It appears that despite the move to the Windy City, Theo Epstein hasn’t lost his touch. In his first move since joining the Cubs as their
General Manager President of Baseball Operations, Epstein signed* David DeJesus to a two year, $10 million contract today. The contract also has an option for a third year.
Just by taking a glance at DeJesus’ player page, it’s easy to fall in love with this deal. DeJesus is no star outfielder and his name doesn’t conjure up images of diving catches or towering home runs, but he’s a quietly productive and underrated player. He’s no whiz with the bat — .277/.349/.417 line over the last three years, which translates to a .334 wOBA and 5% above average — but he makes up for it by being an above average baserunner and defensive outfielder. DeJesus played the majority of the 2011 season in right field for the Athletics, and depending on what defensive stat you trust most, he was anywhere from a +10 to +13 fielder out there. He had one of his worst seasons at the plate last year — .309 wOBA, 5% below average — but even then, he managed to be a 2.2 WAR player in right.
So on the face of things, the Cubs just got a great deal. They signed an average outfielder to a below-market rate contract — they’re paying him like he’s a 1.0 WAR outfielder, essentially — and they filled their hole in right field. They also improved their team overall, as DeJesus is an improvement over 34-years-old-and-sinking-fast Kosuke Fokudome.
But this deal also raises two interesting questions. Considering he had such a rough offensive year in 2011 and he’ll be 32-years-old in 2012, should the Cubs be worried about his bat? And what does this deal mean about top prospect Brett Jackson?
*Good catch, everyone. Jed Hoyer is technically the GM for the Cubs right now. Whoops, my bad.
Why did DeJesus have such a poor year offensively? When you dig into his numbers, it becomes apparent that DeJesus hasn’t suffered a skill degradation at the plate. His walk rate (8.9%) was the highest its been since 2007, and he didn’t lose any power either (.136 ISO, .137 career ISO). His strikeout rate spiked up a considerable amount to 17% (normally sits around 11-13%), but his plate discipline statistics haven’t gotten noticeably worse. He swung at 39% of pitches overall and only 24% of pitches outside the zone, both of which are considerably better than league average and very similar to his tendencies over the previous two seasons.
Instead, DeJesus’ “slump” seems to have been a product of his .274 BABIP – the worst of his career. That may not seem low, but DeJesus has a .316 career BABIP. I didn’t watch the Athletics consistently, so I don’t feel comfortable commenting on why DeJesus’ BABIP was depressed last year. Was it a product of bad luck? Was it him not making consistent solid contact? Did injuries play a role? It’s likely a little bit of all three reasons. Regardless, though, it still remains quite likely that he’ll improve in 2012 and have a better overall offensive season.
An interesting side to this transaction is that it guarantees that Cubs top prospect Brett Jackson will remain down in Triple-A to star the season. Theo Epstein is no fool; he knows the Cubs are in need of every asset they can get right now — especially young ones — and they’re not competing for a playoff spot in 2012. He might as well give Jackson plenty of Triple-A seasoning and get one more year of team control in the process. Jackson won’t make or break the 2012 Cubs, but having him for an extra season could help the Cubs down the road.
Could the Cubs still promote Jackson midseason, calling him up around the All-Star break? Possibly, but this move makes it difficult to see where Jackson would fit in. The Cubs have a full outfield now in David DeJesus, Marlon Byrd, and Alfonso Soriano, and the Cubs likely won’t want to promote Jackson so that he can sit on the bench. He could potentially platoon with DeJesus, who has quite a large platoon split on his career (.356 wOBA vs. righties; .308 wOBA vs. lefties), but DeJesus and Jackson are both lefties. If the Cubs are going to find a platoon partner for DeJesus, they can likely do better than Jackson.
So unless there’s a mid-season injury of some kind, the Cubs might leave Jackson down in Triple-A until September. Both DeJesus and Soriano are under contract in 2013 as well, but Byrd’s contract will be up at the end of the season. That would be the natural time to slide Jackson into the major in a full time role.
Overall, it’s tough to fault the Cubs with this signing. It may not be the sexiest move, but it improved the 2012 club while also setting the club up well for the future. Anyone else out there think that Theo Epstein missed making these sort of moves? He never could have signed DeJesus while in Boston — can you imagine the reaction? — but with the Cubs where they are on the win curve, this was the sort of deal he had to make.