It’s funny where some teams like to spend money. The Arizona Diamondbacks organization is not able to spend a lot of money in the current economy yet General Manager Josh Byrnes recently brought back aging pinch hitter Tony Clark despite his 2008 line of .225/.359/.318 in 151 at-bats (108 games). His season was split between San Diego and Arizona, which could possibly help to explain his dismal .318 slugging percentage and .093 ISO (But the SLG% only increased from .307 to .333 with the move out of Petco Park).
At 36 years of age, it’s quite possible that Clark will continue to struggle in 2009. His line against right-handed pitchers was just .198/.354/.248, which makes him almost useless against them if this was not simply a one-year fluke. On the plus side, he did hit .273/.468/.477 with runners in scoring position, which is a situation he would face fairly often as a pinch hitter (at least one would hope). When there are no runners on base, though, Clark struck out a almost half of the time (41 times in 92 plate appearances).
Now the $800,000 that Arizona will pay the pinch hitter this season is not a ton of money in the grand scheme of things, but these moves do add up, especially for a club that does not have a ton of wiggle room in the budget. What makes matters worse is that the organization has some in-house talent that could possibly provide the same production – if not more – for half the salary.
Josh Whitesell has been around. He was originally selected by the Montreal Expos in the sixth round of the 2003 draft out of Loyola Marymount University. Despite solid minor league numbers, Whitesell moved slowly – one level at a time – and eventually was deemed expendable by the now Washington Nationals. Arizona gladly scooped him up prior to the 2008 season and the left-handed hitting first baseman had a nice season in Triple-A with a line of 328/.425/.568 with an ISO of .240 in 475 at-bats. He also posted rates of 13.5 BB% and 28.6 K%. The 26 year old earned a brief MLB stint with two hits in seven at-bats (and seven games). In those seven games, Whitesell walked one, struck out twice and slammed a solo home run.
He’s definitely earned a shot at a regular roster spot. Whitesell is cheaper than Clark, has more upside and creamed right-handed pitchers in 2008 at Triple-A to the tune of .342/.442/.602 in 342 at-bats. Admittedly, it is hard to know how a young player will adjust to a part-time role – and a high-pressured one at that. Whitesell, though, did well in 2008 with runners in scoring position by hitting .331/.438/.586. Truth be told, there are not many – if any – unimpressive numbers in Whitesell’s statistics from 2008. He deserves a shot, and Arizona could certainly benefit from replacing Clark with the youngster and allowing Whitesell to get his feet wet as a pinch hitter while also playing regularly at first base against right-handed pitching.
Marc Hulet has been writing at FanGraphs since 2008. His work focuses on prospects and fantasy. Follow him on Twitter @marchulet.