearances
Youkilis' 2013 year was so brief -- he only played 29 games and made 119 plate appearances -- that it's almost not worth assessing. The season was a write off for him and he didn't play a game past mid-June after a herniated disk forced him to go under the knife. His ugly year looked like this: .219/.305/.343, .290 wOBA, 78 wRC+ (it was -19 against southpaws).
There's a lot not to like here, such as his age, injury history, decline, and the Rogers Centre turf. Those were the same concerns associated with DeRosa, though, and that relationship worked out pretty well for the Blue Jays. Youkilis suffered through an injury-plagued 2013 season with the Yankees but has a good track record at the plate, including a strong ability to get on base. The Blue Jays could do better, especially when factoring in the level of risk attached to signing Youkilis, but there's also potential for reward.
Youkilis hasn't played more than 140 games since 2008 but Toronto wouldn't need him to play even close to that amount. From 2007-10, Youkilis was a four-plus win (Fangraphs) player each season. That's a long time ago and he's not close to that player anymore, but even his 2011-12 line, over 1000+ plate appearances, is more than passable: .246/.355/.434, 115 wRC+. Against left-handers, those numbers look even better: .294/.407/.528, 151 wRC+.
If Youkilis is healthy, there's probably still some value to be extracted out of his bat.
Mark Reynolds; Age: 30; 2013 salary: $6M
2013 vs. LHP: .225/.319/.406, 11.5 BB%, .181 ISO, .321 wOBA, 103 wRC+, 182 plate appearances
Career vs. LHP: .238/.359/.475, 15.3 BB%, .238 ISO, .361 wOBA, 119 wRC+, 1087 plate appearance
Reynolds strikes out a lot and won't hit for average, but he walks enough to have a playable .329 career OBP and has some real pop in his bat. He has made more contact than ever the last two years and has seen a dramatic spike in his line-drive rate compared to his 2010-11 seasons. What does that mean? Potentially nothing, but it's not a bad thing and there are a lot of bad things you can say about Reynolds.
You basically know what you are getting here, and he offers little in terms of upside -- like most players on this list. But if you put Reynolds in the right situation, in this case a platoon role with Lind, you have the potential to get some pretty good power numbers out of the duo.
Michael Morse; Age: 31; 2013 salary: $7M
2013 vs. LHP: .215/.278/.388, 7.5 BB%, .174 ISO, .291 wOBA, 80 wRC+, 133 plate appearances
Career vs. LHP: .284/.340/.479, 7.4 BB%, .195 ISO, .354 wOBA, 121 wRC+, 623 plate appearances
Morse, like Youkilis, is trying to come back from a dreadful year -- in addition to undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his left wrist in October. The 6-5, 245-pound giant has hit lefties and righties equally as well throughout his career but, as a player who adds little defensive value -- his advanced defensive metrics are terrible anywhere other than first -- he is not a guy who should be playing every day. In a part-time role in which all you are looking to do is net value from his bat, Morse could be a match. He's not far removed from a .303/.360/.550 batting line in 2011, but he's also coming off two poor seasons in a row.
Rajai Davis; Age: 33; 2013 salary: $2.5M
2013 vs. LHP: .319/.383/.474, 8.6 BB%, .155 ISO, .376 wOBA, 137 wRC+, 128 plate appearances
Career vs. LHP: .294/.354/.425, 7.9 BB%, .131 ISO, .342 wOBA, 112 wRC+, 882 plate appearances
Davis wants to start, but the reality is that he's a much better extra-outfielder type. In fact, he's a very good fourth outfielder who can play all three spots. And as Davis has seen over the last two years in Toronto, an injury or two can create a lot more playing time than originally expected. Power is one thing Davis lacks that these other players have but he adds value on the bases, something none of them do, which also makes him a nice late-game pinch-running option. Only Cleveland's Michael Bourn has stolen more bases than Davis' 216 since 2009.
The speedster can't play first and the Blue Jays might value getting a right-handed bat who can create more flexibility at the position beyond Lind and Edwin Encarnacion. That would also allow Anthony Gose to take over as the club's fourth outfielder if they chose to carry him on the roster opposed to beginning the season at Triple-A, which would be his third consecutive year repeating the level. But, other than that, Davis fits the profile and is a useful weapon to employ.
Sierra is someone within the organization the Blue Jays could turn to, and he has gotten reps at first base in the Dominican Winter League, making for an interesting candidate. Having said that, he remains a long shot to crack the 25-man roster. Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos is on record saying he wants to find a way to keep Sierra, who is out of options and would have to make the Opening Day roster or clear waivers in order to be sent to the minors, but Toronto might need to take its chances there. Sierra has power in his bat and hit well over his 35 games in 2013 but the club would likely prefer to stash him at Triple-A Buffalo for depth.
With fewer left-handed pitchers in the game, Lind would see the strong side of any platoon and there's no reason to think he won't continue hitting righties hard. The proper pairing with Lind could give the Blue Jays above-average production and leave them money to spend on starting pitching, whether through free agency or trades. Toronto's best way to improve is through upgrading its rotation with outside help and a healthy Brandon Morrow, but even gaining a smaller advantage by platooning Lind with the right bat could help make a difference.
A big caveat to all of this is that if these players can find more playing time elsewhere, there's a good chance they would take it over a part-time role in Toronto. The same can be said for money and years, too. The Blue Jays can, however, guarantee semi-regular playing time, and a chance to compete. There are many other right-handed bats Toronto could target, especially if it went the trade route, but these players all offer a couple qualities that benefit the club: they would not cost assets, likely come cheap (relatively speaking), and have demonstrated an ability to hit left-handed pitching well throughout their careers.
If you want an easy way to navigate through some stats and compare the players within this group, here is a link to their career numbers vs. left-handers, via Fangraphs
h/t Fangraphs for stats