One sunny afternoon not long ago, Michael Barrett punched his way into baseball culture while paying homage to legends of the past like Ty Cobb and John McGraw. Two seasons removed, Barrett has joined his second new organization since the beginning of 2007, and for the first time in quite a while, Barrett’s checks will total less than one million dollars. Barrett can thank elbow and nose injuries for that.
In December of 2003, the Montreal Expos traded to the Oakland Athletics, who then traded him to the Chicago Cubs, who then non-tendered Barrett a week later, and re-signed him later that day. That is quite a whirlwind of transactions, but alas, the Cubs would reap the reward, seeing Barrett produce three consecutive seasons with on base plus slugging percentages over .820. In 2007, Barrett would get off to a slow start and feuded with starter Carlos Zambrano, leading to a trade with the San Diego Padres.
One-and-a-half injury riddled seasons later; Barrett signed a minor league contract with the Toronto Blue Jays. It is interesting to note Barrett’s steady decline in plate appearances. The peak of appearances coming in 2004 at 506 – his first season with the Cubs – and dropping to 477, then 418, then 367, and a lowly 107 last season, that’s nothing if not consistent. Not too much can be taken from that outside of noting the injuries that have lead to a decline, including a concussion and intrascrotal hematoma. For those unfamiliar with the latter, I strongly urge against researching it. Trust me on this one.
When Barrett has played recently, he has faced bad luck on batted balls, with BABIPs of .270 (2007) and .224 (2008), both are below his career average (.282), and generally unlucky given the amount of liner drives hit. Barrett’s plate approach has become more aggressive since 2005, swinging at an increasing number of pitches outside of the strike zone, while still making similar amounts of contact overall. With only 22% of attempted thieves caught, and a couple of double-digit passed ball seasons, Barrett is not known as a good defender behind the dish. If the Jays do call on him, it will be as a back up to Rod Barajas and a replacement to Gregg Zaun.
Interestingly Zaun and Barrett have seen the same number of attempted steals, but Zaun has caught nearly 30 more. As a straight replacement for Zaun, Barrett would seem capable of giving 300 plate appearances of near league average offense. If nothing else, the Jays can always turn to youngster Curtis Thigpen, who had a down 2008 in the minors, OPSing .577 and throwing out 16% of baserunners. Neither of which screams Thigpen’s readiness.
The Jays agent of choice this off-season has been an infirmary clerk, first adding Matt Clement and now Barrett. Undermining their low-risks, medium reward moves would be a mistake, but at the same time you have to wonder if the Jays will make a run at one of the designated hitter types available.