Adam Lind and Baseball’s Worst Position

The baseball offseason arrived all of a sudden. As the Giants were parading around the streets of San Francisco, I was on my computer writing about the Cubs ditching Rick Renteria to hire Joe Maddon. And then Saturday brought the offseason’s first meaningful trade — Adam Lind to the Brewers, and Marco Estrada to the Blue Jays. I’m going to be completely honest with you. I was excited at first, thinking more of the players in the deal than I wound up doing following further examination. I think I was just excited to have the offseason really get underway, to fill the baseball void. But still, this is a trade, with players you’ve presumably heard of, and it was swung to serve a purpose, so it’s worthy of our consideration. What the heck else do we have to consider?

We’ll get to the Blue Jays’ side of things. We’ll get into more detail. But we can start by acknowledging the obvious, that being the Brewers’ motivation to get a deal done. Lind is slated to be the Brewers’ regular first baseman. Here are the least productive positions in baseball, by our numbers, over the past two seasons combined:

  • Red Sox, third base, -2.2 WAR
  • Astros, first base, -2.2 WAR
  • Yankees, shortstop, -2.7 WAR
  • Yankees, designated hitter, -4.3 WAR
  • Brewers, first base, -4.6 WAR

I don’t know, either, but it happened. Over two years, Brewers first basemen combined to be worth almost an impossible five wins below replacement. The situation was better in 2014 than it was in 2013, but it’s also better to have your arm cut off than it is to have your arm cut off, successfully reattached, and then cut off again. For the Brewers, first base was a disaster, a disaster without any reasonable internal solution, so the front office acted quickly to address one of baseball’s very greatest needs.

It’s fascinating, how bad the Brewers’ situation has been. Nothing else about this is quite so fascinating, but there are still various points of interest. Lind had a $7.5 million club option for 2015, with a $1 million buyout. The Blue Jays have acknowledged they were going to decline the option, if they couldn’t work out a deal. So while Lind wasn’t worth the money to Toronto, he’s worth the money to Milwaukee. Meanwhile, Estrada is due a raise in arbitration from last year’s $3.33 million salary, even though he ran a mediocre ERA and got demoted to the bullpen. As a Brewer, Estrada was a non-tender candidate, and he remains a non-tender candidate as a Blue Jay. It’s possible Toronto wants him, it’s possible Toronto doesn’t want him, and it’s possible Toronto hasn’t decided yet. This has at least bought them some time, and if Estrada does get non-tendered, the Jays still save Lind’s seven-figure buyout.

The Blue Jays determined Lind had to go, because they didn’t want to have him sharing first base and DH with Edwin Encarnacion. They’re interested in flexibility, and seemingly in being able to rotate some guys through the DH slot. What the Brewers see is a lefty-hitting regular on a one-year contract with an option. By acting so fast, the Brewers didn’t even really have to get involved in the market. At 31, Lind isn’t old. Last year he finished with a 141 wRC+. The year before, 131. Steamer projects him at 118.

Yet, there are reasons Lind was so available. There are reasons there wasn’t much competition, with Ken Rosenthal having reported only the White Sox also showed interest in Lind, to a modest extent. Lind would appear to be a platoon player. He’s not skilled defensively, he’s not a skilled baserunner, and there are questions about the health of his back. Says Doug Melvin:

“He has had a few lower-back issues,” Melvin said. “We exchanged information and we talked about it and we’re OK with it. He just has to maintain the exercise program.”

And there’s this:

To the pull field

2013: 14 home runs
2014: 0 home runs

If you prefer, from Brooks Baseball:


Lind is coming off a six-dinger season, with a BABIP closer to .400 than .300. He’s always been decent about hitting to all fields, and it’s possible what happened in 2014 was the result of Kevin Seitzer’s encouragement to become less shiftable, but the Brewers are free to wonder how much power there is in Lind’s bat at this point. In the 2012 that preceded Lind’s 2013, he underperformed while hitting with little pull power, so Lind has improved on this before, but generally you bet against BABIP when it comes in an Adam Lind kind of form.

From the Brewers’ perspective, you can see why it’s worth a roll of the dice. From the Jays’ perspective, you can see why Lind wasn’t real highly valued, and from the market’s perspective, you can see why Lind didn’t generate a ton of demand. What the Blue Jays are getting, if they want it, is a potentially decent starting pitcher. Estrada fell on rougher times in 2014, but the two seasons before, he was serviceable, and he has fine control if not command. He doesn’t throw hard, but he throws three pitches, and he has productive experience out of the bullpen.

Estrada allows fly balls all the time, and unlike a lot of other fly-ball pitchers, he doesn’t appear skilled at homer suppression. Last year it was the dingers that got him chased from the rotation, and while we generally don’t care too much about a short-term spike in homer rate, Estrada’s been giving them up for years. This is why he’s currently on the outside of the Jays’ rotation looking in, and it’s also worth noting that Estrada can’t take Jonathan Lucroy anywhere with him. His purpose for the moment seems to be depth; he makes it easier for the Jays to think about trading J.A. Happ or Mark Buehrle.

And you’d better believe I’m sitting on a Marco Estrada fun fact. We’ve got split data going back to 2002, and since 2002, 401 pitchers have thrown at least 200 innings with the bases empty and also with the bases not empty. Between the splits, the average pitcher has an FIP 14 points lower with the bases empty. Estrada? 160 points lower. It’s the greatest gap out of the entire pool. With no one on, his career FIP is 3.49, and with someone or someones on, his career FIP is 5.09. Last year, 4.20 and 6.08. When pitching from the stretch, Estrada has generated fewer strikeouts while seeing more walks and dingers.

That’s a bad thing, obviously, because it means he pitches worse in more threatening situations. It’s also something the Blue Jays might feel they could be able to fix, but it’s just another of the issues with a pitcher who might not be worth the hassle. At his best, Estrada looks something like a No. 3 or a No. 4 starter, but the Jays have to figure out if they want to pay this guy upwards of $4 million. That’s a decision they don’t have to make for a handful of weeks.

Before wrapping this up, I’ll say one wonders now about the market for Adam LaRoche. Last time he had a limited market, he eventually re-signed with the Nationals, but that seems less likely this time around. And the Brewers had by far the biggest need at first base, and now they’ve taken care of at least most of that, bringing in the dominant part of a platoon. So while LaRoche will surely play somewhere, it’s not clear where that’ll be. The Angels might not want to spend the money, and they value their current flexibility. The Mariners want someone right-handed. The Marlins might not see LaRoche being meaningfully different from Garrett Jones. LaRoche might cost too much for the Padres, and also the Pirates, and the Tigers are going to try to re-sign Victor Martinez. Pieces shift around and pieces start to look better over time, some of the time, but LaRoche isn’t going to have an easy path. The obvious suitor plugged a need within days of the last game of the playoffs.

But there’ll be other posts about Adam LaRoche. Most relevantly now, Adam Lind is in line to play a lot more, and Marco Estrada is in line for, I don’t know, something. The Brewers don’t know if the guy they got is going to work out, and they don’t know if he’s going to stay healthy. The Blue Jays don’t know if the guy they got is even going to stay on the Blue Jays. The one thing they know is they saved a million dollars. I don’t care if this has all been overthought. I’m just glad to have baseball things to think about.

Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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7 years ago

IIRC they asked for Neil Walker at the beginning of last year. Last time they asked for the moon, now they’ll do it for scraps.